History of Henry Wellcome's unique collection, £19.99
George Saunders, Plan of The British Museum site
London, England, AD 1803
'General Plan shewing the manner in which the proposed additions may afterwards be extended'
Montagu House, built in 1686, was the first home of The British Museum, bought in 1755 to store and display the Museum's collections. By 1800 it had become too small for its purpose: the collections were growing and number of visitors was rising. To solve this problem, the Museum architect, George Saunders (about 1762-1839), planned to extend the old building into the gardens of Montagu House. In 1803 he designed an east wing for antiquities - including the Rosetta Stone and the sarcophagus of Nectanebo - that had recently been brought from Egypt. Extra wings were planned for the expanding Library and Natural History collections. However, only the first phase of the east wing, the Townley Gallery, was built. The gallery opened in 1808.
It was left to Saunders' successor, Robert Smirke (1780-1867), to design and build further extensions. Smirke's ambitious project, which began in 1823 and lasted thirty years, resulted in the demolition of Montagu House and the complete rebuilding of The British Museum, much as you see it today.
This plan from 1803 is one of many plans and drawings kept in The British Museum's Archive that show the development of the Museum building.
M. Caygill and C. Date, Building the British Museum (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)