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 a range of free Reader sessions and 1-2-1 consultations 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

William Wordsworth: The Poetry of Place

Friday, January 17, 2020

2020 marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of William Wordsworth. To commemorate this the British Library is hosting a free exhibition on the poet that opens today in our Treasures Gallery. Entitled ‘William Wordsworth: The Poetry of Place’ this...

Internment during the Second World War – Part One: the diary of a Jewish refugee confined by Britain

Thursday, January 9, 2020

This blog is the first of a series on internment, highlighting the experiences of both civilians and military personnel detained across the globe in the Second World War. In 1940, Winston Churchill ordered what he later referred to as ‘a...

Cache of hidden letters in the Granville Archive

Friday, January 3, 2020

The Granville Archive recently acquired by the British Library includes a collection of supplementary material previously hidden from public view. When Castalia Leveson-Gower prepared her edition of the private correspondence of diplomat and statesman Granville Leveson-Gower (1773-1846), her father-in-law –...

New year, new manuscripts

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Long-term readers of this Blog may know that we periodically publish lists of our digitised manuscripts (our last list was published in June 2019). As a special treat to celebrate the New Year, today we are releasing a new update...

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