British Museum guidebook, £3.50
Height: 72.500 mm
Width: 52.500 mm
Archives CE48/4/4;Archives CE48/4/5
George Saunders, Design for the West Wing (elevation and section)
England, AD 1803
The first purpose-built gallery for the British Museum
In 1803 George Saunders, the British Museum's architect, was asked to draw up plans for the expansion of the Museum building. The first phase was a west wing extension to the old British Museum building, Montagu House. However, the Museum's Trustees could not decide on the design. Some wanted it to match the old building and others preferred a more 'modern' style. A compromise was reached and the two drawings here show the agreed design. Some of the collections (Egyptian Antiquities) have been drawn in for scale.
The plans were soon enlarged to include space for Charles Townley's collection of classical sculpture, acquired by the Museum on his death in 1805. Townley was a Museum Trustee and member of the Building Committee. George Saunders was greatly influenced Townley's ideas for the new building, which was later named the Townley Gallery.
At this time, the collections were simply displayed in the rooms of a large mansion house, Montagu House, so the Townley Gallery was to be the first purpose-built gallery for the British Museum. Visitors were able to enjoy the displays in modern surroundings. Circular rooflights (tribunes) lit the collections with natural light from above.
The Townley Gallery was demolished in 1846 to make way for the new Museum buildings, which you see today.