Victorian London - Buildings, Monuments and Museums - British Museum 

British Museum, History of

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source: The Illustrated London News, 1845

    "The Public are admitted to the British Museum on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, between the hours of 10 and 4, from the 7th September to the 1st of May and between the hours of 10 and 7, from the 7th May to the 1st of September, and daily during the weeks of Easter, Whitsuntide, and Christmas, except Saturdays.
    "The Reading Room of the Museum is open every day, except of Sundays, on Ash-Wednesday, Good-Friday, Christmas-day, and on any fast or thanksgiving days, ordered by authority: except also between the 1st and 7th of January, the 1st and 7th of May, and the 1st and 7th of September, inclusive.
    "The hours are from 9 till 7 during May, June, July, and August; and from 9 till 4 during the rest of the year.
    "Persons desirous of admission are to send their applications in writing, (specifying their christian and surnames, rank or profession, and places of abode), to the Principal Librarian, or, in his absence, to the Secretary, or, in his absence, to the senior Under Librarian, who will either immediately admit such persons, or lay their applications before the next meeting of the trustees. Every person applying is to produce a recommendation satisfactory to a trustee or an officer of the house. Applications defective in this respect will not be attended to.
    "Permission will in general be granted for six months; and at the expiration of this term fresh application is to be made for a renewal. The tickets given to readers are not transferable, and no person can be admitted without a ticket.
    "Persons under 18 years of age are not admissible.
    "Artists are admitted to study in the Galleries of Sculpture, between the hours of 9 and 4, every day, except Saturday.
    "The Museum is closed from the 1st to the 7th of January, the 1st to the 7th of May, and the 1st to the 7th of September, inclusive, on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and Christmas Day, and also on any special fast or thanksgiving day, ordered by Authority. 
    "The Print Room is closed on Saturdays.
    "The contents of the Medal and Print Rooms can be seen only be very few persons at a time, and by particular permission."

source: Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850


A very useful little book has been published, called, How to see the British Museum in Four Visits. Its success has induced the dauntless writer to undertake another guide --- one for the accomplishment of a far more difficult feat. It is to be entitled, How to find a Book in the Catalogue in Four Hours. The promise is bold, and we suspend our judgment. The feat has never yet been performed; but this is the age of progress, even at the British Museum.

