The British Museum

The British Museum
The British Museum was founded in 1753, the first national public museum in the world. From the beginning it granted free admission to all 'studious and curious persons'. Visitor numbers have grown from around 5,000 a year in the eighteenth century to nearly 6 million today.

The origins of the British Museum lie in the will of the physician, naturalist and collector, Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753).

Over his lifetime, Sloane collected more than 71,000 objects which he wanted to be preserved intact after his death. So he bequeathed the whole collection to King George II for the nation in return for a payment of £20,000 to his heirs.

The gift was accepted and on 7 June 1753, an Act of Parliament established the British Museum. The British Museum opened to the public on 15 January 1759 . It was first housed in a seventeenth-century mansion, Montagu House, in Bloomsbury on the site of today's building. By 1857, both the quadrangular building and the round Reading Room had been constructed.  With the exception of two World Wars, the Museum has remained open ever since, gradually increasing its opening hours and moving from an attendance of 5,000 per year to today's 6 million.

The founding collections largely consisted of books, manuscripts and natural specimens with some antiquities (including coins and medals, prints and drawings) and ethnographic material. In the early part of the nineteenth century there were a number of high profile acquisitions. These included the Rosetta Stone, the Townley collection of classical sculpture, and the Parthenon sculptures.

The museum no longer displays collections of natural history, and the books and manuscripts now form part of the British Library. The Museum still preserves the universality in its collections of artefacts representing the cultures of the world, both ancient and modern. The collections have today grown to over 13 million objects.

During the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Museum has continued to expand its public facilities with the opening of four new permanent galleries in 2008/9:

  • Chinese ceramics
  • Clocks and watches
  • Europe AD 1050–1540
  • The Tomb-chapel of Nebamun: Ancient Egyptian life and death 

The Museum is now looking forward to its next major building project, the World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre, which will include a new temporary exhibition space.

Street address: 
Great Russell Street London WC1B 3DG, Tube: Tottenham Court Road, Holborn, Russell Square, Goodge Street
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