British Museum guidebook, £3.50
Deed of bargain and sale of Montagu House
5 April 1755
The title deed for the first home of The British Museum
In 1675 Ralph Montagu bought Baber's Field, on what was then the northern outskirts of London, and built Montagu House. This was the site on which The British Museum stands today.
The original Montagu House burnt down a few years after it was built, but Ralph Montagu's new house was one of the finest houses in London. One visitor called it a 'palace'. Ralph later became the first duke of Montagu, and died in 1709. His son John, the second duke, died forty years later, leaving two daughters, both of whom were married. The earl of Halifax and Edward ffolkes were then appointed to manage his property, and as the family no longer lived in the house, it began to fall into decay.
About this time the Trustees of the newly-founded British Museum were looking for a suitable building to house the collections. They bought Montagu House from the earl of Halifax and Edward ffolkes for £10,000. This deed of 'bargain and sale' records the purchase.
The deed is written on parchment, and at the bottom the earl of Halifax and Edward ffolkes have signed it and sealed it with their personal seals. At the top is an ornamental portrait of King George II (reigned 1727-60).
M. Caygill, The story of The British Museu (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)