London is a city with wonderful literary connections just waiting to be explored by book lovers.
As the London Literature Festival gets underway this week (October 5th to 19th), it seems like a good time to look at what the capital has to offer for book lovers. From locations associated with literary characters and authors to fabulous bookshops, here’s where to head if you’re staying at a serviced apartment in London and love a good read.
Daunt Books, Marylebone High Street
While there are several Daunt bookshops in London – Cheapside and Chelsea included – it is only the original on Marylebone High Street that can give you the most incredible experience. This temple to literature was founded by James Daunt in 1990, but its essence goes back a long way further than that, as is evidenced in its long oak galleries and stunning skylights.
Originally constructed in 1910 for Francis Edwards, who specialised in antiquarian books, the building oozes old bookshop charm. When Daunt took it over, it officially became a travel bookshop, with the titles organised by destination. Despite this, it transcends the usual guides that populate the genre and includes everything from novels to biographies.
Among the things that book lovers will really appreciate are the circular tables that invite you to sit and flick through the volumes. This is a place to stop and stay a while, although you’re bound to come out with more than you intended to.
The George Inn, Borough High Street
Dating back to the 16th century, The George Inn in the oldest coaching inn in London that still stands to this day. It has counted both William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens among its patrons over the years, as a sign in the courtyards attests, with the latter even giving it a mention in Little Dorrit. What’s good enough for two of the bastions of English literature is good enough for us and the building itself is particularly charming, with oak-beamed rooms, lattice windows and cosy fireplaces.
Platform 9 ¾, King’s Cross Station
Any self-respecting Harry Potter fan will not be able to resist the urge to pose by the sign for Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station. It’s complete with a luggage trolley topped with an owl for added “authenticity”. It may be a little bit cheesy, but if capturing the magic of childhood is what it’s all about, then there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.
Bloomsbury Group locations
Dorothy Parker once famously wrote of the Bloomsbury Group that it “comprised pairs who had affairs in squares” and you can visit some of those actual squares. Some of the key locations in the Bloomsbury area of London to look out for include:
• 46 Gordon Square – where the Bloomsbury Group began and Thursday evenings were dedicated to intellectual conversation and recitals.
• 52 Tavistock Square – home to Virginia Woolf from 1924 to 1939 and where she wrote the majority of her work. Look across to the east side of the square to see Tavistock House, where a certain Mr Charles Dickens lived between 1851 and 1860.
• Tavistock Square Gardens – find the Virginia Woolf bust, which denotes where she wrote To The Lighthouse.
• Fitzroy Square – various members of the group lived in this square over the years.
• Reading Room, British Museum, Great Russell Square – immortalised in Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own: “The swing doors swung open, and there one stood under the vast dome, as if one were a thought in the huge bald forehead which is so splendidly encircled by a band of famous names.”
Home to the fictional character of Sherlock Holmes, but also the museum celebrating him, Baker Street is a must-visit for fans of the detective. While going into the museum is good, there’s still plenty you can do without even buying a ticket. Firstly, be sure to jump off the Tube at Baker Street station, where you’ll see all sorts of versions of the famous deerstalker-clad silhouette.
Once at ground level, look out for all manner of references to Holmes. There’s a sign to Who Knows Where? complete with a pointing finger, as well as a shop selling cloaks and such attire. Many of the other businesses in the street have also cashed in on their famous address, making for some great photo opportunities. Who doesn’t want to be pictured in front of the dry cleaner to Sherlock Holmes?!
The British Library
Technically the biggest library in the world, The British Library is heaven for book lovers. Housed inside are some of the most important books from throughout history, including the Magna Carta, Lindisfarne Gospels and Shakespeare’s First Folio. There’s also the chance to see original manuscripts of some of your favourites, such as Alice’s Adventures Under Ground and Jane Eyre.
The British Library is a wonderful place to visit, whether you want to browse and take it all in, look for something specific or take advantage of its tranquil reading rooms. Be sure to check out the King’s Library – a six-storey glass tower filled with collections – and the Sir John Ritblat Gallery – a free exhibit where sacred scrolls and many of the original manuscripts can be found.
London Literature Festival
Hosted on an annual basis, the London Literature Festival is a great time to be in the capital. It is held at the Southbank Centre and welcomes a vast array of people from the world of literature and beyond for performances, talks, poetry readings and many more events besides. This year’s festival theme is science fiction and kicks off with Christopher Eccleston reading from HG Wells’ The Time Machine. Other big names in attendance will include Margaret Atwood, Hassan Blasim and Richard Dawkins.