source: Punch 1852


Over the entrance of the great reading- room of the British Museum is appropriately placed the bust of the late Mr. Panizzi - the Founder, as he may be called. The huge domed hall behind him, his work and monument, is one of the wonders of Europe, now reaching to a considerable number.
    The entrance to this hall is beset with difficulties. At the gate of the Museum, on a day when the reading-room only is open, the policemen and warders challenge the visitor with a "Reader, sir?" Allowed to pass, he crosses the open space, ascends the steps, enters under the portico, and finds himself at the great hall, with more police and warders. Any signs of indecision, and he is sure to be challenged, "Reader?" If he crosses boldly, and makes for the glass-door, where there is another janitor with a list, he is stopped once more and made to show his passport, unless he have what is called at the theatres, "a face admission." Down the long passage he goes, gives up great-coat, stick, umbrella, parcels; passes through glass swinging doors, past other detectives, and finds himself in the monstrous cathedral dedicated to learning, and, as some say, also to idleness.
    It would be hard to give an idea of the first coup d'oeil; for there is literally nothing like it. It has the look nearly of a cathedral, with all the comfortable, furnished air of a "snug" library. Colouring for the sides is furnished by rows of the books themselves which run round the walls to a height of some forty or fifty feet, and are reached by two light galleries.
    [n the centre of the room is a round counter, within which sit the officials, and which communicates with the library outside by a long avenue shut in by glass screens. Outside this counter is another, which holds the enormous catalogue, reaching to some hundred volumes; and from this second counter radiate the desks for the readers. Nothing more comfortable or convenient can be conceived. You have a choice in seats even: hard smooth mahogany or softly cushioned; both gliding smoothly en castors. In the upright back of the desk is a little recess for ink and pens, steel and quill; and on each side a leathern handle. One of these pulls out a reading-desk, which conies well forward, and swings in any direction, or at any height: the other forms a ledge on which books can be piled up and be out of the way. A blotting-pad, paper-knife, and convenient pegs under the table for putting away hats, &c., complete the conveniences. There are over five hundred of these, each having a number and letter. There are, besides, a number of what might be called "research'' tables - small, low, flat, and broad, which an antiquarian may have all to himself; and the lid of which lifting up, he finds a convenient repository where lie can store away all his papers, notes, and books until he returns the next day. Some of the more retired of the long benches are reserved "for ladies only;" but they do not seem very much to care for such seclusion. 
    Round the room, and within easy reach, is a sort of free library, where every one can help himself. This, as will be imagined, consists of books of general reference, and is very judiciously chosen. It comprises dictionaries of all languages, the best, newest encyclopaedias of every conceivable sort; long lists of the old magazines, like the Gentleman's, Annual Register, &c.; ambitious collections of universal science and knowledge, such as the Pantheon Litteraire, and Diderot's Encyclopaedia; histories of towns and counties in profusion, and the best and most favourite text-books in the respective classes of law, theology, medicine, mathematics, physiology, &c. The only weak place is the class of English belles-lettres and biography, which is ordered after a very random and arbitrary fashion, comprising such poor books as Beattie's Life of Campbell, but not Moore's Life of Sheridan, having Twiss's Life of Eldon, and no Life of Sterne, and being without Mrs. Oliphant's remarkable Life of Irving. In fact, it would be hard to say on what principle the choice is made.
    Having chosen a seat-and if you come late in the day you have to take a long, long walk seeking one - go to the catalogue for your book. And here we may pause to survey this wonderful catalogue, a library of folios in itself. Every volume is stoutly bound in solid blue calf, with its lower edges faced with zinc, to save wear and tear from the violent shoving in of the volumes to their places. On every page are pasted about a dozen neatly lithographed entries, and between the pages are guards, so as to allow fresh leaves to be put in, as the catalogue increases. As the guards are filled up the volume is taken away and rebound with fresh guards, so it becomes an illustration of the famous Cutler stocking, with this difference, that the stocking is gradually increasing in size. Nothing can be fuller than the arrangements for this catalogue, as it even refers you for a biographical notice of a well-known man to some of those little meagre accounts prefixed to collections of their poems, and to biographical notices and reviews. It also, to a great extent, helps the student to the real names of those who have written under assumed ones. This is the new catalogue, but there is an old one partly in print and partly in manuscript, and both must be consulted if you wish to make your search exhaustive. Periodical publications make a department in themselves under the letter P, filling some twenty folio volumes, to which there is an index, also in many folio volumes. London has nearly one folio to itself, Great Britain and France each several. Every entry is complete, title in full, date, place of publication, and a press mark, such as which 645 a 10 / 3 which is to be copied on a little form like the following:

Permission to use the reading-room will be withdrawn from any person who shall write, or make marks on any part of a printed book or manuscript belonging to the Museum.

Press Mark Heading and Title of the Work Required Place Date Size
10854. b. {Memoirs of Mrs. Piozzi Hayward} London 1862 Octvo.

Date, Feb 9, 1871                  John Smith (Signature)
K.2 {Number of the Reader's Seat}

Please to restore each volume of the catalogue to its place as soon as done with.

On the other side are these directions:


1. Not to ask for more than one work on the same ticket.

2. To transcribe from the catalogues all the particulars necessary for the identification of the work wanted.

3. To write in a plain, clear hand, in order to avoid delay and mistakes.

4. To indicate, in the proper place on each ticket, the number of the seat occupied.

5. To bear in mind that no books will be left at the seat indicated on the ticket unless the reader who asks for them is there to receive them.

6. When any cause for complaint arises, to apply at once to the superintendent of the reading-room.

7. Before leaving the room, to return each book, or set of books, to an attendant, and obtain the corresponding ticket, the reader being responsible for the books so long as the ticket remains uncancelled.

N.B. Readers are not, under any circumstances, to take a book or manuscript out of the reading-room.

