British Museum - Great Court and Reading Room

The caption underneath a photograph of the British Museum in one of my guidebooks makes the bold claim that "The British Museum is the largest museum in the world". Presumably this takes account of the fact that the Bloomsbury building houses only part of the Museum's collection, but it is certainly vast - it occupies an entire block, about 250 meters square.

The museum hold collections of antiquities from all over the world, with its Egyptian and Greek galleries being perhaps the most famous. The present classically-designed building was completed around 1850, having replaced the former Montague House on the same site. The Reading Room was built in the central courtyard in 1857.

Click on any thumbnail image in this gallery to display the corresponding full size image. The images are access protected through a cgi script to prevent hotlinking. If you encounter problems while trying to view the full size images, please read the access advice page.

The Great Court

Images of the new glass roofed Great Court

The Great Court, the open space in the central courtyard of the museum, was something of a no-go area for very many years, apparently the home of storage sheds, plant and other clutter. It has only recently been cleared away and the newly vacated Court has been remodelled as an internal piazza housing sculptures, exhibitions and catering areas as well as acting as a general internal thoroughfare. The most striking features are its glass roof and the immaculate Portland limestone that now clads the former Reading Room in the centre. The new Great Court development was opened by the Queen on December 6th 2000.

The Reading Room

The old Reading Room at the cenre of the museum

The circular, domed Reading Room was until recently the home of the British Library, the nation's premier reference library. It was open only to academics and bona fide researchers and the general public were not admitted. One of its most famous patrons was Karl Marx, who is said to have written "Das Kapital" within its walls.

The British Library is now housed in a new custom-built headquarters near King's Cross, and the Reading Room is now open to the public along with the Great Court.

Back to Borough of Camden index page


  The British Museum
  The Great Court

This page last updated 30th October 2002