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

Accessing West African Manuscripts in the British Library

Monday, January 24, 2022

The importance of the manuscripts of West Africa to scholarship, history, heritage and religion has long been recognised, and is of increasing interest to researchers and the public. Across the region, the manuscript collections of many libraries testify to long...

Slavery and the Sugar Trade: cataloguing five bills of lading

Thursday, January 20, 2022

N.B. This article may contain descriptions which are outdated and/or culturally/racially insensitive Title: Jamaica negroes cutting (sugar) canes in their working dresses. Shelfmark: T.1140.(3.) Slave sugar sweetened the British economy for over three hundred years. As abolitionist discourse grew over...

‘As goodly a child as I have seen’

Thursday, January 20, 2022

In March 1543, King Henry VIII sent Sir Ralph Sadler as ambassador to Scotland. A protégé of Thomas Cromwell, Sadler had his first audience with the dowager queen, Mary of Guise, within days of arriving. The subject of their interview...

New online - December 2021

Monday, January 17, 2022

This month's round-up of newly available collections features archives from India, Romania, Moldova, and Indonesia. Digitisation of the Kováts Napfényműterem photographic archive (Odorheiu Secuiesc, Romania) (EAP1130) Preserving the History of Indian Cinema through Digitising Early Urdu Film Magazines (EAP1262) Safeguarding...

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.

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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