So begins the journey. After arriving in the UK with a severe cold I spent the first few days on light duty, able to take in the British Museum and little else. Returning to the British Museum is like attending a family reunion. Seeing the same old familiar relatives, new births, old deaths, the extended family but one that is different, rearranged. The Mummy Room, the Rosetta Stone, Elgin Marbles and one of the gates of Babylon or at least pieces of it that had had me much impressed, that is until I visited the Pergamon Museum and saw the Ishtar Gate. But that is all that I could manage for my body was out of joint. The museum seemed somehow smaller or I by years larger. Maybe in a way they have made it to neat and tidy and I missed the sprawl. As with most museums more is iunseen than seen. It would be great if they could open a tour of their storage room but alas that seem doubntful, still this is one of the great museums of the Western world.
The Museum which celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2003 has its origins in the collection of physician, naturalist and collector, Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) who not wishing to see his collection of some 71,000 objects, a library and herbarium, dispersed on his death bequeathed it to King George II for the nation in return for the payment of £20,000 to his heirs. The King had little interest, preferring to put his attention more on European intrigue and his Hanoverian estates than anything that might benefit his English subjects. Fortunately Parliament, led by the Speaker, Arthur Onslow, was persuaded to accept the gift and an Act of Parliament establishing the British Museum received the royal assent on 7 June 1753. Added to Sloane's collection was the Cotton collection of manuscripts, given to the nation in 1700 and the Harleian collection of manuscripts shortly thereafter. The Museum was first housed in a 17th-century mansion, Montagu House, in Bloomsbury on the site of today's building. On 15 January 1759 the British Museum opened to the public. With the exception of two World Wars, when parts of the collection were evacuated, it has remained open ever since, gradually increasing its opening hours and moving from an attendance of perhaps 5,000 a year to today's 5 million who enter free of charge.
The Queen Elizabeth II Great Court, built in the space vacated by the library, reflects the most recent public expansion at the Museum. At two acres, it is the largest covered public space in Europe. In the centre is the restored Reading Room, while around and beneath it new galleries and an education centre were built. In 2008/9 four new permanent galleries were opened: