Home » Museums and Art Galleries of London » A Short Guide to the British Museum

A Short Guide to the British Museum

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The British Museum

Location -British Museum, Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG

The British Museum  in London is a museum dedicated to human history and culture. Its permanent collection, numbering some 8 million works is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence and originates from all around the world illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present.
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 6.7 million in 2013

The origins of the British Museum lie in the collection of the physician, naturalist and collector, Sir Hans Sloane  which he bequeathed to King George II for the nation. The gift was accepted and on 7 June 1753, an Act of Parliament established the British Museum.
The founding collections largely consisted of books, manuscripts and natural specimens with some antiquities and ethnographic material. In 1757 King George II donated the ‘Old Royal Library’ of the sovereigns of England.

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Montague House

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. Entry was free and given to ‘all studious and curious Persons’.

In 1823 The Museum was rebuilt with a quadrangular building and a round Reading Room designed by Sir Robert Smirke .

In the 19th century the Museum became very popular attracting crowds of all ages and social classes, particularly on public holidays. It also greatly increased its educational and academic work with sponsorship of many excavation in many parts of the world. It also received a large number of donations which greatly increased the collections.

By the 20th century, the Museum built on its reputation as one of the great Museums of the world by refurbishing many of the galleries and setting up an education service and a publishing company.

In the late 20th century a decision was made to move the British Library which had been based at the British Museum to a new home at St Pancras.

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The Great Court

The Queen Elizabeth II Great Court designed by Norman Foster, built in the space vacated by the library was the most ambitious modern expansion at the Museum. At two acres, it is the largest covered public space in Europe. In the centre is the restored Reading Room, while around and beneath it new galleries and an education centre were built. Some of the highlights of the collection are :

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1. The Rosetta Stone
2. Assyrian Lion Hunt reliefs
3. Parthenon sculptures

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4. Lewis Chessmen
5. Oxus Treasure
6. Royal Game of Ur
7. Mummy of Katebet

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8. Samurai armour
9. King of Ife

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10 Sutton Hoo Helmet

Opening Times

Free, open daily 10.00–17.30

The Museum is open until 20.30 on Fridays, except Good Friday (18 April 2014).

Cafés and Restaurants

Court Restaurant, Court Cafés, Gallery Café.

Museum shops

Bookshop, Family shop, Collections shop, Culture shop

Online research

You can search over two million collection objects online, and browse 5,000 highlights

Handling objects

The Museum  also operates  a unique opportunity to handle objects from the Museum’s collection. Volunteers will help you and answer your questions.

See Video Review here

For more information visit the British Museum website here

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