One of the great buildings of the Victorian Empire can be found just off Holborn, hidden behind an imposing gatehouse and hardly seen by the public.
As it happens though, this former government records office, known as the ‘the strong-box of the Empire’ is open to many, as it is today the Maughan Library, and lots of King’s College students pass through its doors every day.
Although not generally open to the public, you can pass within at the moment, as there is a public exhibition on, devoted, not entirely inappropriately, to a period of the British Empire.
This exhibition examines the history of British involvement in the Mediterranean, a strategically important region that provided the former British Empire with bases and territories to consolidate and further its military and trading objectives.
From its first territorial acquisition, that of Gibraltar in 1704, until the disbandment of the Mediterranean Fleet in 1967, Great Britain obtained a chain of territories stretching from the Pillars of Hercules at the entrance to the Straits of Gibraltar, to Port Said at the northern end of the Suez Canal.
The display is modest, a series of glass cases along a wall of the Weston Room, each given over to a specific location, and its history.
Despite that, the glass cases contain significant documents, such as a copy of a book about the treaty ceding Gibraltar to Britain, or an attack on the perfidious Brits by Greek Cypriots.
While the exhibition is a curiosity and of some interest, its almost worth going just for the chance to step inside this amazing building.
Even the room the exhibition is housed in is no mere “room”, but includes former Rolls Chapel, including stained glass windows, a mosaic floor, and three 16th and 17th-century funerary monuments.
One of these was sculpted by Pietro Torrigiano, who also created Henry VII’s tomb in Westminster Abbey and is said to have broken Michelangelo’s nose in a tavern brawl.
The exhibition is open Monday to Friday 09.30am-5pm; Saturday 10am-6pm.
Closed on 11th March and 20th April.
Entry is free, but you have to print out an admission ticket to get past security, which you can get here. The entrance to the Maughan Library is on Chancery Lane.