The Lewis Chessmen on a chessboard mid-game, three figures in focus with eyes wide.

Long-term loans

The British Museum shares its collection with partner museums in many ways.

One of the key ways that the Museum allows the public to access the collection around the UK is through long-term loans. Every year the Museum has about 1,400 objects on long-term loan at partner museums.

Lewis Chessmen

The Lewis Chessmen are some of the most well-travelled objects in the British Museum's collection.

Since 1995, various pieces have been shown in over 20 exhibitions across the UK and internationally, enabling millions of people the opportunity to see them outside of London.

Millions more will have seen the film adaption of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, which features Harry Potter and Ron Weasley playing a replica of the Lewis Chessmen in a game of wizard's chess.

Buried in a sand dune on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, the chessmen were discovered as part of a hoard in 1831, thought to belong to a trader travelling from Norway to Ireland to sell them between AD 1150–1200. The chess pieces testify to the strong cultural and political connections between the kingdoms of the British Isles and Scandinavia in the Middle Ages, as well as to the growing popularity of chess within Europe.

The Chessmen consist of elaborately carved walrus ivory and whales' teeth in the form of seated kings and queens with comical expressions, bishops, knights on their mounts, standing warders and obelisk-shaped pawns.

Since March 2017, six of the Lewis Chessmen have been on display at Museum nan Eilean – Lews Castle in Stornoway as a long-term loan from the British Museum.

Part of a redevelopment project to reopen the Castle, which had previously been closed to the public for nearly 25 years, the loan complements the galleries portraying the history of the Isle.

Find out more on the Lews Castle website.


The Egypt Centre

The Egypt Centre in Swansea houses one of the best collections of Egyptian antiquities in the UK.

Officially opened in September 1998, the Egypt Centre has a collection of more than 5,000 Egyptian antiquities once owned by the manufacturing pharmacist Sir Henry Wellcome (1853–1936) and covers the time span of c. 4000 BC – AD 500.

Forty two of these objects are on long-term loan from the British Museum since 2005 as part of the National Programmes.

Some of these include a magical ivory wand, a pair of woven papyrus sandals and an intricately made basket, as well as an array of amulets including a gold vulture, a beautifully sculpted headrest and a lapis lazuli goddess.

Find out more on The Egypt Centre website.