British Museum collections, £12.99
James Simon, The North Front of Montagu House and Gardens, an engraving
London, England, AD 1714
The Museum site as it was in the early 18th century
Montagu House in Bloomsbury was rebuilt for Ralph Montagu following a disastrous fire. It was designed with grand gardens in the French style, offering formal terracing and gravel walks adorned with a fountain and fine statuary. They were much admired by the visitors of the day.
This engraving shows the gardens during the time of Ralph's son, John Montagu. However, by the early 1740s the house was empty and the gardens were neglected. This changed when Montagu House was purchased in 1754 as the first home of The British Museum, as the mansion and gardens were restored to their former glory by the Museum's gardener, Mr Bramley. By late 1755 it was reported that:
'The whole garden has been mowed, weeded and cleared of the Anthills; the Gravel Walks and borders restored, the Slopes made less steep and together with the borders planted; the Kitchen Garden trenched; a Tool House built in it; and the Basin repaired.'
From 11 March 1757 the gardens were open to the public, two years before visitors were admitted to the Museum's collections. Their popularity increased, annual admission tickets were issued and, by the year 1800, 600 species of plants were established. However, over the next thirty years the construction of temporary and permanent additions to the Museum buildings reduced the once famous gardens to a building site.