Having given in the ticket, the reader' may return to his place, certain of having to wait at least half an hour, and he may amuse himself watching the smooth running carts laden with volumes, which arrive every moment, and the attendants who are seen hurrying along through the glass. screen, each with his pile of books, with their labels fluttering. Considering that some of these have to walk three-quarters. of a mile along passages and up steep stairs. to fetch some remote book, and that often the forms are imperfectly filled, the delay is not surprising. A more intelligent, willing, and obliging class of men cannot be conceived, always ready to volunteer' assistance, even outside their special duty.. It is pheasant to see how they exert themselves for novices, or for certain old veterans, filling up their forms for them.
    The readers are a very singular and. motley class. And here it is that some reform is wanting. A great deal of the time  and trouble of the staff is taken up with supplying the wants of young boys and girls, and general idlers, who come to read novels and poetry, and take up the places of others who have real business. It cannot be supposed that the nation meant to pay for books and attendants, merely to wait on this useless class. A reform in the way of classification would be useful, the putting these drones in a department of their own, and with one attendant only to wait on them all. Every book ought to be procured within ten minutes, and by a system of speaking tubes and small lifts, the matter could be much simplified. The Museum would run fewer risks from the abstraction of books, by limiting the number of readers. There are many traditions in the Museum of these robbers, some of whom were always suspected, but to whom the matter never could be brought home: while there was a "gentleman" who was not suspected, but was at last discovered. A Museum book is fortunately very unmarketable, it is so stamped all over; and if a volume had two hundred illustrations, every one would bear this mark. To all libraries come people with a mania for cutting out prints, and at this one, on a stand made purposely,  are exhibited two maimed and defaced books, thirty or forty leaves torn out, with an inscription explaining how they were placed there as a warning, &c. This exhibition is a little undignified, and it seems quite purposeless. The evil-doers would only chuckle at it, while the well-conducted have no need of such reminders.
    The habitues are a curious class. Some, as we have seen, are mere idlers, who come to read story-books in a comfortable room, but the true bookworm is found here in perfection. There is the shabby man, who has read himself blind over old Latin and French books, and who, at this moment, has his face bent to the table over a tiny duodecimo, the print being about an inch from his eye. Here is the mouldy old antiquary, very dirty, with metal spectacles, delving and grubbing in a very pit of books, with bleared eyes, wrinkled cheeks, and toothless gums, and yet he will work on till he tumbles into the grave. A familiar figure is that of the tall Don Quixote-looking man, who wears jack-boots and a black serge "soutane", or gown. He has a table to himself, covered with little vellum-bound books in all languages, and with notes and little manuscript books, all in the neatest penmanship. Here is a dapper man, with a sale catalogue and pencil, who is comparing books he is about to purchase with the copies in this national Museum. Here are men copying old music, sketching from the print books, tracing maps, handwriting, what not. But what strikes us especially is the diligent book manufacture going on, proofs being corrected, and manuscript set in order on every side. Not less characteristic are the ladies; and here we shall find in perfection the strong-minded woman, with spectacles and curls, and a determined bearing. There are also many nice-looking girls, who go fluttering about fearlessly, fetching their own books. They are fond of coming and working in company with a husband or sweetheart, when a deal of whispering and comparing notes goes on. But considering that there are often five or six hundred people in the room, the behaviour of every one concerned is wonderful for propriety, and the room is for the most part as quiet and orderly as if it were a church.

