British Museum’s Montagu House building is demolished in 1845. Original antique print, from ‘The Illustrated London News’ of Montagu House being demolished with the British Museum facade seen beyond the roof of the old building.
When we think of the British Museum we see a grand neo-classical building built from Portland stone.
However, before the building that we know today was built, there was an earlier museum housed in Montagu House, a late 17th-century mansion in Great Russell Street, in the Bloomsbury.
Montagu House was built for Ralph Montagu, 1st Duke of Montagu, and was the grandest aristocratic residence erected in London (although actually in the county of Middlesex) at the time.
It would remain the London home of the Montagu family until being sold to the Trustees of the British Museum in 1759, becoming then the home of the museum until demolition in the 1840s to make way for larger premises.
Founded in 1753, the British Museum was essentially the collections of the Irish physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane. However, in acquiring Montagu House, the museum’s trustees had bought a property and site befitting what was destined to become a national, indeed international, collection.
Our antique print from the collection of Frontispiece Ltd was published on this day, September 27th. in 1845, and recorded the demolition of Montagu House.
In a supporting article, the newspaper states, “As Montague House (the old British Museum) is disappearing by piecemeal, and the ornate ‘French plan’ is giving way to to the comparatively severe portico and colonnade of Sir Sir Robert Smirke’s new Museum, we have deemed the present state of the two buildings a fit subject for illustration.”
I have known this antique print for very many years but it was not until this morning that, on reading the accompanying text, did I realise that both the old and new museum appear in the illustration for, peering through the centre of the engraving is the facade of the newly erected structure.