Site Overview

Preserving over 13 million objects from around the world

The British Museum was founded in 1753, the first national public museum in the world. From the beginning, it granted free admission to all "studious and curious persons". Visitor numbers have grown from around 5,000 a year in the 18th century to nearly six million today.

The origins of the British Museum lie in the will of the physician, naturalist and collector, Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753). Over his lifetime, Sloane collected more than 71,000 objects, which he wanted to be preserved intact after his death. Therefore, he bequeathed the whole collection to King George II for the nation in return for a payment of £20,000 to his heirs.

The gift was accepted and, on 7th June 1753, an Act of Parliament established the British Museum. The British Museum opened to the public on 15th January 1759. It was first housed in a 17th-century mansion – Montagu House, in Bloomsbury, on the site of today's building. By 1857, both the quadrangular building and the round Reading Room had been constructed. With the exception of two World Wars, the museum has remained open ever since.

The founding collections largely consisted of books, manuscripts and natural specimens with some antiquities (including coins and medals, prints and drawings) and ethnographic material. In the early part of the 19th century, there were a number of high profile acquisitions. These included the Rosetta Stone, the Townley collection of classical sculpture, and the Parthenon sculptures.

The museum no longer displays collections of natural history, and the books and manuscripts now form part of the British Library. The museum still preserves the universality in its collections of artefacts representing the cultures of the world, both ancient and modern. The collections have today grown to over 13 million objects.

Visitor Information
Season - Months Open
All year, except 1 January and 24-26 December
Opening Hours - Days and Times
Sat-Thu: 10.00-17.30
Friday: 10.00-20.30
Free entry.
Other Amenities
  • Accessible
  • Toilets
  • Cafe
  • Guided Tours
  • Gift Shop
Key Attractions
  • Artefacts
Contact Details

British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG, United Kingdom


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