Interesting Things to Know about the British Museum

British Museum Tours
British Museum Facts

People see and experience so much during their British Museum tours that it is easy to think they know everything there is to about the place. Needless to say, most tourist with that opinion are wrong, because the place has a lot of stuff which a one-time visitor is almost sure to miss. Going back and discovering more of these is a preferred pastime for quite a few repeat tourists. Below are some interesting facts you would normally only find out that way.

This Museum is Older than the US

The British Museum was found in 1753, and is actually the oldest national museum open to the public in the entire world. It was during the year of 1759 that it began welcoming people to visit, which was 17 years prior to the signing of the US Declaration of Independence. The British Museum has always given free entry to all its curious visitors and that is one thing which has remained the same over the centuries.

It Has an Over 30-Years-Old Tube Station

The first nearest tube station you could go to from the British Museum was opened in 1900, and this was right under the place. This station was closed by the end of 1933, and a newer one called Holborn station was opened up instead. Holborn station is placed just a short distance from where the older tube station used to be.

A Cat Once Guarded the Gate of the Museum

The museum actually paid homage to a lot of cats for many of its first years; if you heard that somewhere and thought someone made it up, then you should know that is not the case. One of the most famous cats that has ever lived in the museum is one named Mike, who watched over the main gate of the historic establishment from 1909 to 1929. After he passed, a brief notice of death was published in both TIME and Evening Standard magazines.

The Museum Could Have Altered London’s Landmarks

The world-renowned museum came to being in 1753, when Sir Hans Sloane left all his distinguishable collections to the nation. Before starting the museum, the authorities began searching for an appropriate site for it, and initially even considered purchasing an area called the Buckingham House, which is where the famous Buckingham Palace was later constructed. The then trustees of the museum decided instead to set it up at Montague House, which is its current location.

It Extended to Two Other National Institutions

The immense collection of Sir Hans Sloane included a good number of historical specimens which were placed in the museum for more than a hundred years. The authorities decided to move these valuable items to a new location at South Kensington. The Natural History Museum in London was actually referred to as The British Museum up until 1992, although it was officially regarded as a separate institution after 1963. In the same way, The British Museum also had a large collection of books when it first started, which grew as the years passed, paving the way for the formation of the British Library, which became a separate establishment by 1973.

Lighting in the Museum

Daylight was the only source of light for the museum till the end of the 19th century. The various conventional light sources of the time such as oil lamps, candles, and gas lamps, were avoided for fear of damaging any of the priceless items. The museum frequently closed early during the winter months in those days, and at the time of the London Fog. The British Museum was among the first places in London to set up an electric lighting arrangement after that became a thing. The Reading Room, the Forecourt, and the Front Hall were experimentally lit this way in 1879. Even though the lighting system used at that time was quite unreliable, these modes were used to keeping the Reading Room open until 7:00 p.m. during the winter. In ten years, the system had expanded to other areas as well.

Collections Were Displaced During the Second World War

Starting 1933, in the face of the impending Nazi threat, authorities began making plans to move the collections which the museum held. The National Library of Wales and the British Museum began constructing a bombproof tunnel to a place called Aberystwyth by 1938, and started their evacuation process by the order of the British Home Office on August 23, 1939. Some of the heavy sculptures which were difficult to move were kept safe in the Aldwych Tube tunnel itself.

It Was a Popular Movie Set

About 15 movies were filmed at this museum in total, and that further increased its fame. It was for the Wakefield Cause in 1921 that the cameras first came to this place, and after that in 1973, for filming the political thriller, Day of the Jackal. One of the recent movies filmed here is Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, in 2014, although the crew of that one was only able to film for three nights. There was a 200-strong on-site crew, helium balloon lights, myriad other lighting equipment, a 40-tonne crane, and stands and cameras.

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