source: All the Year Round, 1871

Museum, British, Great Russell-street, Bloomsbury. Free. With the year 1879 this institution commenced a new era. For a century it was scarcely anything else than a storehouse of the treasures of the ancient world, an the curiosities of science, literature, and art; but today its invaluable accumulations are being brought out and adapted to the uses of age, and the public are invited to profit by the many beautiful lessons they can silently but surely teach. The British Museum is now open every day (except during the first week in February, May, and October, when the rooms are cleaned), and the baby in arms no longer excluded. On Monday and Saturday all the galleries are thrown open; on Tuesday and Thursday all except the natural history collections (then reserved for students); on Wednesday and Friday all except the antiquities on the upper floor and the rest of the department of Greek and Roman antiquities (set apart on those days for fine-art students). The hours of admission are from 10 (Saturday 12) all the year round, in January, February, November, December, till 4; March, April, September, October, till 5; and May to August till 6. On Monday and Saturday from May  8 till the middle of July till 8, and onwards till the end of August till 7. This variety in the hours of opening is occasioned by the duration of daylight, as the Museum is not artificially lighted: experiments have, however, been tried in the reading-room with the electric light, which will be continued. Admission to the reading-room (for study and copying), to the department of prints and drawings (for the same), to the sculpture galleries (to draw from statues and busts), to the coin and medal room (for study), and to the zoological, fossil, mineral, and botanical collections (for examination of specimens), is granted on application to the principal librarian, supported by the recommendation of a householder or someone of known position. To save trouble, the recommendation of a person whose name can be found in the ordinary directories should be sent. The British Museum was first opened on the 15th January, 1759. Its principal components were then the Museum of Sir Hans Sloane, of Chelsea (bought for £20,000), the Cottonian library (presented by Sir J. Cotton, 1700), and the Harleian manuscripts (acquired for £10,000). By Act of Parliament, passed in 1753, the institution was vested in trustees for the nation, the £30,000 required for the Sloane and Harley collections, with a further sum to fund for salaries and expenses, was raised by a lottery sanctioned by the same Act. These tributaries to the stream of knowledge were deposited in Montagu House, a mansion standing in its own grounds, which are now occupied by the present building. The Museum may be roughly described as a square formed of four wings, the central space covered by a separate structure --- the Reading-room. It is an imposing fabric of the Grecian Ionic order, designed by Sir Robert Smirke. Passing into the hall from the stately portico, you have on the right hand books and manuscripts: The GRENVILLE LIBRARY (rarest editions and finest examples of typography, with block books, valued at £54,000, bequeathed); the MANUSCRIPT DEPARTMENT (50,00 volumes, 45,000 charters and rolls, 7,000 seals, and 100 ancient papyri, including the Cotton, Harley, Lansdowne, Egerton, and additional collections); the MANUSCRIPT SALOON (autograph letters of eminent persons, illuminated manuscripts, rich bindings, and great seals); the KING'S LIBRARY (65,000 volumes, presented by George IV., remarkable productions of the printing-presses of Europe and Asia. In the same library an EXHIBITION OF DRAWINGS by Turner, Cox, Girtin, Cozens, Muller, and Canaletto, Henderson bequest, 1878 of engraved Portraits, historical Prints, and Playing-cards; and of the choicest Medals in the national cabinet, with electrotypes of the finest ancient Coins. On the left you have the ROMAN GALLERY (Busts of Emperors, Roman antiquities found in England); three GRAECO-ROMAN GALLERY (sculptures of the Greek school, found chiefly in Italy, including the Townley, £20,000, Payne-Knight, valued with other antiquities at £60,000, bequeathed, Farnese, Cyrene, and Priene marbles, including the Venus from Ostia, the Discobolos, Giustiniani Apollo, Clytie, Muses, Mercury, Satyrs; and in the basement, mosaics, tessellated pavements); the ARCHAIC GREEK ROOM (Harpy Tomb from Xanthus, seated figures from Branchidae, Etruscan sepulchral monument); the MAUSOLEUM ROOM (one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, the colossal chariot-tomb erected to Mausolos by his sister-wife Artemisia, discovered by C. T. Newton); the ELGIN ROOM (grandest remains of Greek sculpture, the Parthenon marbles and procession-frieze, works of Pheidias, greatest of Greek sculptors; purchased in 1816 of Lord Elgin for £35,000, now priceless; also colossal Lion from Cnidus; figured columns of the Temple of Diana of Ephesus, recovered by J. Turtle Wood, 1863-75); the HELLENIC ROOM (frieze, &c., of Temple of Apollo, erected at Phigalia by Iktinos excavated by C. R. Cockerell purchased for £19,000; the Diadumenos, athlete). ASSYRIAN GALLERIES:     Sculptured slabs from Nineveh, now Kouyunjik, and Babylon, acquired during the Layard, Loftus, Geo. Smith Daily Telegraph, and Rassam explorations; illustrating most completely the daily life, religion warfare, art, literature, and customs of the Assyrians and Babylonians, and bearing strong testimony to the accuracy of portions of Biblical history. The clusters of Assyrian ivories, bronzes, seals, and glass are unrivalled, and the cuneiform tablets are a library in themselves; the Creation, Fall of Man, and Deluge tablets, Seals of Ilgi, B.C. 2050, Sennacherib, Darius, Assyrian accounts of Sennacherib's expedition against Hezekiah, the Siege of Lachish. In Basement: Lion hunts by Assurbanipal III., Sardanapalus, very finely wrought, also processions, dogs, &c. EGYPTIAN GALLERIES: Colossal statues of divinities and Pharaohs, "the Vocal Memnon" sarcophagi, graveyard tablets, obelisks, fresco paintings, hieroglyphics, the Rosetta stone, key to Egyptian language; from Memphis, Abydos, Thebes, Karnak, Luxor; dating from the time of Abraham to the Ptolemies, in beautiful state of preservation. On Staircase : Papyri, the pictured Ritual of the Dead. Most of the larger sculptures were surrendered to the English on the capitulation of Alexandria in 1801. Antiquities from Cyprus: small statues, busts, and miscellaneous ornaments. Before you in the hall is the new LYCIAN ROOM: Sculptures from Lycia, obtained by Sir C. Fellows, lofty tombs, friezes, Statues of Nereids, graceful and expressive of motion. On the floor above are the galleries containing the smaller objects of antiquity: Egyptian mummies, embalmed animals, coffins, sepulchral ornaments, representations of divinities in gold, silver, and