London’s iconic British Museum

British Museum in London

London certainly has the best in terms of variety and number of historical attractions, as well as modern marvels. It is home to some of the finest palaces, historical buildings, landmarks art galleries and museums among hundreds of other to notch tourist hot spots.  A visit to London would be incomplete without a trip to many of its world class museums. And when we speak of museums they certainly come no better than the British Museum, which is simply one of the best of its kind in the world.

For those who plan a visit to London later this year a visit to the museum is definitely recommended. It is centrally located and pretty close to most of the 5 star hotels in London, which make it possible to take a stroll down to the museum.

One such fine boutique hotel that offers relatively easy access to the British Museum and other top attractions in the centre of the city is the Montcalm Hotel London. Of course to really enjoy a tour it is necessary to visit in the early hours of the morning just after it opens, before the crowds build up within the museum.

Its history

The British Museum was the first of its kind dedicated to the public and was founded in 1753. What made it all the more unique is that it gave free admission to those described as 'studious and curious persons'! From a modest figure of close to 5,000 visitors in a year when it opened to the public it has grown close to 6 million annually at present.

The early origins of the British Museum

The honour of being the brains behind and the first contributor to its collections goes to British naturalist, physician and collector, Sir Hans Sloane. All through his long and illustrious lifetime, Sir Hans managed to collect an amazing 71,000 objects. It was his desire to ensure that his collection remain intact after his death. So to ensure they would remain for posterity, he decided to will the entire collection to the monarch King George II. This was to be for the benefit of the British public and in return the emperor made a payment of £20,000 ( a princely sum at that time) to his heirs. Finally in 1753, in the month of June an act of Parliament was passed which ensured the setting up of the British Museum.

The initial collections were made up of manuscripts, books, antiquities and manuscripts along with a limited collection of medals, coins, drawings and ethnographic material. The collection was substantially increased when King George II decided to donate the collection of the Old Royal Library in 1757. The place was opened to the general public in January 1759. Initially it was located in Montagu House, which was a stately mansion at that time. The current building stands on the same site of where Montagu House once existed. It has remained opened largely all through since with the exception of the period during the First and Second World War.

The nineteenth century

Its collection increased substantially during the period of the early nineteenth century as that was a time when numerous high profile acquisitions were made. Some of these prominent acquisitions include the Parthenon Sculptures, the famous Rosetta Stone and the impressive Townley collection.

It was in 1823 that the building that we see today that is quadrangular in shape began to take place.  It was designed by the famous British architect Sir Robert Smirke.  Finally by 1857 the circular Reading Room and the quadrangular building both were completed. As there was a shortage of space with an ever increasing collection it was decided to move the natural history collections to a new location in 1880 to the South Kensington area. This was then named as the Natural History Museum. It was during this period that the museum became actively involved in archaeological projects all across the world. In fact its famous Assyrian collection helped to shed light on the engravings on cuneiform, like the Rosetta Stone provided the key to unlock the mysteries of the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic script. It was also during this period that the number of visitors to the museum increased exponentially. It attracted people from all social classes and was a popular destination to visit on public holidays.

The twentieth century

It was during the twentieth century that the museum became actively involved in numerous public services. In 1903 its first guide was published and in 1911, a lecturer was appointed to work as the first guide of the museum. The 1970s was a time when massive renovation and refurbishments projects were carried out. New public facilities were added like the Duveen Gallery that became the home to the Parthenon Sculptures. Other extensions include the British Library (until 1997), the Great Court etc. The 250th anniversary was celebrated in 2003, which saw the King’s Library being restored and the introduction of a new permanent exhibit known as ‘Enlightenment”.