15 January 1759

The British Museum opens to the public

The British Museum is one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive museums, dedicated to human history, art, and culture. It is located in London, United Kingdom, and was established in 1753. The museum’s founding collections were largely based on the collections of the physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane.

Collections: The museum houses a vast and diverse collection of over 8 million works, spanning over two million years of human history. The collections cover various cultures and civilizations from different parts of the world, including ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, the Americas, and more.

Great Court: The Great Court is the largest covered public square in Europe and serves as the main entrance to the museum. It was redesigned and opened in 2000, featuring a stunning glass roof designed by architect Sir Norman Foster.

Rosetta Stone: One of the most famous artifacts in the museum is the Rosetta Stone, a key linguistic tool that played a crucial role in deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. It was discovered in 1799 and has been on display at the British Museum since 1802.

Elgin Marbles: The museum is also home to the Elgin Marbles, a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures that once adorned the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis in Athens. The controversy surrounding their acquisition and ownership remains a subject of debate.

Special Exhibitions: In addition to its permanent collection, the British Museum hosts temporary exhibitions that focus on specific themes, time periods, or regions.

Educational Programs: The museum is committed to education and offers a range of educational programs and resources for schools, families, and adults. It also provides extensive online resources for remote learning.

Research and Conservation: The British Museum is actively involved in research and conservation efforts. Its staff works to study and preserve the artifacts in its care.

Accessibility: The museum is free to enter, making its collections accessible to a wide audience. It relies on donations, grants, and sponsorships for funding.

15 January 1759

The British Museum opens.

In 1753 Sir Hans Sloane, an Irish-born physician and naturalist, left his collection of 71,000 books, manuscripts, natural specimens and other objects to the nation in his will, in return for a payment of £20,000 to his heirs. The collection was used as the basis for the British Museum, the world’s first national public museum, which was established by an Act of Parliament on 7 June 1753. It opened on 15 January 1759, offering free admission to all “studious and curious persons”.

The museum was first located in Montagu House in Bloomsbury. During the 18th century it attracted around 5,000 people per year, but its popularity increased greatly in the 1800s. In 1823 George IV donated the King’s Library to the collection and this led to the construction of the main quadrangular building and the circular Reading Room that are the centre of the museum today.

These were completed in 1857. To allow room for expansion, the museum’s natural history collection was relocated to a new building in South Kensington during the 1880s, which is now called the Natural History Museum.

The book collection, which had been housed in the Great Court around the Reading Room, moved to the new British Library building in St Pancras in 1997. The Great Court, which had effectively been closed to the public since 1857, was then refurbished at a cost of £100m, including the construction of a new glass and steel roof that made it the largest public square in Europe. Today, the British Museum has over 3.5 million objects on display and attracts more than six million people every year.