London’s rich collection of museums and galleries is enough to fill up an entire month of your time and you could easily spend a full day in one museum. For history buffs and art fanatics, that might mean putting other nearby attractions like Russel Square on hold while you explore the treasure trove of objects inside the British Museum.
Since guests at the Park Grand London Lancaster Gate may not have a whole month to set aside to explore the depths of London’s museum culture, we’ve put together this guide to help you at least dip your toes in.
What is the British Museum?
One of the most visited museums in the city is the British Museum. With 5.9 million visits in 2017, this quintessential pillar of the London museum circuit is one of the most expansive, engaging and eye-opening museums in the world.
Whilst its focus may not be on the city itself, the British Museum is a worldly testament to London’s culture of exploration and adventure and many of the 8 million objects collected have been from the exploration of British scientists and archeologists.
For guests at luxury accommodation near the Park Grand Lancaster Gate, the British Museum symbolises a unique opportunity to learn not only about the city but the history of human civilization, too.
The British Museum is an institution that has been running for the past 266 years, having eventually established itself as one of the most popular museums in the world. Made of over 10 departments, each spanning several galleries (and sometimes even entire floors!), the British Museum is one of the definitive research centres for the recording of human civilization.
A brief history of the British Museum
Established in 1753, it’s not surprising to find that the British Museum has undergone vast changes in the last two and a half centuries. From its humble beginnings as a private collection to the vast tourist attraction it’s now become, the British Museum is a historic relic in and of itself.
Sir Hans Sloane and the Cabinet of Curiosities
The origins of the British Museum span back to the 18th century, when the revered doctor and scientist Sir Hans Sloane began to collect a diverse range of specimens and curiosities from across the world. Before his death, the scientist promised his collection to King George III, ensuring that the relics he’d gathered would never be broken up. His collection of 71,000 objects included manuscripts, dried plants, drawings and prints from all across the globe. After his death in 1753, the collection became a public attraction called the “Cabinet of Curiosities.”
British Library and Museum
After King George III passed an act of Parliament, the collection was matched with two ancient library collections, the Cottonian Library and the Harleian Library, the contents of which were put on display in the Montagu House. At one point, what is now Buckingham Palace was considered as the location for the museum.
After around 70 years, the now dilapidated Montagu House was demolished and work on what we now know as the British Museum began in 1925.
The Museum today
The present museum has expanded but focused its collections. No longer holding the aforementioned libraries, which have been moved up to King’s Cross based British Library, the Museum now focused on human civilisation and artefacts, having also shed its natural history collection.
The architecture of the British Museum
The Museum as it stands today has grown from the original designs of Sir Robert Smirke, the 18th century architect. It now includes the Great Court, a large, centrally located dome with a glass ceiling. This fresher, brighter look to the museum adds ventilation and much more space to the incredibly busy museum. On top of this, several wings have been built and refurbished over the years, including the North Wing, financed by the philanthropic Sainsbury family.
Departments of the British Museum
Whilst the below examples are the main departments of the museum, there are several other smaller collections alongside temporary exhibits in the British Museum that shed light on unique cultures and often unexplored areas of history.
Department of Egypt and Sudan
The Department of Egypt and Sudan has over 100,000 objects and is thought to be the most comprehensive collection of Egyptian and Sudanese antiquities in the world. With its Neolithic and Coptic Christian artefacts, the expansive department spans over 11,000 years. One highlight is the Gebelein Mummy, a preserved body dating back to 3400 BC.
Department of Greece and Rome
Dating back to the Bronze Age, the Department of Greece and Rome incorporates some of the most comprehensive artifacts from the Classics era. With archeology being a relatively new endeavour in the 19th century, some of the most influential archeologists of the time were responsible for amassing this vast collection, ranging from the mainland of Greece, the Aegean Islands, and the Holy Roman Empire.
The Middle East
The Middle East exhibition contains over 330,000 works and outside of Iraq, is the largest collection of Mesopotamian works. Teeming with ancient sculptures, palace reliefs, stone tablets from the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal, alongside excavations from the likes of famous archeologists T.E Lawrence and D.G Hogarth.
Prints and Drawings
Dating back to the Medieval Period, the prints and drawings of the British Museum are some of the best print room collections in existence, ensuring a diverse range of pieces. With a beautiful exhibition gallery in Room 90, this collection is an ancient art lovers paradise.
Britain, Europe and prehistory
Dating back 2 million years, this collection holds some of the first tools and implements ever created by human hands. Located on the top floor of the museum, the collection spans works from Latvia, Scandinavia, the UK, and even has objects dating back to the Ice Age.
Department of Asia
Collected by colonial officers throughout the centuries, this collection has over 75,000 objects and spans the entire continent of Asia. From Chinese ritual bronzes to Holy statues from Indonesia, this diverse collection is a deep dive into ancient Asian cultures.
Temporary and child-friendly exhibits
As it stands, there are two major temporary exhibits.
Edvard Munch’s collections of drawings and paintings are on display, exploring the political and social inspiration for his emotionally intense and expressive works. With an expansive overview of his works, this collection of his works is on display until the 21st of July.
Another popular temporary exhibit is the Manga collection. This Japanese born visual narrative art form has been highly inspirational for many mediums throughout the latter half of the 21st century. Stationed at the British Museum until the 26th of August, this is a great one for comic books and cartoon-loving kids as well as art-loving parents, providing a range of classics and hidden gems to explore during your visit and when you get home.
Getting to the British Museum
The British Museum is easy to reach for centrally located tourists and is well-positioned for visitors to enjoy breakfast, lunch, and even Indian afternoon tea in London before touring the exhibits.
With Goodge street, Tottenham Court Road, Holborn and Russell Square tube stations all within a kilometre walk, the British Museum is one of the easiest museums to reach in the city.