The British Museum at Montagu House

The British Museum at Montagu House

Founded by Parliament in 1753, the British Museum was the first national, public museum in the world. Located at Montagu House in Bloomsbury, the gardens opened in 1757 and the museum in 1759, with a beginning collection of over 71,000 antiquities donated by physician and naturalist Sir Hans Sloane.

Montagu House, by James Simon, 1715
*click for Wikipedia article
Gateway of Montagu House, looking east along Great Russell Street. Drawing by Michael Angelo Rooker (1746–1801). Watercolour, with pen and grey ink, 1778.

Initially, the collections were split into three sections: printed books and prints; manuscripts including medals; and natural and artificial productions. By 1809, this had been separated into four: printed books; manuscripts; natural history and modern artificial curiosities; antiquities, coins, drawings and engravings. Entry was free to everyone.

During the early decades of the British Museum, many rare artifacts – some the first in any museum – were displayed. These include the first ancient Egyptian mummy (1756); ethnographic artifacts from Captain Cook’s Pacific voyages, including a Tahitian mourner’s dress (1756); a live tortoise from North America (1765); Saxon coins (1802); the Rosetta Stone (1802); sculptures from the Temple of Apollo at Bassae (1815); the Parthenon sculptures (1816); and George III’s library, donated by George IV (1823).

Groups of visitors on the staircase of the old British Museum, Montagu House. Hand-coloured etching and aquatint, 1808.
Staircase near the entrance of the British Museum in Montagu House, 1845. From a watercolour by George Scharf (1788-1860).

Over the decades the exhibits grew, with new wings added in order to accommodate. In 1842 the original Montagu House was demolished to allow for further expansion and updating. Eventually, by the 1880s, the natural history collections were moved to a new building in South Kensington. This became the Natural History Museum, but the British Museum is still located on Great Russell Street where it began.

Montagu House: the first British Museum

The British Museum on British History Online

How the British Museum Became the World’s First National Public Museum

British Museum on Wikipedia



Sharon Lathan

Sharon Lathan is the best-selling author of The Darcy Saga, a ten-volume sequel series to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I love museums! I first visited the British Museum aged 13 and loved it, especially the Egyptian section. I last visited in 2000 when my daughter was living in London. I must say that I never noticed any giraffes! 🙂 I also love the V&A especially the fashion through the ages, which at the time had a section of Mary Quant clothes. Fascinating post thank you.

cindie snyder

Great pics! Love the giraffes! Cool post!

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x