Behind the scenes in the Museum's archives
The British Museum’s Central Archive holds the business and governance records of the Museum. This includes all records relating to who the Trustees are, how they are appointed and how they run and manage the Museum.
The Archive has everything from the Deed of Trust which passed ownership of Hans Sloane’s collection to the Trustees in 1753 and property deeds for the ownership of Montagu House (where the Museum’s collection was originally housed) and the surrounding land, to acquisition records for objects in the collection and records for admittance as a reader to the Reading Room.
This property deed is from 1755 and relates to the land on which Montagu House was built. The Trustees of the newly founded British Museum were looking for a suitable building to house the collection. They bought Montagu House for £10,000 and this deed of ‘bargain and sale’ records the purchase.
Moving into the 19th century, here’s a photograph taken during the building of the Round Reading Room in 1855.
This is a ticket for the opening of the Round Reading Room in 1857, with a plan of its layout on the reverse.
The archive also holds many readers’ applications which include records for important literary figures like Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain and Bram Stoker.
There are many photographs that reflect the Museum’s ever-evolving history, from the building of the Round Reading Room, to the construction of the Great Court. Some of the earliest were taken by the Museum’s first photographer, Roger Fenton, in 1857. This one is designed to be viewed through a stereoscopic viewer (we have one of those in the Archive too!).
We also have records relating to artists gaining permission to come in to the galleries and paint – this is what was being captured in the Roger Fenton photo above.
There is an extensive collection of archive material relating to both world wars, including the protection of the Museum and its objects through sandbagging (in the First World War) and removal (in the Second World War).
We even have the remains of an incendiary device which was found in the rubble after a bomb hit the Museum in 1941.
So most things you’ve ever wanted to know about the British Museum and its history should be found here in the Central Archive!
If you want to contact the Central Archive, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 (0)20 7323 8224.