An architectural masterpiece, The British Museum has a permanent collection in excess of eight million items which have been collected from every part of the World. The focus of the museum is the history and growth of human civilisation and culture across the millennia. Many of the items in the Museum are mysterious, controversial, enigmatic and have remarkable stories of their own.
The British Museum is one of the must visit places in London and should be built into the plans for anyone who comes to the capital with a view to finding out more about the past. Over the years it has grown and has millions of exhibits. The scale of the museum is huge with the galleries covering four acres and so even a day would hardly scratch the surface.
It was established in 1753 and the original collections were largely donated by the physician Sir Hans Sloane, who was born in Ireland in 1660. As a young man Sloan was a collector of objects relating to natural history and eclectic curiosities. This interest directed him into a career in medicine for which he travelled to London to study botany and pharmacy.
After four years studying in London he travelled through France while still studying and adding to his collections of artefacts. He finally took his MD Degree, at the University of Orange-Nassau in 1683. In 1685 Sloan became an elected member of the Royal Society, an organisation that in modern-day acts as scientific advisors to the British Government.
Sloan became a fellow of the College of Physicians in 1687, and in the same year travelled to Jamaica where he settled and married the daughter of John Langley (an English merchant and politician who sat in the House of Commons in 1653). They had three daughters and one son.
Whilst living in Jamaica Sloan found that the native people drank a drink made from cocoa beans mixed with water, this he found unpalatable, so he devised a way for the cocoa to be mixed with milk making it more pleasant to drink. On his return to England he brought his recipe back with him and it was used initially for medicinal purposes until the nineteenth century, when the Cadbury Brothers in Birmingham, started selling tins of Sloane’s drinking chocolate in their shops.
On his death in 1753 he bequeathed his collections of books, manuscripts and other artefacts including, coins, medals, flora and fauna to the nation on the condition that Parliament should pay his executors £20,000, far less than the value of the collections were worth. A large amount of Sloan’s artefacts was later to become the foundation for the Natural History Museum.
The museum first opened to the public on 15 January 1759, in Montagu House in Bloomsbury, where the modern-day building still sits today. Its expansion over the centuries has largely reflected British colonial expansion and territorial acquisitions. Over time this resulted in the formation of a number of branches of the museum such as the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, which opened in 1881.
The British Museum has changed over time and no longer houses collections related to both books and natural history. The manuscripts once in its care now form part of the independent British Library.
It still preserves its universality in its representation of its world collections and the original 1753 collection has grown to over 13 million artefacts stored at the British Museum, 70 million at the Natural History Museum and 150 million at the British Library.
Visitors will only see a fraction of the items held by the museum that also has extensive laboratories and research facilities behind the scenes.
The museum is open daily. However, at certain times of the year the opening times may change. The British Museum is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Some of the most remarkable pieces include the infamous Elgin Marbles, the Mechanical Galleon, The helmet of Sutton Hoo, A murdered Egyptian mummy called ginger, cursed jewels and even one of the controversial crystal skulls claimed to one belong to ancient south American empires. Haunted, packed with archaeological mysteries and even the subject of various conspiracy theories, the British Museum is a Gold Star destination that should not be missed.
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Bulls Cross Ride (Rd), Waltham Cross
Hertfordshire, England, EN7 5HS
+44 (0)1992 620 604
- Address: Great Russell Street, London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom, WC1B 3DG
- GPS: 51.5179629,-0.126920000000041
- Phone: 0044 (0)20 7323 8299
- Part of UK: England
- Sat Nav Postcode: WC1B 3DG
- Entrance Fees: Free Access (to most areas)
- Disabled Access: Excellent
- Visibility from Road: Excellent (exterior only)