British Museum guidebook, £3.50
Sutton Nicholls, Montagu House, an engraving
London, England, around AD 1714
The British Museum site as it was in the early 18th century
Montagu House, the first home of The British Museum, was built in 1686 for Ralph Montagu. In this engraving of 1714 by Sutton Nicholls, we see the house when occupied by Ralph's son, John. Both father and son were proud of their fine house and many visited to admire the magnificent interiors. John held many extravagant parties there but when he moved to Whitehall in 1733 the house soon became neglected. When he died in 1749 it passed to his daughters. Soon after, the house was for sale.
In February 1754 Montagu House was offered as a home for the newly founded British Museum. Buckingham House (later Buckingham Palace), the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall, and the site of Old Palace Yard were also considered but, at the reasonable price of £10,000, Montagu House was chosen. The purchase was completed on 5 April 1755.