Last week I attended a meeting in London, England. While there, I took the opportunity to go sightseeing. The picture to the left shows the front gate of the St. Pancras building of the British Library. Similar to The Library of Congress, the British Library serves researchers from around the world through its magnificent collection that includes manuscripts, maps, newspapers, magazines, prints and drawings, music scores, and sound recordings. Since I visited on a Sunday, I was not able to register for a Reader Pass or explore any of the Reading Rooms as they were closed; however, I was able to see the Sir John Ritblat Gallery that displays some of the British Library’s treasures. The exhibit included early versions of the King James Bible, the Lindisfarne Gospels and other illuminated manuscripts, Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook, selections from English literature (Austen, Brontë, Milton, Shakespeare), and music manuscripts (Beethoven, Handel, Mozart, and the Beatles). The highlight of this exhibit was a copy of Magna Carta and associated documents: the Articles of the Barons (and seal), a 1215 exemplification of Magna Carta, and the papal denunciation of Magna Carta.
The picture to the right shows the front doors to The Supreme Court, the highest court in the United Kingdom, located on the western side of Parliament Square. The court describes its location as “highly symbolic of the United Kingdom’s separation of powers, balancing judiciary and legislature across the open space of Parliament Square, with the other two sides occupied by the executive (the Treasury building) and the church (Westminster Abbey).”
Finally, a trip to London would be incomplete without a picture of Parliament and Big Ben (officially the Palace of Westminster). Like in the United States, anyone may attend and watch the legislature in action. The galleries are open to the public when the Houses (House of Commons and House of Lords) are sitting. The House of Lords was not in session when I visited, but I was able attend a lively debate in the House of Commons—on whether or not to use military force in Iran.
As noted above, Parliament Square includes Westminster Abbey. You can see the top of its two towers just to the right of Big Ben in this picture. The Abbey is steeped in history as it has been used for royal coronations since 1066 and is the final resting place for seventeen monarchs. The Abbey also has excellent music and offers concerts and recitals throughout the year. I attended one of the free organ recitals that are held on Sunday evenings and heard Mark Brafield play several intriguing modern pieces (Jean Langlais, Maurice Duruflé, Judith Bingham). Some of you may be wondering what is so unique about an organ recital and what it has to do with either libraries or the law. Mr. Brafield’s biography notes that he studied at Trinity College, Oxford where he held an organ scholarship, and that he is a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists. Interestingly, he also qualified as a solicitor and practices commercial and family law. How many people are there in the world that combine a legal profession with a career as a concert organist?