virtual tour

Thanks to the hard work of our Web Manager, Eva Bensasson, we are proud to introduce a virtual tour of the Book Library. You can now bask in the glory of the Book Library from the comfort of your own home.


The site of the library (along with the rest of Somerset House) was begun by William Chambers in 1776 and was incomplete at his death in 1793. It is considered one of the finest buildings of the period in London, blending the neoclassical and Palladian as well as reflecting Chamber’s own Parisian training with extensive Louis XVI style interiors. Chambers’ Treatise on Civil Architecture is available via Google books here, as well as in hard copy in the library.

The east block originally housed the Royal Academy of Arts (of whom Chambers was a founder member and first treasurer) before their move to Burlington House. The arches of the Book Library are believed to have housed their wine cellar.

Other William Chambers buildings of note include the ten storey Pagoda at the Royal Botanical Gardens of Kew and the fantastically bizarre Dunmore Pineapple (below).

In the summer of 2007 the library was refurbished. The majority of the books were relocated to the basement floor and arranged in a continuous sequence. A ramp was added to ensure that the entire basement floor is wheelchair accessible. In order to provide a more pleasant working environment, ceiling fans were added to improve ventilation, the whole space has been repainted and redecorated, and the brickwork has been sealed. An extra twenty wirelessly networked study spaces were created in order to accommodate increasing numbers of laptop users and seating has been concentrated in daylight areas.

Nicholas Brown
Graduate Trainee