London's Museums of Literature & the Written Word

Shakespeare, Dickens, Keats... three towering figures in the history of English literature and each with a London museum commemorating their lives and work.

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Combine them, according to taste, with a visit to London's pre-eminent attraction for anyone interested in the written word - the British Library's Sir John Ritblat Gallery, which is stuffed with extraordinary literary treasures of all kinds. And as if all that weren't enough to keep literary fans busy, you can delve into the origins of the first comprehensive English Dictionary at Dr Johnson's House, visit the 'recreated' study of literature's greatest sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, and explore a number of obscure but fascinating collections relating to authors, writing and printing.

Return to London's museums grouped by theme

The Museums (in alphabetical order)

Charles Dickens Museum (Dickens House Museum)

48 Doughty Street is the only surviving home of the great Victorian novelist, and the place where he wrote 'Oliver Twist', 'The Pickwick Papers' and several other important works. Permanent displays include original manuscripts, portraits and first editions, and three reconstructed rooms from the years (1837-39) when Dickens was in residence. There is also a programme of temporary exhibitions, featuring items drawn from the museum's collection - considered the most important collection of Dickens'-related material in the world - and items on loan from elsewhere. The museum also hosts a reading group and screens many film versions of Dickens' works.

Sir John Ritblat Gallery, British Library

Many of the British Library's - and indeed the world's - greatest treasures are on permanent display in this extraordinary gallery. View iconic and world-famous manuscripts, documents and books including Magna Carta, the Lidisfarne Gospels, Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks, and the Gutenberg Bible. Displays cover early printing, both in the Far East and Europe, illuminated manuscripts and sacred texts from many faiths, documents of historical and scientific importance, maps and music, as well as a special section on the art of bookbinding. Other highlights include Shakespeare's First Folio, and early versions of literary classics such as Aesop's Fables and Alice in Wonderland, plus manuscripts by Virginia Wolf, Jane Austen and the Bronte Sisters.

Carlyle's House

The atmospheric Chelsea home of celebrated 19th century writer, thinker and lecturer Thomas Carlyle, whose work inspired Charles Dickens, and who - together with his wife Jane - was a Victorian literary celebrity. The house with its garden has been preserved as a 'literary shrine' since 1895, and is furnished with many items which belonged to the Carlyles, plus memorabilia collected by their later devotees.

Dr Johnson's House

It was in this house that Samuel Johnson, working in the attic, compiled the first comprehensive English dictionary. The product of nine years' work, the dictionary was published in 1755 in a first edition of 2000 copies, of which the museum has two. Johnson went on to publish an edition of Shakespeare and the 'Lives of the Poets'. The house has been restored to its 18th century appearance and has displays charting Johnson's life and work, his friendships with famous people, and involvement in the issues of the day.

Garrick's Temple to Shakespeare, Richmond

A temple-like pavilion on the banks of the River Thames, built by the great 18th century actor-manager David Garrick to celebrate the genius of William Shakespeare. The Temple's centrepiece is a replica of the life-sized statue of Shakespeare Garrick commissioned from the sculptor Roubiliac. A small exhibition commemorates the lives and careers of both Shakespeare and Garrick, and a programme of events themed around the two figures is held in the summer months.
Very limited opening

Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH) Museum and Archives

J M Barrie, creator of 'Peter Pan', gifted all his rights and income from the book to Great Ormond Street Hospital in 1929, greatly aiding the redevelopment of the hospital in the 1930s. A special amendment to copyright law means that the hospital continues to benefit from royalties. Peter Pan's importance to GOSH is celebrated throughout the hospital in the form of ward names, statues and memorial plaques. The GOSH museum also holds a number of Peter Pan items. Editions of the book from around the world, old theatre programmes and memorabilia can be seen at the GOSH charity offices.
By appointment only

Keat's House

Wentworth Place was the Hampstead home of John Keats from 1818-20 and the place where he wrote much of his best work, including 'Ode to a Nightingale'. It is also where he met and fell in love with Fanny Brawne, literally 'the girl next door'. The museum celebrates both the life and work of this great English Romantic poet, and poetry generally, and has a huge collection of Keats-related material, including letters, books, paintings and the engagement ring Keats gave to Fanny Brawne. The garden has been recreated in Regency style to reflect aspects of Keats's poetry, including Melancholy, Autumn and Nightingale, and is a popular picnic spot.

