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Museums, Libraries, Art Exhibitions, &c.

F. Museums, Libraries, Art Exhibitions, &c.—Taking these in the order given in the title of this section, we find among the museums of London open to the public or readily accessible, the following:—

Bethnal Green Branch of the South Kensington Museum. —This stands in Victoria Park Square, Cambridge Road, Bethnal Green, on a plot of ground purchased by local subscription for the erection of a museum. The building is a plain structure of red brick, and it was opened to the public by the Prince and Princess of Wales in June, 1872. Its only permanent contents are collections of specimens of food, and of animal and vegetable products, and the Dixon collection of water colours and oil paintings, but loan collections of various kinds are always on view. One of the latest of these was the collection of National Portraits which found room here while waiting for their permanent home at the back of the National Gallery.

British Museum.—This vast collection, which would require many weeks to inspect, and a lifetime to become fully acquainted with, originated in the will of Sir Hans Sloane, who, dying in 1753, directed his trustees to offer his collection of books and curiosities, which had cost him £50,000, to the nation for the sum of £20,000. The offer was accepted, and Montague House, which belonged to the Earl of Halifax, was purchased for their reception. The Cottonian, Harleian, and other collections of books and manuscripts were added, and the museum was opened to the public in 1759. Many libraries and collections of antiquities, coins, natural objects, &c., were subsequently added, and the contents becoming too large for the original edifice a new building was resolved on, which was designed by Sir Thomas Smirke, and completed between 1823 and 1852. The new reading-room was added in 1857, and since 1879 a new gallery for the mausoleum marbles, and a new wing on the SE side, known as the White Wing, haye been erected from a bequest by Mr William White. The buildings forming the British Museum are arranged in a hollow square. The southern or Russell Street front is the principal one, and presents to view an imposing columnar facade of the Ionic order. In the centre is a portico formed of a double range of columns, eight in each range; on each side of this is a smaller range of three columns, and at the east and west angles are projecting wings also surrounded by columns, the columns of the whole front being over forty in number. There are residences for the superior officials on each side, and including these houses this face of the museum is 570 feet in length. The site extends backwards to Montague Place, and is bounded on the east by Montague Street. Some of the adjacent land was secured for future extension in 1894. The inner quadrangle, which measures about 320 feet by 240 is, with the exception of a space of 28 feet all round, occupied by the magnificent reading-room of the museum. This room, which cost about £150,000, was opened in 1857. It has a circular interior crowned with a dome 140 feet in diameter and 106 high, and it affords ample accommodation for 360 readers or writers. Galleries run round the room, which is lined to the edge of the dome with cases containing about 60,000 books, of which 20,000 consist of carefully selected books of reference, to which the readers are permitted. free access without the intervention of an official. The collection of books and manuscripts in the library is, with the exception of the National Library of Paris, the largest in the world. The number of printed books is over 1,600,000, and it increases at the rate of about 30,000 volumes per annum. The contents of the British Museum are at present arranged in seven sections, which are as follows:—Printed books, including maps and plans, manuscripts, prints and drawings, Egyptian and Assyrian antiquities, British and Mediaeval antiquities and ethnography, Greek and Roman antiquities and coins and medals. The departments of zoology, botany, geology, and mineralogy, formerly housed in the museum, have been removed to the Natural History Museum in South Kensington.

City Corporation, Museum. See under Guildhall.

Flaxman Museum.—This, which contains a collection of original models and drawings by Flaxman, the celebrated sculptor, is preserved in University College, Gower Street. It is open to visitors during the summer months.

Geological Museum.—This is a fine building in Jermyn Street, Piccadilly, which was erected in 1850. It contains a superb collection of mineral specimens, marbles, mosaics, statues, columns, plinths, gems, crystals, and fossils. It has also numerous models of mining machinery and appliances, and of the methods of metal fusing, &c., together with a very fine collection of British and foreign glassware, pottery, and porcelain. It is open free from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., except on Fridays. In addition to the museum the building contains a lecture theatre, seated for 500, and a library.

