A Brief History of London’s Museums

British Museum The British Museum was founded in 1753 and opened to the public on 15 January 1759, becoming the world’s first national public museum. It was made up of a substantial collection bequeathed to the nation by physician and naturalist Sir Hans Sloane, so this baronet was in many ways the de facto founder of the British Museum. These items from his extensive library and cabinets of curiosities were gathered at Montagu House in Bloomsbury where the current museum now stands.

Address: Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG

Hours: 10am–5:30pm


Victoria and Albert Museum The V&A is notable amongst the UK’s museums and leads the rest of the world in collection quality. Its 4.5 million objects over 145 galleries focus on decorative arts and design – and include Leonardo da Vinci’s coveted notebook. It was founded in 1852 and was named after the monarchs of the period, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Address: Cromwell Rd, Knightsbridge, London SW7 2RL

Hours: 10am–5:45pm


Natural History Museum Located on the aptly named Exhibition Road, few people know its official name when founded in 1881 was the British Museum (Natural History). It separated from the British Museum in 1963 but the title remained until at least 1992. It has a collection of 80 million items from life and earth science, covering zoology, mineralogy, botany, paleontology and entomology.

Address: Cromwell Rd, Kensington, London SW7 5BD

Hours: 10am–5:50pm


Science Museum Also on Exhibition Rd, the Science Collection, as it was formerly known, was founded in 1857 and in 2012 merged with the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester to form the Science Museum Group. The museum had a revamp after the 1st World War, with the new architecture completed in 1928. It’s now the home for around 300,000 items.

Address: Exhibition Rd, Kensington, London SW7 2DD

Hours: 10am–6pm


Imperial War Museum As the 1st World War entered into its final year, the momentum of the war machine inevitably led to the establishment of this museum in 1917. It was presented as a historical and cultural institution to document the sacrifice of the nation during this global conflict. It opened in Crystal Palace in 1920 then moved to South Kensington before resting at its current site in Southwark. By the 60s it came to be known as Imperial War Museum London, gradually expanding to other regions across the UK.

Address: Lambeth Rd, London SE1 6HZ

Hours: 10am–6pm


Museum of London The museum was established in 1976. It was created when London authorities combined the Guildhall Museum and the London Museum, then in Kensington Palace. It essentially replaced the 1912 London Museum through the Museum of London Act (1964) that sanctioned the merger. It is now the largest museum of urban history in the world and has six million items ranging from prehistoric to modern.

Address: 150 London Wall, London EC2Y 5HN

Hours: 10am–6pm






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About the author /

Eddie Saint-Jean is a London writer and editor whose editorials cover arts, culture, entertainment, food/drink, local history and heritage.

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