British Library at St Pancras receives highest listed building status
The British Library at St Pancras has been listed Grade I by Heritage Minister, Tracey Crouch on the advice of Historic England and joins the top 2.5% of listed buildings in England.
Originally designed by architect Sir Colin St John Wilson and his partner MJ Long between 1982 and 1999, it was the largest UK public building to be built in the 20th century. Intended to move and inspire its visitors, today the British Library’s London site is much-loved and well-used by scholars and members of the public alike for its soaring and stimulating spaces.
With its five public floors sweeping upwards like a wave, the architecture is both immense and extraordinary. Surrounded on both sides by 11 Reading Rooms, the Library’s centrepiece is the magnificent King’s Library tower, home to the library of George III as well as the Treasures Gallery that hold national Treasures such as Magna Carta, Lindisfarne Gospels and original Beatles lyrics.
The building holds a prominent location on London’s Euston Road and shaped the emerging character of the surrounding area of north-central London as a place of collaborative research and study - referred to now as the Knowledge Quarter*.
Heritage Minister Tracey Crouch said: “The British Library divided opinion from the moment its design was revealed, but I am glad that expert advice now allows me to list it, ensuring that its iconic design is protected for future generations to enjoy.”
The listing coincides with seven libraries from across the UK that have been awarded Grade II status. These are:
- Suffolk Record Office, Suffolk (1963-5, Donald McMorran)
- Bebington Central Library, The Wirral (1967-71, Paterson, Macauley and Owens)
- Milton Keynes Central Library, Milton Keynes (1979-81, Buckinghamshire County Council architects)
- Chandler’s Ford Library, Eastleigh, Hampshire (1981-2, Hampshire County Council architect Colin Stansfield Smith)
- West Sussex Library, West Sussex (1965-6, county architect F R Steele)
- Bourne Hall Library & Social Centre, Epsom, Surrey (1967-70, A.G. Sheppard Fidler and Associates)
- Lillington Library, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire (1959-60, Henry Fedeski)
Commenting on all eight listings, Tracey Crouch said: “Libraries are the cornerstones of the communities they serve. They act as meeting places, provide areas to learn and are a credit to the volunteers at the heart and soul of the service. Many of these libraries have stood proudly in their communities for more than 50 years and I am thrilled that these institutions can be admired for many years to come.”
Director of Listing at Historic England, Roger Bowdler, said: “The British Library is one of England’s finest modern public buildings. Listing it at Grade I acknowledges its outstanding architectural and historic interest. Colin St John Wilson’s stately yet accessible design incorporates fine materials and a generous display of public art. The Library’s dramatic and carefully considered interiors achieve its ultimate goal: of creating a space to inspire thought and learning.
“Historic England has had a really constructive consultation with the British Library throughout. The way it has been listed celebrates its qualities, and points out just what does make it special. This will enable it to go on flourishing as a dynamic public building, in which appropriate change is welcomed.
“It joins a select group of other listed post-war public libraries on the National Heritage List for England. Even in today’s digital age, there is a clear future for these buildings. They illustrate a wide range of architectural styles, and together represent the very best in public architecture.”
Chief Executive of the British Library, Roly Keating, said: “We are delighted that Colin St John Wilson’s courageous and visionary design for the British Library’s London building has been recognised by a listing at the highest level. Even in the relatively short period since its opening it has worked its way into the affections of millions of visitors and researchers, who have discovered its beautiful spaces, subtle use of natural light and exquisite detailing.
“It is also a privilege to be listed alongside a group of distinguished public library buildings from across the country. As well as celebrating architectural excellence, this listing is a reminder, in the midst of the digital age, of the vital importance of libraries as physical spaces of the highest quality at the heart of their communities.”
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Aerial shot of the British Library at St Pancras. Photo credit: Tony Antoniou.
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British Library Reading Room. Photo credit: Paul Grundy.
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View of the King's Library Tower. Photo credit: Tony Antoniou.
The King's Library, the British Library at St Pancras. Photo credit: Paul Grundy.
Drawing of the new British Library at St Pancras, viewed from Ossulston Street. Drawing by Colin St John Wilson circa 1991.
Notes to Editors
Notes to Editors
- There are just over 50 buildings on the National Heritage List for England that date from the 1970s. The British Library has been listed due to its architectural excellence, quality of materials and design ethic.
- The listing of British Library will join other recognised buildings in the area including, Grade I St Pancras Hotel and station, Grade I King’s Cross station, Grade II Camden Town Hall and Grade II housing on Ossulston Street.
- *The Knowledge Quarter is a partnership of over 50 educational, academic, cultural, scientific and media organisations located in and around Kings Cross, Euston and Bloomsbury.
- 2.5% of listed buildings are Grade I, 5.5% are Grade II* and 92% are Grade II. For the British Library to be listed as Grade I indicates that it is of exceptional interest.
About Historic England
Historic England (formerly known as English Heritage) is the public body that champions and protects England's historic places. We look after the historic environment, providing expert advice, helping people protect and care for it and helping the public to understand and enjoy it.
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - www.bl.uk - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.