India Museum.—This was formerly under the control of the India Office, but in 1880 was transferred to the South Kensington Museum, of which it now forms a section. The entrance is in Exhibition Road, South Kensington. The collection is one of the most interesting in London, and includes original and reduced examples of Hindu, Buddhistic, and Mogul architecture ; models and groups illustrating the trades and industries of India; a beautiful collection of textile fabrics and embroideries; photographs of Indian scenery, costumes, &c.; works in metal, wood, ivory, stone, and lacquer work; arms, armour, jewellery, and bronzes. It is open free daily, Sundays excepted, from 10 a.m. to 4, 5, or 6 p.m., according to the season.

Natural History Museum.—This occupies a noble building facing Cromwell Road, South Kensington, which was erected from the designs of Mr Alfred Waterhouse, at a cost of £400,000, between 1873-80. The style is the earlier Romanesque, and the whole of the external facades and the interior wall surfaces is covered with terracotta bands and dressings, producing a very pleasing effect. It consists of a central structure with wings flanked by towers, the extreme length of the front being 675 feet, and the towers being each 192 feet high. The collections contained in the museum are probably the finest in the world, and are divided into the three departments of botany, geology, and zoology. The staircase of the great hall has a white marble statue of Darwin by Boehm, on the first floor, and a sitting figure of Sir Joseph Banks by Chantrey, on the second floor. Admission is free, and the museum is open from 10 a.m. till 6 p.m. in the summer, and from 10 a.m. till dusk in the winter.

Patent Museum.—This museum, which formerly belonged to the Patent Office, was by an Act passed in 1883 transferred to the South Kensington Museum, and now forms part of the science collection of that institution. It is at present housed in the Exhibition Galleries connected with the South Kensington Museum in Exhibition Road. For those who are interested in mechanics, inventions, and. machinery, there are few places more worthy of a visit. Among its treasures are the original hydraulic press of Bramah; the engine of Bell's Comet, the first steamboat to ply on European waters; "Puffing Billy," the first locomotive engine ever constructed; Stephenson's "Rocket," and Hawksworth's "Sans Pareil;" Newcomen's Cornish pumping engine; Watt's first sun-and-planet engine; Bain's chemical telegraph, the first instrument of the kind used in England ; and the great clock of Glastonbury Abbey, constructed by one of the monks in 1325, which has been partially repaired, and is still working and keeping time. It contains also a splendid collection of models, chronometers, and scientific instruments. It is open free daily.

Royal College of Surgeons, The, is a fine building which was erected in 1835 from the designs of Mr Barry, on the south side of Lincoln's Inn Fields. It includes a lecture theatre, a library, and the museum of anatomy and pathology founded by the celebrated surgeon John Hunter, and generally known as the " Hunterian Museum." It contains one of the largest and best arranged collections in the world of specimens illustrating human and comparative anatomy, of morbid anatomy, and of malformations. The council chamber contains a collection of portraits of celebrated surgeons, Reynold's painting of John Hunter occupying the place of honour among them.

Soane Museum.—This is an exceedingly diversified collection formed by Sir John Soane (d. 1837), and occupying a house on the N side of Lincoln's Inn Fields. It is open free on Tuesdays and Thursdays in February, March, and August, and on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday during the rest of the year. It contains a magnificent Egyptian sarcophagus carved out of one block of translucent Oriental alabaster, which was brought to England by Belzoni; Hogarth's pictures of the " Rake's Progress" and " The Election;" pictures by Reynolds, Watteau, Canaletti, Calcot, and Turner; some antique urns, gems, and cameos, and a fine collection of illuminated manuscripts, books, and drawings.

