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British Museum

Updated on December 14, 2014

London is in The News

With the royal marriage at the end of the month London is certainly in the news and thousands will visit for the occasion. So why not include the British Museum in your itinerary?

From the youngest age children hear about the British Museum and its collection of artefacts, relics, paintings, specimens and so on. When studying for my archaeology/anthropolgy degree it was the thrill of a lifetime to be treated to a talk by one of its many visiting academics.

Its not just a museum but a true house of learning where involvement with the sciences and arts is encouraged. It's a place where students are welcome and the general public find it so fascinating that they can actually spend days wandering its many corridors and being amazed at the displays of specimens. It takes time to research and read all that it offers so this lens may help those who are not fortunate enough to be able to get there in person to find out more and hopefully even get a memento or two from the museum shop

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Montague House
Montague House

History of the British Museum

Established in 1753 it was at first largely based on the collections of the physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane. It opened its doors to the public on 15 January 1759 in Montagu House in Bloomsbury, the site of the current building.

As the colonies expanded and interesting material arrived from their overseas holdings the scientists associated with the museum set up vast collections, which are still on display today although some have been returned to their rightful owners. Recently a group of Australian aborigines recovered the bones of some ancestors from there to bury in a sacred site in their homeland.

Wikipedia notes: Some objects in the collection, most notably the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon, are the objects of intense controversy and calls for restitution to their countries of origin.

Until the British Library moved to new premises in 1997 it was unique in that it housed both it and the museum in the same building.

Fine Art Prints; Ancient Egypt; Fuji Wave Range; British Museum Classic Range; Iznik Range; books; gifts; family membership and/or tickets, available online from the web site. Shipping costs & delivery times are also provided. Exhibitions, catalogues, guides, replicas of items, and more now available.

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Sir Hans Sloane, founder
Sir Hans Sloane, founder

A Legacy and an Institution

The Vision and Foresight of one man.

Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) had a vast collection of antiquities and what are described as curiosities, and so on. Not wanting it broken up, he bequeathed it to King George II for the nation, along with 20,000 pounds for its preservation.

Wikipedia notes: On 7 June 1753, King George II gave his formal assent to the Act of Parliament which established the British Museum. The Foundation Act, added two other libraries to the Sloane collection. The Cottonian Library, assembled by Sir Robert Cotton, dated back to Elizabethan times and the Harleian library, the collection of the Earls of Oxford. They were joined in 1757 by the Royal Library, assembled by various British monarchs. Together these four "foundation collections" included many of the most treasured books now in the British Library, including the Lindisfarne Gospels and the sole surviving copy of Beowulf.

The first of its kind in that it was owned by neither king or church, it became a repository of a vast collection of miscellany and was free for the public to enjoy at will. Housing "the Cotton and Harley manuscripts" the additions of "a literary and antiquarian element' allowed the British Museum to became both national museum and library

The trustees secured a converted mansion, Montague House, for 20,000 pounds and it became the new home of the museum. It was here that "the first exhibition galleries and reading room for scholars opened on 15 January 1759." In 1757 George II gave the Royal library to the museum along with the right to a copy of every book published in Britain.

The British Museum

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Arrival of the Rosetta Stone
Arrival of the Rosetta Stone

The Exhibits kept Coming

From the South Pacific to Egypt

Cook's journeys and discoveries of new lands, such as Australia, and people like the botanist Joseph Banks and the naturalist Charles Darwin delivered a great deal of intriguing material. Its arrival in England wasto show a startled public things they could never have dreamed of from the pacific region.

Artists produced drawings of animals the like of which had never been seen before. Things like the platypus, which some claimed was a composite of two animals put together for a joke. Then there were the giant rats, that we know of as kangaroos, koala bears and kookaburras, all made their presence felt in the form of stuffed carcases or faithfully reproduced images.

But there was also the flora with images of wonderful plants like the Banksia, wattle, the native wild flowers and, of course, the New South Wales Waratah, a giant red flower whose blooms are magnificent. Soon too came the skeletons of Australian aborigines which, along with their unique symbols and rituals, were a great curiosity. It was not that long beforehand that the American Indians had been paraded before the startled eyes of those who previously had perceived white man to be the only humans created by their God.

Aside from Cook Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803), who served as British Ambassador to Naples, "sold his collection of Greek and Roman artefacts to the museum in 1784 together with a number of other antiquities and natural history specimens." Along with this was "a number of drawings of Mount Vesuvius sent by Hamilton to the Royal Society in London."

The public could not get enough.

Wikipedia notes: In the early 19th century the foundations for the extensive collection of sculpture began to be laid and Greek, Roman and Egyptian artefacts dominated the antiquities displays. After the defeat of the French Campaign in the Battle of the Nile, in 1801, the British Museum acquired more Egyptian sculpture and in 1802 King George III presented the Rosetta Stone (pictured) - key to the deciphering of hieroglyphs

Gifts, purchases, sculptures. artefacts and the discoveries from Egypt, Rome, Greece and elsewhere was filling the space to overflowing. It was time to think expansion and in 1802 a building committee was formed.

