The Entrance Gates to The British Museum, an engraving
London, England, AD 1852
The grand design of the gates to the new Museum
For almost 150 years the front of The British Museum has been protected by magnificent ornamental iron railings and gates. These were designed by Sydney Smirke (1798-1877) following the completion of the main Museum building. The gates replaced the gatehouse and boundary wall to Montagu House, which previously stood on this site.
Models for the railings and gates were made from Sydney Smirke's designs. Metal moulds were then produced and used for all of the work except the ornamental frieze which was made of hammered iron. The ironwork was undertaken by John Walker of York and was completed in 1853. Walker also designed the cast iron standard lamps in the forecourt which were originally lit by gas. Granite for the piers and bases of the railings came from quarries near Bovey Tracy in Dartmoor. The two massive gates weigh ten tons and were opened originally by a windlass. They are now electrically controlled.
The gates were first opened to the public on 31 May 1852. Soon after, a miniature railing was erected outside on the pavement to mark the Museum boundary. On top of each post sat a miniature lion designed by Alfred Stevens. In 1896 these smaller railings were removed and trees were planted. Sections of miniature railings and twelve of the twenty-four lions were sent to St Paul's Cathedral to surround the Wellington Monument, also designed by Stevens.
M. Caygill and C. Date, Building the British Museum (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)