South Kensington Museum.—This most important and valuable collection is to the ordinary visitor the most interesting of all the museums of the metropolis. It is under the control of the Department of Science and Art of the Committee of Council on Education, and it was established after the close of the Great Exhibition of 1851, some of the surplus receipts being devoted to its foundation. The first buildings constructed in 1855 were chiefly of iron and wood, and were disrespectfully designated the " Brompton boilers," but the construction of more permanent buildings was immediately taken in hand, and in 1865 the iron building was removed and partly re-erected as the Bethnal Green Museum. The present structure is a fine and substantial building of red brick and terra-cotta, having spacious courts and galleries decorated in tasteful style, but as yet unfinished. The present buildings contain:—(1) The Museum of Ornamental or Applied Art, a collection of modern and mediaeval works of art about 45,000 in number, with plaster casts or electrotype reproductions of celebrated ancient and modern works; (2) the National Gallery of British Art or Picture Gallery, a most extensive and valuable collection of paintings, including the collections given or bequeathed by Messrs Sheepshanks, Forster, Parsons, W. Smith, and others, the pictures lent by the Royal Academy which have been purchased by means of the Chantrey Bequest, and the celebrated cartoons of Raffaelle; (3) the Art Library, consisting of nearly 200,000 drawings, engravings, and photographs, and some 70,000 volumes of books; (4) the Science and Education Library, with nearly 70,000 volumes; (5) the National Art Training Schools for the teaching of drawing, painting, and modelling; and (6) the Royal College of Science for the training of teachers. The India Museum and the Patent Museum have been noticed separately. Taken altogether the treasures of the museum comprise one of the finest collections in the world, and the display is frequently enriched by valuable loan collections, which are entrusted by private owners to the care of the Department of Science and Art. The museum is open daily, free on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Saturdays, and by the payment of sixpence on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, the " students' days." The annual number of visitors to the museum is nearly 1,000,000.

United Service Museum.—This used to stand in Whitehall Yard, and was removed in 1894 to Inigo Jones's Banqueting House, Whitehall (previously used as a royal chapel). It contains a very interesting collection of objects connected with the military and naval professions. There is a great variety of models of ships of all kinds, from canoes to ironclads, missile weapons from assegais up to the latest magazine rifles, ancient match, wheel, and flintlock guns, machine guns, models of cannon, shot, and shell, armour ancient and modern, trophies taken in the Crimea and in China, a model of Sebastopol, and a large model of the Battle of Waterloo by Captain Siborne, in which 190,000 figures are represented. Admission is obtained by member's order or by written application to the secretary.

For the Military and Naval Museums see under WOOLWICH and GREENWICH.

