Memorial from the National Sunday League on the Sunday opening of the British Museum
England, 18 July 1857
A movement to extend public access to the Museum and the collections
For more than a century the British Museum has opened on Sunday afternoons, though this was only the result of a long campaign.
During the 1850s the British Museum opened on three weekdays and on Saturday afternoons. By 1882 this had increased to five weekdays and all day Saturday. This did not help working men and their families. They worked long hours and all day Saturday. Many could not afford a day's unpaid leave to come to the Museum. Visits were often made on a Bank Holiday - the Museum's busiest day.
Many were keen to learn from the Museum's collections, especially craftsmen from the London Guilds. Some had read about the Museum in popular magazines and attended lectures at Mechanics' Institutes given by Museum staff. A growing number of people wanted the Museum open on Sunday afternoon. As a result the National Sunday League was formed. In 1857 it sent a petition, seen here, to the Museum, which, although sympathetic, was unable to help. This, as with Sunday trading, was a matter for Parliament to decide. Thirty-nine years later the British Museum opened to the public on Sunday afternoons.