Ten of the best places in Britain to see weird and wonderful books

| 06 March 2014

Ten of the best British venues to see the most famous and unusual books ever written

Click on the picture to launch the gallery

The reopened Sir John Ritblat Gallery at the British Library

Reopening on Saturday (March 8) after a brief closure for aesthetic improvements, this is the hallowed setting for hundreds of the world’s most important books. They range from the Magna Carta and Laurence Olivier’s script for the (unrealised) film version of Macbeth to a recently-acquired 15th century illuminated French theatrical manuscript and leading British playwright Hanif Kureishi’s works.

Yinka Shonibare’s colourful shelves at Brighton’s Old Reference Library

Yinka Shonibare MBE, the British-Nigerian artist who balanced Nelson’s ship in a bottle atop the Fourth Plinth, is the lead artist for House, the curated art programme running alongside this year’s Brighton Festival. This May, he’ll bind the names of immigrants who became cultural colossuses – TS Eliot, Henry James and Hans Holbein among them – into colourfully crafted books, made from Indonesian-designed, Dutch-manufactured wax cloth within the Old Reference Library.

The Biggest Book Show on Earth, Theatre Royal, Newcastle

Seven bestselling authors - Cathy Cassidy, Jonathan Stroud, Laura Dockrill, Charlie Fletcher, Alex T Smith, Caryl Hart and Steven Butler - are at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal tomorrow (March 7), led by Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books which is a must-see for families. “I love it,” says Cassidy, the writer of The Chocolate Box Girls. “It’s an amazing, imaginative space that really taps into the magic books can create.”

The 600-year-old story of Richard III’s visits to York at the Yorkshire Museum’s Medieval Gallery

While the resting place of Richard III’s body remains uncertain, the immortality of this parchment tome has survived floods and moves since being initiated as a House Book of the city during his 15th century rise to power. Find out what the king spent his money on and what local figures really thought of him.

Peter Blake’s take on Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood

Hundreds of groups in Wales are taking part in the Dylan Thomas celebrations marking what would have been his 100th birthday (on October 27). At Oriel y Parc, in St Davids, one of Dylan’s admirers, Sir Peter Blake, offers a pop art take on Under Milk Wood, Dylan’s 1954 classic (May 17 – September 23).

Thousands of illuminated Medieval manuscripts at the Fitzwilliam Museum

One of the most forward-thinking cataloguing projects of its kind, the Fitzwilliam and Cambridge Colleges have used all sorts of scientifically beguiling techniques to allow you to non-evasively glance over more than 4,000 illuminated Western manuscripts and pre-1500 printed books. Google Earth and X-ray fluorescence get right down to the pigments of exquisite examples of medieval and Renaissance painting.

The Shakespeare works which were almost lost in the Skipton First Folio

A compendium of 36 of Shakespeare’s then-unprinted plays, this First Folio, published in 1623, is one of only four copies worldwide on permanent display to the public. Macbeth, Twelfth Night and The Tempest all feature within a work which, in a departure from its usual home at Craven, will visit York from March, taking in the city’s Literature Festival and the visit of the Tour de France to the county.

Roald Dahl’s recreated writing hut at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre

Set in Great Missenden, the Buckinghamshire village where Roald Dahl spent 36 years writing, this museum features the furnishings of Dahl’s writing hut, his “little nest” which was beginning to decay in his former garden at Gipsy House before being meticulously recreated. Displays and events take place throughout the year.

The 200th anniversary of Mansfield Park at Jane Austen’s House Museum

In the Hampshire village of Chawton where Jane Austen wrote her three-volume Mansfield Park novel, her former house will hold an exhibition marking the bicentenary of the successor to Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Original, freshly-conserved writings by Austen are among the exhibits planned.

Folk magic from Cornwall and the West Country at the Museum of Witchcraft

Pagan Cornwall, wands, wines, brews, fallen angels and horned pipers at the museum which has spent more than 50 years as the home of one of the world’s largest collections related to witchcraft. Their books specialise in Pendle Witches, studies of charmers and mysterious folklore.


Pics: British Library, Sir Peter Blake, Craven District Council, Fitzwilliam Museum, Brighton Festival, Midnightblueowl at en.wikipedia, Yorkshire Museum, Jane Austen's House Museum / West Dean

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