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The History The British Museum

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The History The British Museum

The British Museum was established in 1753, when the trustees purchased a 17th-century mansion called Montagu House, in Bloomsbury as the location for the new museum. The beginnings of the British Museum was the government’s acceptance of responsibility for three private collections bequeathed to the nation. One of the first collections was made by Sir Hans Sloane. Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753),  a physician and naturalist, is considered the founder of the British Museum collection because he did not wish to see his collection broken up after death, so he bequeathed it to King George II for the nation. During his lifetime, Sloane gathered a significant collection of 71,000 objects which included: books, manuscripts, prints, drawings, antiquities from Europe, Africa, Americas, the Ancient Near and the Far East and an extensive collection of natural history specimens.

From the beginning, public access to the British Museum was free of charge although in the early period there were only a limited number of daily tickets issued to manage the size of crowds. The old Montagu House mansion eventually became too small as the collections of the museum increased. Thus Montagu House gave way in 1824 to the beginning of a series of successive building projects that continued to expand the floor space of the museum, and these successive expansion developments have continued right up to modern times.

In 1998 to enable the continued growth of visitor numbers and for the growing collections, the British Library was split from the British Museum to a new location as an independent museum at St Pancras. This move led to a transformation of the famous “Round Reading Room”, which opened in 1857 and had served the many famous literary figures and researchers who came to consult the Museum’s vast library. Today the “Round Reading Room” is in the centre of the “Great Court” which enclosed what vast exposed space into an integral part of the enclosed museum. The “Great Court” of the British Museum, is now covered by the tessellated roof surrounding the “Round Reading Room”.

Today the British Museum collection consists of over 8 million objects. Only 80,000 objects are on public display at any one time, which is only 1% of the total collection.

The British Museum

  • City:               London
  • Established:   1753
  • Location:       Great Russell Street, London, UK
  • Collection:     8 million objects
  • Visitors:         7 million annually

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Information on The British Museum


“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”
– H.G. Wells


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