History of the Age of Enlightenment, £19.99
Letter relating to the evacuation of the British Museum's collections during the Second World War
7 May 1942
While the Museum's collections of books, manuscripts, prints and drawings were sent to the National Library of Wales at the beginning of the Second World War, most of its antiquities went first to various houses in the country and then, in February 1942, to an old stone quarry in Wiltshire, where they were stored nearly thirty metres underground.
The Quarry was clean and air-conditioned. Most of the antiquities were stored on shelves in the underground rooms, but the textiles from the Ethnography Department were hung in a separate room where they could be sprayed against insects.
British Museum staff were sent to the Quarry to look after the collections. They worked underground, keeping records, writing reports to London and cataloguing the antiquities. This letter is from the Museum's Director, Sir John Forsdyke, to Alec Tonnochy, Assistant Keeper of British and Medieval Antiquities, who was in charge of staff at the Quarry. He gives Tonnochy advice about the security of the store rooms and about the working hours of the junior staff.
Some of the staff were able to live in a local hotel when they were not on duty. They could also get a bed and three meals a day for 30 shillings (£1.50) a week at the Quarry. They were safe, but there was little for them to do in their spare time, and most of them wanted to return to London.