British Museum - History and Facts | History Hit

British Museum

London, England, United Kingdom

The British Museum in London is a world-famous museum of history and culture.

Lily Johnson

25 Mar 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About British Museum

The British Museum is one of the world’s foremost museums of history and anthropology. Based in London, the Museum has some of the largest and most revered collections from around the globe, ranging from Babylonian stonework and Samurai armour to pottery and glass from the Roman Empire.

British Museum history

The origins of the British Museum lie with Irish physicist and naturalist Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753). Sloane was a doctor and scientist working in London, and over the course of his lifetime had built up an impressive collection of curiosities eventually consisting of around 71,000 objects. These included 40,000 books, 7,000 manuscripts, a large collection of natural history specimens, prints, drawings, and antiquities from all over the world.

Desiring his collection to remain together following his death, he bequeathed it to King George II for £20,000, to be enjoyed by the nation. On 7 June, 1753 the British Museum was established with this initial collection, alongside that of the Cottonian and the Harleian Libraries.

Four years later the contents of the ‘Old Royal Library’ were added, collected over the years by a number of British monarchs. This completed the four ‘foundation collections’ of the British Library, which became the world’s first national public museum when it opened on 15 January, 1759!

British Museum today

The British Museum has several permanent collections, including its world-famous Egyptian collection which includes a large number of Egyptian mummies as well as temporary exhibits. One of its most famous residents is the 2nd century BC Rosetta Stone, that became the key to deciphering Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics when it was discovered in the late 18th century.

The British Museum divides its collections by themes and cultures, each of which is displayed in numbered rooms – one of its most popular yet controversial exhibits is the Parthenon Marbles from Ancient Greece, which can be found in Room 18. Visitors are free to amble its many displays at leisure, however the British Museum do also offer a variety of itineraries to steer you in the right direction!

One such consists of an hour-long tour which showcases the Parthenon Marbles, the Egyptian mummies, the Rosetta Stone and Assyrian lion hunt reliefs from 668 BC, as well as several other famous objects like the Lewis Chess Set and medieval Nigerian artwork.

Three-hour long and children’s itineraries are also available on the British Museum’s website and at the museum itself. Alternatively, free audio guides are available or visitors can book a highlights tour in advance for a fee, which take place at 10.30am, 1.00pm and 3.00pm daily. You can book this online or by calling the museum.

Getting to the British Museum

The British Museum is located on Great Russell Street in London. A number of bus services run within walking distance of the museum, with the 14 service stopping directly outside the entrance. The closest Underground station is Tottenham Court Road, a 5-minute walk away, while the closest train station is London Euston, a 20-minute walk away.

Featured In

London Historic Sites

Londinium, The Big Smoke, The Great Wen: London has experienced its fair share of change over its 2000-year history. Here's our pick of some of the British capital's most famous historic sites to visit today.