This Day In London’s History
1759: The British Museum in Bloomsbury opens its doors to the public for the first time.
Some may feel that the British Museum these days is little more than a massive boast, bragging about how many cool things the British Empire has stolen from the rest of the world. But regardless of whether this criticism is fair or not, it’s hard to deny that the museum is still one of the world’s greatest museums of human history and culture.
In 1753 Sir Hans Sloane’s large collection of books, manuscripts and natural history specimens from around the world was combined with libraries assembled by Sir Robert Cotton (the ‘Cottonian Library’) and the Earls of Oxford (the ‘Harleian Library’). A few years later they were joined by the ‘Royal Library’, and the British Museum was founded in Bloomsbury’s Montagu House, opening its doors on 15th January 1759.
Over the next few decades a number of libraries and collections of antiquities were added to the museum, and in the early 19th century the Rosetta Stone and Elgin Marbles found their way into the museum as well. As the museum’s stock continued to grow, Montagu House became less and less able to house the collections adequately, and it was demolished and replaced in 1845.
In 1887 the museum’s natural history collections were moved to what would become the Natural History Museum in Kensington, and in 1997 the museum’s collection of books and manuscripts was moved to the British Library in St Pancras. This latter move freed up enough space to allow the construction of Norman Fosters magnificent glass roof over the Great Court, which was completed in 2000 and became the largest covered square in Europe.
The museum now contains a colossal 13 million objects from around the world, split across ten departments that are open to the public for free, every day of the week.
The British Museum is not the only cultural attraction in London to open its doors on the 15th January. On this day in 1859 the National Portrait Gallery also opened to the public. It was originally housed at 29 Great George Street in Westminster, before moving to the Royal Horticultural Society’s buildings in Kensington in 1870, the Bethnal Green Museum in 1885 and finally its current location on St Martin’s Place in 1896.
Londoner Of The Week
This week we applaud Felipe Fernandez-Armesto for his wonderfully eloquent protest against transatlantic police brutality.
One Thing You Must Do In London This Week
After a somewhat over-extended Christmas break, the Simply Botiful installation at the Hauser & Wirth Coppermill Gallery on Cheshire Street should have re-opened by now. It’s open from midday to 7pm on Thursdays to Sundays, so go along and prepare to be challenged.
Picture taken from J!mbo’s Flickr photostream under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 license.