The British Museum

Top 30 things in Camden: The British Museum

Founded in 1753, the British Museum was the first national public museum in the entire world. From the very beginning it has granted free admission to all 'studios and curious persons' and is now, quite rightly, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the UK.

The origins of the British Museum lie with one remarkable fellow, Sir Hans Sloane. Born in Ireland, he trained as a physician and set up his medical practice at his home, No. 3 Bloomsbury Place, just along the street from the current museum building. His patients included Queen Anne and Kings George I and II. Best known now as a naturalist and collector, he amassed over 71,000 objects during his lifetime, including books, manuscripts, natural specimens, ethnographic material, coins, medals, prints and drawings.

On his death he bequeathed the entire collection to King George II to be preserved intact for the nation. On 7 June 1753, an Act of Parliament established the British Museum and it opened its doors 6 years later, on 15 January 1759, attracting 5,000 visitors per year. Today, visitor figures top 6 million!

Housed in a stunning building with a large glass dome, the museum is home to an amazing and unrivalled collection spanning 2 million years of human history and comprising over 8 million objects, from stone tools of early to twentieth century prints. Famously, the British Museum is home to a number of high-profile acquisitions, including the Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon sculptures, sculptures from the Temple of Apollo and objects from the Roman city of Pompeii. The first ancient Egyptian mummy arrived in 1756 and Captain Cook bequeathed a number of ethnographic artifacts following his three Pacific voyages.

Alongside the permanent collections on display, the Museum has 10 curatorial and research departments and presents an excellent programme of special exhibitions. It also regularly offers object-handling sessions for more tactile audiences. 

British Museum, Roxie Walker Gallery
Roxie Walker Gallery (c) British Museum