A rich, global resource encompassing ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary manuscript and archive material. The collections include historical, literary, political, scientific and religious papers as well as maps, charters, seals, rolls and papyrii.

Collection guides

  • Leonardo da Vinci's diagrams, from the ‘Codex Arundel’

    Arundel manuscripts

    Medieval and early modern manuscripts collected by Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel
  • Detail of a  diagram of the eye

    Sloane manuscripts

    Manuscripts and artefacts gathered by the physician Sir Hans Sloane
  • The Garden of Pleasure, in Roman de la Rose

    Harley manuscripts

    More than 7,000 manuscripts, 14,000 charters and 500 rolls purchased by Robert Harley
  • Opening of Beowulf

    Cotton manuscripts

    Some of the greatest treasures from British literature and history
  • Detail of miniature of a scene from Virgil’s Eclogues

    King's manuscripts

    A distinguished collection of medieval and post-medieval manuscripts and topographical material.
  • The Shaftesbury Psalter

    Lansdowne manuscripts

    A collection of modern political papers and material relating to topography and heraldry
Reading Room  Paul Grundy

Manuscripts Reading Room

The Manuscripts Reading Room is the enquiry point for the Library's western language manuscript collections (i.e. written by hand, not printed). The collection includes literary, historical manuscripts and private papers.

  • Find information on the shelves
  • Access online databases and electronic journals
  • Order collection items to the Reading Room via our catalogues

You’ll need a Reader Pass

Mon: 10.00 – 17.00
Tue – Sat: 09.30 – 17.00
Sun & English Public Holidays: closed

Opening hours for all Reading Rooms

For enquiries, please contact the Reference Service

Blog posts

The end of the world as we know it

Saturday, April 29, 2017

You never know when the end of the world is going to happen, and so here at the British Library we've been in a race against time to digitise our Apocalypse manuscripts, before it's too late! Here is a selection...

Blooming lovely

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Spring is finally here with spells of sunshine, birds singing and flowers blooming! It’s the perfect time of year to explore medieval gardens and their many uses. Gardens during this period were highly practical and used to grow both food...

How our ancient trees connect us to the past

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Some of the most stunning creations of the Middle Ages are still alive. Britain is dotted with trees planted hundreds of years ago, with over 120,000 listed in the Woodland Trust’s Ancient Tree Inventory. Some of them are over a...

Digitised Manuscripts hyperlinks Spring 2017

Friday, April 21, 2017

From ancient papyri to a manuscript given by the future Queen Elizabeth I to King Henry VIII for New Year's Day, from books written entirely in gold to Leonardo da Vinci's notebook, there is a wealth of material on the...

More blog posts


illuminated manuscript

The British Library houses one of the world's greatest collections of illuminated manuscripts, and Janet Backhouse has drawn on this rich resource to make a selection of outstanding examples that span over 800 years of medieval book production.


A History of the Book in 100 Books (hardback)

From inscriptions on tombs to the first writings on papyrus; from scrolls to the first bound codex books in Roman times.


Codex Sinaiticus book cover

Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript

Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most important books in the world.