Science blog

27 July 2017

Geology of and in the British Library

Eric Robinson, consultant to Sir Colin Wilson, our architect, and a former University College London lecturer and urban geologist produced a free BL booklet several years ago entitled “A Geology of the British Library” in which he drew our attention to the beautiful geological and paleontological features of the stone, marble and building materials used on both the interior and exterior of the library building at St. Pancras.


A walk around the site or formal tour will offer the opportunity to look at the fascinating fossils and geological patterns visible in the marble, on the floors and in the public areas:

Key features and types of stone to be found, include:

  • New red sand stone from the Permian period around the piazza and main entrance gate.
  • Handmade red bricks that characterise the building and courtyard, are made from southern England clay, high in alumina and at high kiln temperatures with controlled oxygen to create the impressive red colour.
  • Fossilized sea sponges can be seen in the French Hauterville limestone located outside the conference centre.
  • Creamy white Portland stone squares contrast with the darker Purbeck limestone slabs that can be found on the upper ground floor around the reader registration entrance and 3D library model. This Purbeck limestone,  on closer examination, reveals dark fossilized bivalve sea shells and fresh water molluscs.
  • Antony Gormley’s Planets installation in the piazza, consisting of 8 similar sized rounded glacial boulders from Malmo, Southern Sweden, reflecting the impact of the ice ages on their surfaces over the last 2 million years.  

A PDF of Eric Robinson’s guide can be found on the UK Web Archive Organisation’s site at:

and whets our appetite for his other publications on London urban geology, readily found on our Explore the BL catalogue ( ) including Greenwich, Westminster, St. Paul’s, and the church yard tombstone trail around St. Mary’s Hornsey, London.

The following  canned search on the Explore catalogue below lists Eric Robinson's publication titles:

URL is;jsessionid=B22843284F239948080E1B85A236C223?fn=search&ct=search&initialSearch=true&mode=Basic&tab=local_tab&indx=1&dum=true&srt=rank&vid=BLVU1&frbg=&tb=t&vl%28freeText0%29=008796217+OR+008796200+OR+008796214++OR+013514925+OR+008796205+OR+008796204+&scp.scps=scope%3A%28BLCONTENT%29&vl%28488279563UI0%29=any&vl%28488279563UI0%29=title&vl%28488279563UI0%29=any


The British Library also houses a graduate and post graduate level science collection with current journals, books and conferences in geology on the third floor reading room plus research tools and e-resources such as the Georef, Web of Science, Scopus, Engineering Village  databases for keeping up to date with all aspects of this subject (reading room onsite access):

Whether you are a British Library member of staff, a registered reader or a visitor, both the building and it’s collections can be full of surprises and open to everyone to explore. 

Paul Allchin,

Reference specialist - science