With respect to the libraries of London, the first and most important has already been noticed under British Museum. Other libraries are:—The Allan, belonging to the Wesleyan Methodists, situated in the City Road near Wesley's Chapel. It contains a magnificent collection of Bibles, a large number of theological works, many very ancient and interesting, and a small number of modern works. It is readily shown to visitors, but can be used only by subscribers. The Guildhall Library, open free daily without introduction, contains two good reading-rooms, the larger being a splendid hall in the Tudor style, and has about 60,000 volumes, the collection being especially rich in works on or connected with London. It is used by between 300,000 and 4:00,000 persons every year. The Lambeth Palace Library, originally established by Archbishop Bancroft in 1610, consists of about 2000 MSS. and 30,000 printed volumes, many being very rare and valuable. It can only be visited by permission of the Archbishop of Canterbury, to be obtained through his chaplain. The London Institution Library, in Finsbnry Circus, E.G., contains about 80,000 works of reference and a circulating library of about 27,000 volumes. It is open to subscribers only. The Patent Office Library, Southampton Buildings, Chancery Lane, was opened to the public in 1855. It contains over 80,000 volumes of printed records of the office and of scientific and technical literature in all languages, and is used by about 700 readers weekly. The Record Office is a fireproof edifice in the Tudor style, erected in 1851-66 from designs by Sir J. Pennethorne. It contains 142 rooms, each about 25 feet long, 17 broad, and 15-9 inches high. The shelves are of slate, the passages are paved with brick, and the window frames and ceilings are of iron. A large addition to this building was completed in 1894. It contains an enormous collection of legal records, state papers, &c., including the celebrated Domesday book in two volumes. The Search Rooms, approached from Fetter Lane, are alone open to the public. Sion College Library, on the Thames Embankment, is the most important theological library in the metropolis. It contains upwards of 66,000 volumes, all the London clergy of the Church of England being ex-officio members, and being permitted to borrow books. Other persons may be admitted to read on the recommendation of a clergyman. Dr Williams' Library, on the other hand, which occupies a fine new building in Grafton Street, near the University College, is especially intended for the Nonconformist clergy and persons recommended by them. It contains about 40,000 volumes, chiefly of Puritan theology, and some fine portraits of leading Nonconformists. During recent years many parochial free libraries have been opened having reading-rooms attached, and the movement is rapidly spreading in the metropolis. Among several now established are those of Battersea, Bermondsey, Bethnal Green, Clerkenwell, Fulham, Hampstead, Kensington, Kingsland, Paddlngton, Rotherhithe, St Martins-in-the-Fields, St Marylebone, St Pancras, Westminster, and Whitechapel. Of the circulating subscription libraries the more important are:—Mudie's, W. H. Smith & Son's, The London Library, The Grosvenor Gallery Library, Lewis's Medical and Scientific Library, and Rolandi's Foreign Subscription Library. There are also Augener's, Novella's, and Woolhouse's Circulating Music Libraries.

With respect to the picture galleries of the metropolis, the first in importance is The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. This valuable collection had but a humble origin, seeing that it originated in the purchase by the Government of Mr J. Angerstein's collection for £57,000 in 1824. These pictures were exhibited until 1838 in Mr Angerstein's house in Pall Mall. The present building, erected between 1832-38, stands on the site of the old King's Mews, was designed by Wilkins, and cost originally about £96,000. It is in the Grecian style, has a facade 460 feet in length, and possesses very little architectural merit. It was considerably altered and enlarged in 1869, an extensive addition, including the central octagon, was made in 1876, and five additional rooms, one a gallery 85 feet long, were added in 1887. The small collection of pictures originally purchased was soon increased by numerous and valuable gifts, among the donors being Sir Robert Peel, Sir George Beaumont, the Rev. Holwell Carr, Lord Farnborough, Robert Vernon, Esq., J. M. W. Turner the painter, Jacob Bell, Esq., and Wynn Ellis, Esq. From time to time, also, liberal sums of public money have been expended in the purchase of pictures, perhaps the most remarkable being the expenditure of £70,000 in 1885 for the Ansidei Madonna of Raffaelle, probably the largest sum ever given for a single picture. The pictures in the gallery are arranged in schools, with as close adherence as possible to a chronological order. The twenty-two rooms are arranged as follows:—

1. Tuscan School, 15th and 16th centuries.
2. Sienese School.
3. Tuscan Schools.
4. Early Italian School.
5. Schools of Ferrara and Bologna.
6. Umbrian School, &c. (This room contains the Ansidei Madonna.)
7. Venetian and Brescian Schools.
8. Padnan and Early Venetian Schools.
9. Schools of Lombardy and Parma.
10. Dutch and Flemish Schools.
11. Early German and Flemish Schools.
12. Dutch and Flemish Schools (including the Peel collection).
13. Later Italian School.
14. French School.
15. Spanish School.
16. Older British School.
17. Older British School.
18. British School.
19. British School
20. Modern British School.
21. British School of the 19th century.
22. Turner Gallery.

