UK’s Top 20 Historic Listed Buildings: British Museum
History – The British Museum is a well known and much loved Grade 1 listed Building, a focal point in the heart of London for lovers of history and antiquities. Although it is known as the British Museum it is in fact a building that houses artefacts and information from practically every nation and civilisation both ancient and modern. The original building that stands on this site in Bloomsbury central London was build around 1670 for Ralph Duke of Montagu who employed the services of the architect Robert Hook. Hook was an outstanding architect as well as a natural philosopher whose contributions to mathematics, optics as well as architecture and astronomy make him one of the foremost scientific personalities of the time. He was at the forefront of plans for rebuilding London following the great fire but alas his grid plan system was not adopted and perhaps it is the original construction of Montagu house for which he is best remembered.
The original Hook structure was alas damaged by fire itself in 1686 and was restored under the guidance of the French architect Pugeut in the French style. This building was considered to be one of the finest of the time and drew admiration from many quarters. Indeed one of it’s many admirers was the Government of the day who in 1753 following the death of Sir Hans Sloane found themselves in the tricky situation of possibly seeing his collection of 71000 artefacts disappear abroad if the did not come up with a sum of money of £20000 for his heirs. The money was duly paid, the items were bequeathed to the King and the government took possession of Montagu House and the British Museum came in to existence.
This collection and the others that were constantly being added quickly rendered the building obsolete and thus in 1802 a committee was set up with the purposes of expanding the existing building to a more appropriate size. The first extension constructed was known as the Townley gallery and this was completed by 1805, the architect chosen to head this was work was George Sanders whose structure was designed in the Palladian style, this section had to demolished in 1844 to make way for the new Smirke building.
If you visit the British Museum today, you will see a fine Grade 1 listed building whose core was designed by Smirke. This includes the most impressive South front constructed in the green revival style. Although work was started as early as 1823 it was not completed until 1852 perhaps prompted by the sense of urgency brought about by the gift of his fathers library made by George IV. This new building was a quadrangle which used up the garden of Montagu house, with the dramatic south wing which replaced the old building. In 1852 it was decided that even more space was needed and the empty quadrangle seemed the ideal place to construct the library and this additional work was finished in 1857. Buildings & Renovation – The British Museum currently consists of the following sections:-