The sixth Reading Room of The British Museum, an engraving

Published in London Interiors ... (London, 1841)

Room for 10,000 books and 168 readers

The British Museum held library collections from 1753 until the British Library was established in 1973. In 1759 the first Museum Reading Room opened in Montagu House, the original home of The British Museum. However, as the Museum building developed and the number of readers increased, a series of improved reading rooms were built. Finally, in 1998 the British Library moved out of The British Museum to its new home at St Pancras.

In this engraving, from a watercolour by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd (1792-1864) now in the Department of Prints and Drawings, we see the sixth Reading Room designed by Sir Robert Smirke and completed in 1838. It was used until 1857 when the famous, domed Round Reading Room opened.

The sixth Reading Room was in fact two connected rooms, each with an iron gallery at window height. More than 10,000 books were stored on the bookshelves. Originally space was available for 168 people seated at twenty-four tables. As the number of readers increased another forty spaces were provided. In 1930 an extra floor was built at gallery height to increase storage space. The lower part of these two rooms has now been converted into the Mexican Gallery and the Chase Manhattan Gallery of North American Art (Rooms 33c and 33d).

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More information


M. Caygill, The story of The British Museu (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)

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: 125.000 mm
Width: 185.000 mm

Museum number

Archives C/1/1


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