Library Lockdown Log

Due to Coronavirus, the Library is closed until further notice

1st April
This began as a look at diarists in times of crisis, but has wandered … more diarists (in different crises) will follow.

Contemporaries Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn left diaries covering the period of the Great Plague of 1665-66.  Pepys, whose diaries are probably better known now, recorded his impressions through his own experiences and encounters; Evelyn was much less personal, often writing retrospectively and, as a known writer himself, with readers in mind.  Margaret Willes’s book, The curious world of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, is moving to the top of my reading list.  Known as a garden historian (she lectured at HLSI in 2015 on The gardens of the British Working Class) she may have been attracted to Evelyn by his passion for gardens and then to his relationship with Pepys and their shared interests.  I look forward to learning more.

Daniel Defoe’s Diary of the plague year was written some time later, and is thought to be based on the diaries of Defoe’s uncle – Defoe himself was a young child in 1665.  It might now be called ‘faction’, but is agreed to be sufficiently accurate in much of its description of events to give a good account of the time.

The experience of the inhabitants of the Derbyshire village of Eyam, almost all of whom agreed to shut themselves off from the outside world after the Plague arrived in a bale of cloth, has been fictionalised at various times but most recently in Year of wonders by Geraldine Brooks, told from the point of view of one young woman, which has been popular in the library since it was published in 2001. 

Moving away from London and a few decades earlier, one of our members has contributed:

One non-fiction work I am reading is by Professor John Henderson, Florence under siege: surviving plague in an early modern city. It was published a few months ago and examines how the Plague in 17th century Florence was handled. (Reviewed in the current issue of the London Review of Books). Some aspects like communal kitchens to provide meals to all those in lock down in their houses were innovative.

We welcome suggestions from members for lockdown reading, reviews of books you’ve enjoyed or any library -related notes.  Please send them to

The Library has some 25,000 books, constantly updated and covering a wide range, from crime fiction to history. In general stock reflects members’ interests and, indeed, those of earlier librarians: for example, at various times the Bloomsbury Group, gardening, embroidery, Imperial Russia and women travellers of the 19th century have clearly been much in demand. The original collection, as the first catalogue of 1839 shows, matched the lecture subjects chosen by the early members. It was much stronger in the burgeoning fields of science and engineering. Now fiction, biography and history predominate.

Our children’s corner holds many classics, often enjoyed by parents and grandparents, as well as new titles for the very young, for new and for confident readers, and for young adults.

Many of our books are not available in other libraries, and the collection has often proved to be a useful resource for researchers and writers.

Members may borrow up to eight books at a time, and can request book renewals or reserve books in person, by telephone or by e-mailing the librarian at

The Coleridge Room holds our special collections on London, Highgate, Coleridge and Betjeman.  This room may be used by members for study and research: please telephone us if you would like to check when it is available.

The London Collection covers all aspects of the capital: history, waterways, architecture, transport, guilds, its people and more.

Highgate itself is more comprehensively represented, and together with our Archives this collection offers an extremely useful resource for anyone interested in exploring the history of our area.

Both Coleridge and Betjeman lived locally, Betjeman in childhood and Coleridge in the last years of his life. These collections include works by and about both these poets.