The Central Octagon is devoted to various schools, the East and West Vestibules to the Old British School, and the North Vestibule to fragments of Italian frescoes, &c. The National Gallery now possesses about 1350 pictures, of which about 1100 are exhibited in the gallery and the remainder are lent to provincial collections. It is open free every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday from 10 a.m., till 7 p.m. in the summer and from 10 till dusk in the winter, Thursday and Friday being students' days, when the public are only admitted by payment of sixpence. The National Portrait Gallery, which was built in 1890-94 from the plans of Mr Evan Christian, is a noble building and a great addition to the art galleries of London. It stands at the back of the National Gallery, facing into the Charing Cross Road. Next in importance to the National Gallery is the collection of pictures exhibited in the galleries of the South Kensington Museum, which include between 600 and 700 oil paintings and about 1300 water-colour drawings. The collection of water colours contains specimens of the work of nearly all the British masters, and is probably the finest in the world.

Here, too, as we have previously mentioned, are preserved the cartoons which were executed by Raffaelle for Pope Leo X. in 1515 and 1516, which rank among this great painter's finest works both in conception and design. After these two great national collections must be ranked the exhibitions of the Royal Academy of Arts at Burlington House. The annual exhibition of pictures by living artists commences in May and lasts until the end of July, and is one of the chief features of the London season. There are also winter exhibitions of the works of the old masters which are often of great interest and value. Admission is obtained to either exhibition by payment of a shilling, but there are three galleries above the exhibition rooms which are open daily free from 11 to 4. They contain the diploma pictures presented to the academy by fellows on their election; some valuable specimens of the early masters, the more important being works by Michelangelo, Lionardo da Vinci, and Giorgione, and the Gibson collection of sculptures. The New Gallery, in Eegent Street, was first opened to the public in 1888. It has some beautifully decorated rooms, and like the Royal Academy has both summer and winter exhibitions of pictures. The Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, founded in 1831, hold their exhibition in their fine galleries in Piccadilly, over the Prince's Hall, which were first opened in 1883. The first exhibition lasts from the second week in March to the end of July, and the second from 1 Dec. to end of Feb. The Royal Society of Painters in Water Colours, sometimes called the Old Society, was founded in 1804, and has held annual exhibitions ever since. The rooms are in Pall Mall, East, and two exhibitions are held, the first from April to the end of July, and the second in winter, generally from Dec. to end of Feb. The Royal Society of British Artists, first started in 1822 and chartered in 1847, is located in Suffolk Street, Pall Mall. It holds two exhibitions, the first in the spring from 1 April to 1 Aug., and the second in the winter from 1 Dec. to 1 March, about 1700 pictures being annually exhibited. The Dudley Gallery Art Society have two exhibitions annually in the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly. The first, which lasts from Jan. to April, is limited to the members of the society, and the second, from June to Aug., is open to other artists, both exhibitions being of water-colour drawings. The Institute of Painters in Oil Colours hold an annual exhibition, open to the works of all artists, in the galleries of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours in Piccadilly. It usually commences in Nov. or Dec. and lasts until Feb. The Society of Lady Artists hold a summer exhibition in the drawing-room gallery of the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly. The Gallery of Sacred Art, originally the Dore Gallery, is in New Bond Street Other exhibitions of paintings and other works of art are :—Agnew's, Old Bond Street; the French Gallery, Pall Mall; the Hanover Gallery, New Bond Street; Nineteenth Century Art Society, Conduit Street; the St James' Gallery, King Street; and Tooth's Gallery in the Haymarket. The Art Gallery of the Corporation of London has been noticed under Guildhall. The Dulwich Picture Gallery, at Dulwich College, contains about 400 very choice and valuable pictures, chiefly of the old masters, including works by Carlo Doici, Raffaelle, Titian, Poussin, Velasquez, Murillo, Rubens, Rembrandt, Cuyp (fifteen works, and two ascribed to him but of doubtful origin), Teniers the younger, lan and Andrew Both, Hobbema, Van Dyck, Wouverman, Watteau, Paolo Veronese, Vernet, Gainsborough, Reynolds, and Turner. It is open free to the public every day except Sunday from 10 to 4 or 5, according to the season.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England and Wales, 1894-5


Last Updated: 20th November 2010