Visitors on the Colonnade of The British Museum, an engraving

Published in the Illustrated London News, June 1851

The Great Exhibition of 1851, centred on Crystal Palace in London, was the grand showcase of a nation in the middle of unparalleled technological and industrial progress. Visitor numbers to The British Museum had been rising during the nineteenth century, but the Great Exhibition nearby helped draw in a record two and a half million visitors. Despite the new, larger Museum entrance, completed in 1847, there were many queues.

The British Museum featured in the Illustrated London News for June 1851. This print, which accompanied the article, shows the Museum's forecourt full of visitors. The Museum was looking very grand. The front of the building, designed by Sir Robert Smirke (1781-1867), was nearing completion. A pedimental frieze of sculpture showing 'The Progress of Civilization' was now in place above the massive stone columns of the colonnade. Work on the fine cast iron gates and railings was underway and was to be finished by the end of the year.

Lion-headed public drinking fountains of white marble were added either side of the entrance doors in 1859. You can still see them today. They were designed by Sydney Smirke Junior, the son of Sydney Smirke who designed the Round Reading Room.

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More information


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


Height: 400.000 mm
Width: 280.000 mm

Museum number

Archives CE115/3/356


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