William Lake Price, The Reading Room under construction, a photograph

London, England, AD 1855

A panoramic view of the framework of the famous room

In 1854, work began on the construction of a new domed Reading Room in the courtyard at the centre of The British Museum. The Round Reading Room was designed by Sydney Smirke (1798-1877), and took three years to build.

Here we see building work on the new room well advanced. The iron window frames are clearly visible. These were soon replaced following objections to their design by Prince Albert, who was following the progress of the building, and Antonio Panizzi, the Museum's Keeper of Printed Books. The architect, Sydney Smirke, then provided a revised design.

In this remarkable photograph workmen can be seen clearly within the iron framework. Some stand still for the photographer. At the very top of the dome a man in a top hat stands proud and surveys the scene. Could this be Sydney Smirke?

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More information


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

P.R. Harris, The Reading Room (The British Library, 1979)

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


Height: 320.000 mm
Width: 25.000 mm

Museum number

Archives CE114/148


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