Lambeth Palace Library

The Church of England's principle library and archive was founded in 1610, making it one of the very oldest public libraries in England. The library holds an annual public exhibition featuring material drawn from its outstanding collection of the Archbishops of Canterbury. The collection includes illuminated manuscripts, documents and printed books, including a Gutenberg Bible of 1455. Many items are of both religious and historical importance, for example the execution warrant for Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I's prayer book.
Limited opening

Marx Memorial Library & Lenin Room

An independent library with a unique collection of books, periodicals and manuscripts relating to all aspects of Marxism, Socialism and the working class movement. Lenin worked in the building during his 1902-3 exile in London, editing and printing the journal ISKRA (The Spark) which was then smuggled into Russia. The office he used is preserved and open to visitors, as are the library's historic reading and meeting rooms. The library also houses the 'Printer's Collection' (see below).

Printer's Collection

The history of print trade unionism in the UK and Ireland, told via a unique collection of records, memorabilia and historic artefacts, and encompassing workers of all the many and varied paper and print areas: from paper and wallpaper making to bookbinders and today's laser driven typesetters and printers. Displays focus on the role of workers and their trade unions as far back as the introduction of printing to England by William Caxton in the 15th century. Housed in the Marx Memorial Library (see above).
By appointment only

Shakespeare's Globe Exhibition

Located under the recreated Globe Theatre, this lively exhibition explores the life of Shakespeare, the London that he knew, and the theatre that he was so closely involved with. Learn about the Globe's location in Elizabethan London's most notorious entertainment district, and how the theatre was reconstructed using authentic historical techniques and 'brought back to life'. Displays cover Elizabethan theatrical costume and special effects, and of course Shakespeare and his life and work. Regular live demonstrations include sword fighting, costume dressings and printing on a replica 17th century press. Visits to the Globe's Exhibition include a guided tour of the theatre itself, and there are also regular tours to the partly excavated Rose Theatre which preceded the Globe, and was home to many of Shakespeare's and Marlowe's earliest productions.

Sherlock Holmes Museum

Sherlock Holmes fans will enjoy this 'recreation' of 221b Baker Street, the fictional address where, according to the stories, the great detective took rooms between 1881 and 1904. See the famous study - laid out just as described in the stories - where Holmes and Watson mulled over cases. Visit Dr Watson's room and also the quarters of Mrs Hudson the landlady. The rooms are complete with the characters' private papers and personal possessions including Holmes' iconic pipe, deerstalker hat, violin and magnifying glass.

Smythson Stationery Museum

Company website:
A history of 'all things Smythson', located at the rear of the famous stationer's Bond Street shop. The Smythson company was established in 1887 and holds three Royal Warrants, so there is plenty of history to explore. Exhibits include many beautiful historical products, including Victorian items and war-time Christmas cards, plus bespoke stationery and calling cards created for, among others, Indian Maharajas, Sigmund Freud and Hollywood stars including Katherine Hepburn.
40 New Bond Street, London W1S 2DE, Tel: 020 7629 8558

Soseki Museum in London (website in Japanese only)

The house where Natsume Soseki (1867-1916), perhaps Japan's greatest novelist, lived during the two years he spent in London, 1900-1902. Sent to England to study by the Japanese government, Soseki spent his meagre stipend on hundreds of second hand books, and although his time in London was not particularly happy, it had a profound effect on him and inspired a number of his later works.
80b The Chase, London SW4 0NG, Tel: 020 7720 8718
Opening times: February to September Wed, Sat 11am-1pm and 2pm-5pm, Sun 2-5pm, last admission at 4.30pm, closed November to January

Stephens Collection of Writing Equipment

The history of the Stephens Ink Company, famous for its 1832 patent for 'Blue-Black Writing Fluid', housed in the former home of the Stephens family in Finchley. Displays focus on the historical development of writing materials, the history of the Stephens Ink Company and aspects of the life of Dr. Henry Stephens, its founder, and his son, local politician Henry "Inky" Stephens.
Limited opening

Women's Library, London Metropolitan University

An important collection of books, papers and objects related to women's history from the 19th century to the present day, and a venue for exhibitions and foyer displays related to women's lives and issues.