porcelain; furniture, ivories, bronzes, vases, dresses, weapons, and tools. The GLASS COLLECTIONS: Slade and Temple cabinets; Egyptian, Phoenician, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Venetian, French, German, Dutch, and Spanish examples; "Christian glass." WITT COLLECTION: illustrating the bath of the ancients; Roman ware; Cyprus pottery VASE ROOMS : Painted fictile vases, Hamilton, Canino, Payne, Knight, and other collections, from tombs, principally Etruscan and Greek; illustrating by paintings the divine and heroic legends of the Greeks ; mural paintings, terra-cotta statuettes, drinking. cups, toys, &c. BRONZE ROOM: Greek, Etruscan and Roman bronzes, deities, heroes, mirrors, candelabra, lamps, vases; head of Artemis (finest period of Greek art), Venus, Bacchus, Apollo, Hercules, seated philosopher, Meleager, Mercury. BRITISH AND MEDIEVAL ROOM: British antiquities anterior to the Roman-invasion, Roman antiquities found in Britain; Anglo-Saxon objects, flint implements, pottery, cave. remains, weapons; early Christian lamps, crosses, medieval carvings in ivory, bells, clockwork, enamels, pottery, and majolica. The Franks' Collection, descriptive of the Keramic art of the far East, presented to the nation by Mr. A. W. Franks, and valued at £6,000, will be removed from the Bethnal Green Museum to this department when the natural history collections shall have been transferred to South Kensington. ETHNOGRAPHICAL ROOM: Idols, fetishes, dresses, ornaments, implements, and weapons of the savage races of the world, including the articles gathered by Captain Cook in the South Sea Islands. PREHISTORIC ROOM: The Christy Collection, bequeathed in 1866 will be shortly brought from 103, Victoria-street; the room is now occupied by the Meyrick armour, carvings in ivory and wood, enamels, &c., presented in 1878; and the Henderson Collection, bequeathed in the same year, comprising oriental arms, metal work, Persian, Rhodian and Damascus pottery, majolica and glass. ORNAMENT AND GEM ROOM: Payne-Knight Strozzi (Blacas) (purchased in 1866 with other antiquities for £40,000), Castellani, and other collections; the Portland Vase ancient gold, silver, and amber ornaments; fine illustrations of the goldsmith's art among the Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans, intaglios and cameos unsurpassed for delicacy and beauty; Byzantine, Teutonic; Anglo-Saxon and later Ornaments; Keltic gold breast-plate and rings. Beyond the new Lycian room is the READING ROOM: Tickets to view are given by the messenger in the hall; circular structure; original suggestion of Thomas Watts, improved by A. (Sir A.) Panizzi, carried out by Mr. Sidney Smirke; dome 140 feet in diameter, height 106 feet; 60,000 books in the three tiers inside; space for 1,500,000 inside and out; here in the basement are also the Map and Chart Departments, newspaper and music libraries. There are 1,300,000 volumes in the department of printed books at the present date. The Reading-room is open daily from nine November to February till four, March, September, and October till five, rest of year till six. Beyond, in the north wing, is the old library, in a part of which, once the Reading-room, T. Carlyle and Lord Macaulay worked; it is now the cataloguing department of the assistants and copyists. It may be noted here that, under the new regulations, tickets for the reading-room are not renewed; once on the register always a reader and there is no need to show the ticket if the reader is known to the doorkeeper. Persons under twenty-one are not admitted, except in very special cases indeed. The Department of PRINTS AND DRAWINGS: Entrance on staircase at the top of the Egyptian gallery the richest assemblage of etchings and engravings in Europe ; open to students every day in the week at ten ; closes at four all the year round except from the beginning of April to the end of July, when it is shut at five. Contains the collections of Sloane (including the Albrecht Dorer drawings), Payne-Knight, Cracherode, Cunningham, early Italian and German prints; Lawrence drawings; Hamilton, Townley, Moll, Sheepshanks, Rembrandt etchings, Harding, Morghen, Gell, Craven, Ed. Hawkins (caricatures), Slade, and Henderson. The Department of COINS AND MEDALS has the choicest and most extensive numismatic cabinets in the world, scientifically arranged; and includes the Roberts, Payne-Knight, Marsden, Temple, De Salis, Wigan, Blacas, Woodhouse, and Bank of England cabinets. Lastly are the Natural History collections, which will be shortly placed in the elegant terra-cotta building in the Cromwell-road, near the South Kensington Museum, designed by Mr. Alfred Waterhouse. It will be sufficient to say that they occupy the remainder of the upper floor of the British Museum; that the ZOOLOGICAL COLLECTIONS comprise, in large part, the specimens brought together by Sir Hans Sloane, mammals, &c.; Colonel Montagu, ornithology; Hardwicke, Indian animals; Hodgson, mammals and birds; Yarrell, fishes; Ross and Be1cher, antarctic specimens; Stephens, entomology, 88,000 specimens; Bowring, entomology; Reeves, vertebrate animals from China; Clark, coleoptera; Hugh Cuming, shells, the largest collection ever formed, acquired in 1866; A. R. Wallace, birds; Dr. Bowerbank, sponges; and the specimens collected during the Transit of Venus Expedition (1875), and the recent Arctic exploration. The GEOLOGICAL DEPARTMENT comprises fossil plants, fishes, reptiles (South African, &c.), saurians, wingless birds, gigantic eggs, sponges, corals, shells, insects, the mammoth, megatherium, pigmy elephant, human remains, principally formed from the collections of Dr. Solander, Hawkins, Mantell, Dr. Croizet, Bain, &c., and extensive purchases. The MINERAL DEPARTMENT includes a splendid collection of meteorites, aerolites, siderolites, portions of other planets, and aerial formations; the Melbourne meteorite, three and a half tons ; the collections of Greville, Greg, Kokscharoff, &c. a well-arranged series of minerals, including diamonds, gold nuggets, crystals, and gems of every variety and degree of purity and splendour. In the BOTANICAL DEPARTMENT are flowerless plants, fungi, sea-weeds, lichens, mosses, ferns, flowering plants, grasses and sedges, palms, cycads, conifers, parasitical plants, fruits and stems, fossil plants, polished sections of woods, cones, &c., from the herbaria of Sir Hans Sloane, 1753, Sir Joseph Banks, 1827, Robert Brown, Rev. R. Blight, and others. Admission to study the herbarium and mounted specimens, daily ten till four, is granted on application to the principal librarian. The PORTRAITS, until lately hung in the Zoological Gallery, have been for the most part handed over to the National Portrait Gallery. NEAREST Railway Stations, Gower-st (Metrop.) and Temple (Dist.); Omnibus Routes, Oxford-st, Tottenham-court-road, and Euston-road. Cab Ranks, Bury-st and Southampton-row.

