Robert Smirke, South Elevation of the North Wing, a drawing

The British Museum, London, England, around AD 1833

An original design for the North Wing, now restored as part of the Great Court

The North Wing was designed by Sir Robert Smirke (1780-1867) and built between 1833 and 1838 as part of the phased rebuilding of The British Museum from 1823 to 1852. Early proposals for this wing included a grand central colonnade. However, this was abandoned to reduce building costs and to increase the amount of useful space. The new wing provided much needed space for the expanding library collections and additional exhibition galleries for the Natural History Department.

The Natural History collections were transferred to a new museum in South Kensington during the early 1880s. Since then the galleries on the upper floor have been used for the display of Egyptian and Assyrian material. The library collections remained in this wing until the British Library moved to new accommodation at St Pancras in 1998, and the space they left is being used by new Ethnography Galleries.

This drawing by Sir Robert Smirke shows the south elevation of the North Wing, as it was originally built. During the 1930s the North Wing was reconstructed, providing additional floor space, and new windows were fitted to match the altered floor levels. However, this south elevation (the side facing into the inner courtyard) has now been especially restored to Smirke's original 1830s design and can be seen from within the Museum's Great Court.

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More information


M. Caygill and C. Date, Building the British Museum (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)


Width: 455.000 mm
Height: 335.000 mm

Museum number

Archives CE48/2/111


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