The Long Room of The British Museum, an engraving

Published in the Illustrated London News, 1851

In 1845 it was decided to build a long, single-storey gallery on the east of the King's Library. This was to provide additional book storage as the Museum's library collections were growing rapidly.

The 'Long Room' was built by Sydney Smirke (1798-1877) according to the original 1845 design of his elder brother Sir Robert Smirke. The room was completed in 1850. It was fitted out with elegant, simple iron galleries, spiral access stairs and two tiers of book presses similar in design to those in the King's Library. The area was lit naturally and ventilated from above with large rectangular skylights and circular ventilators. These still exist but windows were fitted into the east wall late in the nineteenth century. This engraving from the Illustrated London News of June 1851 shows the Long Room soon after its completion.

Over the years there have been alterations to the Long Room but the southern end has remained intact. For many years this part was used for the Oriental Library and it is still known as the 'Old Sanskrit Library'. The books once stored here are now in the British Library at St Pancras, and the Long Room is to be restored in order to provide accommodation for The British Museum's Central Library and Museum Archives.

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More information


P.R. Harris, A history of the British Museu (London, The British Library, 1998)

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


Height: 163.000 mm
Width: 105.000 mm

Museum number

Archives CE115/3/358


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