The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






British Museum

The main entrance to the British Museum
The main entrance to the British Museum

The British Museum is one of the world's largest and most important museums of ancient history. It was established in 1753 and was based largely on the collections of the physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane. Its first home was Montagu House which was purchased by the British government for £20,000, which was later replaced with new buildings on the same site. The museum opened to the public on January 15, 1759.

The museum is home to six million objects covering the story of human culture from its beginning to the present. Many of the artifacts are stored underneath the museum due to lack of space. The present chairman is Sir John Boyd and its director is Neil MacGregor.


The building and admission fee

The new Great Court
The new Great Court

The Queen Elizabeth II Great Court is a covered square at the centre of the British Museum designed by the architects Foster and Partners. The Great Court opened in December 2000 and is the largest covered square in Europe. The roof is a glass and steel construction with 1,656 pairs of uniquely shaped glass panes. At the centre of the Great Court is the Reading Room vacated by the British Library. The Reading Room is open to any member of the public who wishes to read there.

The British Museum has charged an admission fee only during a period of a few months in 1972; however, some temporary special exhibitions, within but separate from the main museum, do charge. During 2002 the museum suffered serious financial difficulties and was even closed for a day when its staff protested about proposed redundancies. A few weeks later the theft of a small Greek statue was blamed on lack of security staff.

The British Museum Reading Room used to be part of the British Library. Its functions have now been moved to the new British Library building.

Highlights of the collections

The British Museum is principally a museum of antiquities. This distinguishes it from the likes of The Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg which are "universal" museums of art and culture. In London the main collections of Western fine art and global applied art are housed in the independent National Gallery and Victoria and Albert Museums respectively. However, many exhibits of the British Museum's exhibits are of great artistic merit as well as historical importance. Highlights of the collections include:

Interior of British Museum showing some of the Egyptian pieces in collection
Interior of British Museum showing some of the Egyptian pieces in collection


Admission to the British Museum is free, except for special exhibitions within the main museum.

At present, the ethnography section of the museum is closed, as it is in transit from another site to the main Museum.

Museum opening hours

Saturday–Wednesday: 10:00–17:30
Thursday & Friday: 10:00–20:30

Great Court opening hours

Monday: 09:00–18:00
Tuesday & Wednesday: 09:00–21:00
Thursday–Saturday: 09:00–23:00
Sunday: 09:00–21:00


Great Russell Street
London WC1B 3DG

Nearest London Underground stations:

The British Museum, and especially the Reading Room, is a recurring setting in David Lodge's 1965 novel The British Museum Is Falling Down.

External link

Last updated: 08-18-2005 20:28:57