You can access ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary manuscript and archive material from around the world. Our collections include historical, literary, political, scientific, and religious papers as well as maps, charters, seals, rolls, and papyri.

Collection guides

Readers at desks in the Manuscript Reading Room

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 about the British Library’s collection of western manuscripts and those held elsewhere
  • Access online databases and electronic journals and books relating to archives and manuscripts
  • Order collection items to the Reading Room via our Explore Archives & Manuscripts Catalogue

Some of our manuscripts may require a Letter of Introduction, or may have other Access Conditions.

We offer free Discovery and 1-2-1 Sessions to help you make the best use of the Library's collections. 

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 Manuscripts Reference Team

Blog posts

A medieval guide to predicting your future

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

How can you predict the future, interpret your dreams, and protect yourself against harm? Some of the manuscripts digitised for The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project have the answer. Many medieval manuscripts include charms, which seek to influence events...

What is a bestiary?

Sunday, August 18, 2019

As the Getty's wonderful Book of Beasts exhibition draws to close, it's an apt moment to reflect on the medieval manuscripts we know as 'bestiaries'. Elizabeth Morrison, one of the curators of Book of Beasts, has described the bestiary as...

“That was our place.” - The Cambridge of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes

Saturday, August 17, 2019

by guest blogger Di Beddow, PhD student at Queen Mary, University of London, researching Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath in Cambridge. The notebook containing the Hughes poem 'Cambridge Was Our Courtship' (Add MS 88918/1/2) is currently on display in the...

In August, in a high season: the wondrous Pearl

Saturday, August 17, 2019

You may be forgiven (especially if you're currently in London) that it's August, traditionally the time of the harvest and school summer holidays. This also happens to be the moment when Pearl, one of the masterpieces of Middle English literature,...

More blog posts

Case studies

More Case studies
…You get to know how people work in an institution like this... it's something I would like to do as well.…

Exploring the working life of a twentieth-century scientist through the archive of John Maynard Smith.

…A PhD can be a lonely journey, but collaborative PhDs are certainly not that.…

Investigating constructions of identity in the works and archive of the writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.

Shop

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.

£8.95

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.

£20

Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript

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

£50