The British Museum dedicated to human history, art, and culture Its permanent collection, numbering some 8 million works, is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence and originates from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present. Although today principally a museum of cultural art objects and antiquities, the British Museum was founded as a "universal museum". Its foundations lie in the will of the Irish-born British physician and naturalist Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753). During the course of his lifetime Sloane gathered an enviable collection of curiosities and, not wishing to see his collection broken up after death, he bequeathed it to King George II, for the nation, for the princely sum of £20,000. At that time, Sloane's collection consisted of around 71,000 objects of all kinds including some 40,000 printed books, 7,000 manuscripts, extensive natural history specimens including 337 volumes of dried plants, prints and drawings including those by Albrecht Dürer and antiquities from Sudan, Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Ancient Near and Far East and the Americas. On 7 June 1753, King George II gave his formal assent to the Act of Parliament which established the British Museum.
The body of trustees decided on a converted 17th-century mansion, Montagu House, as a location for the museum, which it bought from the Montagu family for £20,000. The Trustees rejected Buckingham House, on the site now occupied by Buckingham Palace, on the grounds of cost and the unsuitability of its location. With the acquisition of Montagu House the first exhibition galleries and reading room for scholars opened on 15 January 1759. In 1757 King George II gave the Old Royal Library and with it the right to a copy of every book published in the country, thereby ensuring that the Museum's library would expand indefinitely. During the few years after its foundation the British Museum received several further gifts, including the Thomason Collection of Civil War Tracts and David Garrick's library of 1,000 printed plays. The predominance of natural history, books and manuscripts began to lessen when in 1772 the Museum acquired for £8,400 its first significant antiquities in Sir William Hamilton's "first" collection of Greek vases. From 1778 a display of objects from the South Seas brought back from the round-the-world voyages of Captain James Cook and the travels of other explorers fascinated visitors with a glimpse of previously unknown lands. The bequest of a collection of books, engraved gems, coins, prints and drawings by Clayton Mordaunt Cracherode in 1800 did much to raise the Museum's reputation; but Montagu House became increasingly crowded and decrepit and it was apparent that it would be unable to cope with further expansion. The Museum became a construction site as Sir Robert Smirke's grand neo-classical building gradually arose; the largest building in Europe which finally opened in 1857. The original 1753 collection has grown to over thirteen million objects at the British Museum, 70 million at the Natural History Museum and 150 million at the British Library.
All the temporary exhibitions have large print information and, where possible, tactile images and Braille books. Please ask the Information Desk or the Access and Equality Manager for further information. For paying exhibitions, concessions are available for disabled visitors. A companion ticket is also provided free of charge. Please contact the Information Desk. You can borrow a magnifying glass from the Information Desk; a £5 deposit will be required. Guide dogs are welcome. Dog bowls are available from the Information Desk.
Please contact the Access and Equality Manager for further information.
Location : 96 Great Russell St, London WC1B 3DG.
Transport: Tottenham Court Road (Central), Tottenham Court Road (Northern), Holborn (Central), Holborn (Piccadilly). London Buses routes 1, 7, 8, 19, 25, 38, 55, 98, 242 Stop on New Oxford Street; 10, 14, 24, 29, 73, 134, 390 Stop northbound on Tottenham Court Road, southbound on Gower Street; 59, 68, X68, 91, 168, 188 Stop on Southampton Row
Opening Times: Monday to Thursday, Saturday/Sunday 10:00 to 17:30
Fridays 10:00 to 20:30
Tours throughout the day. Audioguides available. Lunchtime Gallery Talks. Spotlight Evening Tours
Tickets : Free.
Advice: Focus on one or two galleries.
Tel: 020 7323 8299.