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Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Buckingham House: The Octagon Library
This view of one of the King’s four library rooms - entitled by Pyne ‘The King’s Library (II)’ - shows the fine octagonal room added at the south-eastern extent of Buckingham House. These rooms occupied a wing added by Chambers to the southern end of the original building soon after the arrival of Consul Smith’s books in London in 1763. After the Great (or West) Library of 1762-4 came the South and the Octagon Libraries in 1766-7, and finally the East Library in 1772-3. Pyne only included views of the Octagon Library and the East Library in his publication; however, an engraving of the Great Library, entitled ‘Library No. III’, was issued in June 1818. Another view of that room was used to illustrate the catalogue of the King’s Library.
The principal access to the library rooms at ground-floor level was via a door from the King’s bedroom, which led immediately into the Great Library. A staircase in the heart of this wing allowed access by staff and visitors from the basement floor, which contained the offices and rooms for the bookbinders. George III was keen to ensure that his library was as comprehensive as possible and scholars were encouraged to use it. An early visitor was Mrs Philip Lybbe Powys who in March 1767 described the three library rooms then extant. Samuel Johnson’s famous interview with George III took place in these rooms in the same year.
In the Octagon Library, which was 42 feet (nearly 13 metres) wide, books filled all the available shelf space. The arrangement of books is largely undocumented. In this view the shelves between the door and the chimneypiece appear to have the added protection of cupboard doors, which may have been glazed; the remaining books were apparently on open shelves. The octagonal desk in the centre of the room was supplied for this position, probably by Bradburn, and survives - in altered form - in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle. Above the desk is the astronomical clock supplied by Eardley Norton in 1765 at the cost of £1,042. The room was lit by large lunette windows at high level; through one of these openings can be seen part of the first-floor room above the East Library.
The Octagon Library was the most spatially adventurous of these new rooms. Its form was almost certainly inspired by the library wing designed by Robert Adam in 1762-3 for Lord Bute’s London residence, Bute (later Lansdowne) House.
Catalogue entry adapted from George III & Queen Charlotte: Patronage, Collecting and Court Taste, London, 2004