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The Friends of the British Library is a registered charitable organisation in the UK with close links to the British Library. It provides funding in the form of grants to the British Library in order to allow the Library to acquire new items and collections, procure new equipment and facilities, and produce exhibitions.

Friends of the British Library
PurposeSupports the British Library with grants for acquisitions, exhibitions, new equipment, facilities, and other activities.
  • 96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB
Region served
RemarksCurrent President: Lord Salisbury
Chairman: Ferdinand Mount
Interior of former Friends Room at the British Library[1]



The inaugural meeting of the Friends was held on 12 January 1989 with the objective of "the education of the public by promotion, support, assistance and improvement of the British Library through the activities of a group of Friends".[2] It operates under a written constitution as an unincorporated association and registered charity.

The Friends first President was Lord Eccles, a man heavily involved in the original creation of the British Library via the British Library Act 1972 as well as being the British Library's first Chairman. He would be President of the Friends from its creation in 1989 until his death in 1999. The first Chairman of the Friends of the British Library was Christopher Henry Beaumont Pease, 2nd Baron Wardington. He became a Vice President in 1994, and President in 1999 – a post he held until his death in 2005.[3]

President and councilEdit

The hierarchy of the Friends include a President, several Vice Presidents, a Chairman and deputy, and a council of members.[4] The council members are trustees of the charity for the purposes of charity law.

Officers and members of the council are elected as required by the Constitution of the membership at each year's Annual General Meeting. The current President of the Friends is Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 7th Marquess of Salisbury and the Vice Presidents consist of Lord Bragg of Wigton, Frank Field MP, William Hague MP, Lord Hameed, Lord Jones of Birmingham, Sir Geoffrey Leigh, Penelope Lively, Sir Andrew Motion, Cdr Michael Saunders Watson and Lord Steel of Aikwood.[4] The Chairman of the Friends is Ferdinand Mount,[5] and Deputy Chairman is Graham Allatt.


The Friends principally fund acquisitions for the British Library's collections that it would not otherwise be able to fund from its own finances.

Such acquisitions have included author Graham Swift's archive, which included manuscripts, notes, revisions and proofs to all eight of his novels including the Booker Prize-winning Last Orders.[6]

Funding has also included a contribution towards the £500,000 required in order to purchase the Ted Hughes archive, a former poet laureate, which included more than 220 files and boxes of manuscripts.[7]

One acquisition was the Macclesfield Alphabet, a collection of 14 different types of alphabet that date from around 1500 AD. The Friends collaborated with the National Heritage Memorial Fund, The Art Fund, members of the British Library and several individual donors in order to enable the British Library to purchase the book.[8]

Dering RollEdit

Those three charities had previously collaborated, along with Friends of the National Libraries, to purchase the Dering Roll in 2008. The Dering Roll is the oldest extant English roll of arms, dating from around 1270 AD. It depicts 324 coats of arms which are approximately a quarter of the entire English baronage during the reign of Edward I. It was purchased by the British Library at auction for £194,184 (including VAT).[9]

Bust of King George IIIEdit

In 1998 the Friends purchased Peter Turnerelli's 1812 marble bust of King George III to commemorate the move of the King's Library into the new facility at St. Pancras.[10] The bust was purchased entirely by the Friends for the sum of £25,000. It is currently on public display on the first floor, at the head of the stairs at the main British Library facility in St. Pancras.[11]

Mary WelchEdit

The single largest contribution that the Friends have made towards the British Library was the grant of £130,000 towards a new conservation room as part of a bequest from Mary Welsh. She was a Friends volunteer and conservation enthusiast.[12][13]

Mervyn Peake's archiveEdit

The Friends again collaborated with the British Library, The Art Fund, Friends of the National Libraries and individual donors to purchase Mervyn Peake's archive for a sum of £410,000. The archive included 39 Gormenghast notebooks, as well as the complete set of original drawings for the 1954 edition of Lewis Carroll's Alice Through the Looking Glass and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.[14]

The archive itself dates from between 1940 and Peake's death in 1968 and includes unpublished material such as correspondence with writers Laurie Lee, Walter de la Mare and C. S. Lewis. It also included the unpublished draft of the sequel to the Gormenghast trilogy, Titus Awakes which was published in 2011 by Vintage Classics to celebrate the centenary of Peake's birth.[14]


At their AGM on 19 March 2018, the Friends voted in favour of a proposal to merge with the Library's Membership scheme. This went into effect on 01 April 2018.[15]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Become a Friend". The British Library. Archived from the original on 6 August 2016. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  2. ^ "Friends of the British Library Annual Report 2004/05" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-09-08.[dead link]
  3. ^ "Obituary: Lord Wardington". 12 July 2005. Retrieved 8 September 2009.
  4. ^ a b "Friends of the British Library Annual Report 2006/07" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-09-07.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Sexton, Ed (11 March 2009). "Graham Swift's archive acquired by the British Library". Archived from the original on March 29, 2009. Retrieved 7 September 2009.
  7. ^ Savage, Mark (15 October 2008). "Library acquires Hughes archives". BBC News. Retrieved 7 September 2009.
  8. ^ Sinclair, Mark (29 July 2009). "Macclesfield Alphabet at the British Library". Creative Review. Archived from the original on 18 January 2011. Retrieved 7 September 2009.
  9. ^ "British Library acquires Dering Roll". National Heritage Memorial Fund. 2 September 2008. Archived from the original on 18 May 2011. Retrieved 8 September 2009.
  10. ^ "British Library Prints & Drawings full record display for shelfmark BLWA 17". Retrieved 14 October 2009.[dead link]
  11. ^ "Biography of Peter Turnerelli". Archived from the original on 15 August 2011. Retrieved 14 October 2009.
  12. ^ "Friends of Libraries Australia - International News". Archived from the original on 2 October 2009. Retrieved 14 October 2009.
  13. ^ "HRH The Princess Royal opens new British Library Centre for Conservation". Archived from the original on 29 October 2009. Retrieved 27 October 2009.
  14. ^ a b Thorpe, Vanessa (4 April 2010). "How the devastation caused by war came to inspire an artist's dark images of Alice". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 7 April 2010.
  15. ^ "FBL website". Retrieved 1 April 2018.


  • Day, Alan Edwin (1998). Inside the British Library. Library Association Publishing (UK). ISBN 1-85604-280-4.
  • Saunders Watson, Michael (2008). I am Given a Castle. Quiller Press. ISBN 1-899163-88-3.
  • Kenny, Sir Anthony (1994). The British Library and the St Pancras Building. British Library. ISBN 0-7123-0395-2.
  • Dainton, Fred (2001). Doubts and Certainties. Sheffield Academic Press. ISBN 1-84127-168-3.

External linksEdit