An American Bluestocking in London

Buckingham Palace and Victoria Memorial, London

The Bluestocking Salon has been quiet for the past few weeks because yours truly was traveling in France and England to source new products for Bas Bleu’s 2020 catalog season. Three trade shows in three cities over the course of six days made for a breathlessly busy “grand tour”…but it wasn’t all work and no play! This American bluestocking discovered a bevy of literary landmarks in London, popping in for a visit after the day’s work was done.

front door of Charles Dickens Museum in London

The Bloomsbury district in London’s West End is best known as home to the eponymous Bloomsbury Group, a collective of writers, artists, and thinkers that included Leonard and Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, and Lytton Strachey. But numerous literary luminaries called Bloomsbury home over the years, including Charles Dickens (his former home is now a museum, see above), Dorothy L. Sayers, William Butler Yeats, J. M. Barrie, memoirist Vera Brittain, and illustrator Randolph Caldecott.

Welcome to the British Library research banner

Until 1997, the British Library’s vast collections were stored in various buildings throughout London, including the British Museum. Today the national library of the United Kingdom lives in a specially constructed “home” on the northern edge of Bloomsbury, close to the St. Pancras train station.

three stories of bookshelves behind glass, part of the King's Library at the British Library in London

First and foremost, the British Library is an active reference library, with vast reading rooms accessible, for free, to those with a Reader Pass. But visitors can gape at the multi-story King’s Library, established by King George III and a treasure trove of more than 60,000 printed books.

Jane Austen's writing desk

In a dimly lit room on the Library’s ground floor, a handful of priceless literary treasures are on display, including Jane Austen’s writing desk…

First collected edition of Shakespeare's poems

…the first collected edition of William Shakespeare’s poems, circa 1640…

Gawain and the Green Knight manuscript

…and a beautiful illustrated bound manuscript of the Middle English masterpiece Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

sign painted on the wall of the Fountain and Ink pub

Located just a half-mile from Shakespeare’s Globe, on the south bank of the river Thames, the Fountain & Ink pub sits on the site of the original Stephen’s Ink workshop. The significance? It claims to be where the “first patented indelible writing fluid”—writing ink that was resistant to fading—was made. As an admirer of fountain pens and the written word, it seemed only fitting I stop in for a pint.

Side by side portraits of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning at London's National Portrait Gallery

Take a stroll through the National Portrait Gallery near Trafalgar Square and you’ll spy the “originals” of some well-known author portraits, including Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning…

portrait of Anne, Charlotte, and Emily Bronte at London's National Portrait Gallery

…the Brontë sisters…

sketch of Jane Austen by Cassandra Austen, at London's National Portrait Gallery

…and the only confirmed portrait from life of Jane Austen (sketched by her sister Cassandra). Austen’s portrait was the basis for a posthumous engraving commissioned by her nephew, an image now featured…

Jane Austen on English 10-pound note

…on the £10 note issued in 2017. Currently, Austen is the only woman besides Queen Elizabeth II to be pictured on an English bank note.

London Peculiars at Postmans Park, London

Tucked away just a few blocks from St. Paul’s Cathedral, picturesque Postman’s Park is so named because it was a favored lunch spot for employees of the Royal Mail. Today this oasis of green is home to a memorial for Londoners who gave their lives to save others. I learned about the memorial in London Peculiars, featured in Bas Bleu’s Autumn 2019 edition. In a city filled with grand monuments to kings, queens, warriors, and politicians, it’s a poignant and beautiful little shrine to the extraordinary heroism of ordinary people.

doorway to The Second Shelf bookshop in Soho, London

Booksellers, like most avid readers, cannot resist a bookstore! And there are so many wonderful ones to choose from in London. I managed to squeeze visits to three into my schedule: The Second Shelf, a tiny store in Soho devoted to “rare books, modern first editions, manuscripts, and rediscovered works by women”…

store front of Persephone Bookshop in London

Persephone Books in Bloomsbury, which “reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers”…

Word on the Water book barge on Regents Canal, London

…and Word on the Water, a cozy barge-turned-bookstore anchored in Regents Canal near King’s Cross train station.

If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in England in the future, be sure to put these literary landmarks in London on your itinerary!

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18 thoughts on “An American Bluestocking in London

  1. I love this blog. London is one of my favorite European cities. This would have been a “book” tour I would have enjoyed myself. Thank you!

  2. I just returned from Ireland and Scotland, but unfortunately only was in London to fly in and out of. I did manage to find a FEW books in Scotland though, and music in Ireland, so I guess that qualifies as a successful trip. We did visit an amazing second hand bookstore in Inverness and I think I want to move in!

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