"The dilapidated Old Montagu House was demolished and work on the King's Library Gallery began in 1823. The extension, the East Wing, was completed by 1831. However, following the founding of the National Gallery, London in 1824, the proposed Picture Gallery was no longer needed, and the space on the upper floor was given over to the Natural History collections"

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Australia's Wildflowers

Archaeological finds
Archaeological finds

Archaeological Collections

Beyond their wild imaginations

Archaeology is a relatively new science, mainly getting underway mid 1800's with explorations in Egypt and elsewhere to examine the standing remnants of past cicivlisations. But suddenly one or two began to dig a little deeper and unearthed past habitats that would soon have the place buzzing again.

Wikipedia notes: In 1840 the Museum became involved in its first overseas excavations, Charles Fellows's expedition to Xanthos, in Asia Minor, whence came remains of the tombs of the rulers of ancient Lycia, among them the Nereid and Payava monuments. In 1857 Charles Newton was to discover the 4th-century BC Mausoleum of Halikarnassos, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In the 1840s and 1850s the Museum supported excavations in Assyria by A.H. Layard and others at sites such as Nimrud and Nineveh. Of particular interest to curators was the eventual discovery of Ashurbanipal's great library of cuneiform tablets, which helped to make the Museum a focus for Assyrian studies.

Sir Thomas Grenville (1755-1846), a Trustee of The British Museum from 1830, assembled a fine library of 20,240 volumes, which he left to the Museum in his will. The books arrived in January 1847 in twenty-one horse-drawn vans. The only vacant space for this large library was a room originally intended for manuscripts, between the Front Entrance Hall and the Manuscript Saloon. The books remained here until the British Library moved to St Pancras in 1998."

The Catalogue is Immense

It bridges 6,000 years of human history

Like most museums, which probably copied their operations from the British Museum, one can study the civilisations of past eras, the languages spoken and many of which are now extinct, the life cycles of humans and animals, and so much more.

Ask a question or choose a theme and follow the links to the answers.

Whether your interest lies in the imperial war museum; british library; natural history museum; british museum shop; british museum of natural history; lindow man british museum; british museum photo; british museum bloomsbury; or other, the modern technology speeds up the research process. It is also the authoritative source of images describing world culture and history with arifacts including ceramics, sculpture, prints, drawings, and paintings.

It's a place to spend days, not just hours. It's a source of culture and information that is a world leader. If you go to London to see the collection then make sure you allow enough time to enjoy the experience.

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Girl's Right of Passage

What to Know About the Museum

Make a Note of Opening Times

Admission is free to all visitors. The opening hours os ome sections may vary at short notice but this is the normal schedule.

The Museum is open daily, 10.00–17.30

The opening times of some galleries may be limited at short notice.

There are also temporary gallery closures for the purpose of setting up exhibits, removing others and general maintenance.

The Museum is always closed on 1 January, 24, 25, 26 December

There are late opening times on Thursday and Friday until 20.30pm

Great Court Opening times

Sunday – Wednesday, 09.00–18.00

Thursday – Saturday, 09.00–23.00

For more details visit the web page

Do You Support Longer Opening Hours? - Especially for Museums and Libraries

Many people are only able to visit such places outside of normal trading hours so what is your opinion?

Should educational institutions, like the British Museum, be open 24/7 perhaps?

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Did you enjoy your visit here. If so please scribe a little note about what you think of this lens. Thank you.

Remember these quizzes will earn you heaps of points

© 2010 norma-holt


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      It is a real beautiful piece of culture and heritage, I would love to visit British museum some day.

    • sudokunut profile image

      Mark Falco 

      7 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      It's funny. I lived in England for 28 years and never visited the British Museum. Now, as a tourist in my own country I have been there 3 times in 5 years! The Smithsonian is next on my list.

    • jolou profile image


      7 years ago

      I love museums, would definitely visit the British one if I get to London.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 

      7 years ago

      We visited the Terracotta Warriors exhibition and the Hadrian exhibition when they were laid on - both very special.

    • MagpieNest profile image


      8 years ago

      I've visited the British Museum, but haven't taken my children there yet. I'm sure we'll go there a few times when they're a bit older.

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image


      8 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      The British Museum appears to be a fascinating place. Is the Imperial War Museum part of the British Museum? We were in London in 1992 on a tour and had a marvelous time at the Imperial War Museum, the Churchill War Rooms in Whitehall, and the historic ship HMS Belfast, moored in the Pool of London. London is so full of history - such a fascinating place.

      You've put together a terrific page about the British Museum. ~~Blessed by a SquidAngel~~

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 

      8 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      Good job! Makes me want to visit the British Museum.


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