source: Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879


Not unworthy of its priceless possessions, and that is saying a great deal, is the structure of the British Museum at Bloomsbury. It was designed by Sir Robert Smirke, and was built on the site of Montague House in the years 1823-1852, but there have been considerable additions since then. The grand facade, which has two projecting wings and an imposing portico, is 370 feet in length. The impressive colonnade consists of Ionic columns of these, two rows of eight support the portico, over which may be seen figures by Westmacott, setting forth, on the right, the progress of the Human Race, and representing, on the left, the Drama, Poetry, Music, Mathematics, and Natural Philosophy. The front faces Great Russell Street, and our view is taken from the south-west portion of the court

source: The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896


A copy of every publication issued in this country has to be sent to the British Museum; and the day must come when the present accommodation, large as it is, will be found insufficient. Our view shows the interior of the dome-roofed Reading Room. The circular bookcases surrounding the enclosure for officials contain the catalogues - some 2,000 volumes in all - and the readers' desks radiate from this centre. Excellent accommodation is afforded to readers: the desks are provided with a folding desk, a hinged shelf, blotting-paper, pens, ink, etc., and the room is illuminated by the electric light. The lower stage of the walls is lined with shelves containing some twenty thousand volumes, chiefly reference works, which may be used without filling up the forms provided for the books kept elsewhere.

source: The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896