Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Garden of the British Museum, Montague House c 1780

Paul Sandby (English map-maker turned landscape painter, 1731-1809) The Garden of the British Museum, Montague House c. 1780

Montagu House was the original British Museum housing the collection of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753). Sloane had bequeathed his large collection of some 71,000 objects to the king, George II, to preserve it for the nation, a gift that was accepted in June 1753. An Act of Parliament set up the British Museum, which opened to the public on 15 January 1759. Trustees had purchased in Montagu House in 1755, which had been built for Ralph Montagu, who lived there with his family.  Behind the house was a large formal garden laid out in the French style with grass, gravel walks, fountain, & ornamental sculpture.

The gardens had become neglected by the time Montagu House was purchased for the museum; and the Trustees employed a gardener, Mr Bramley, for "Rolling, Mowing, Watering, Planting, Digging, Pruning the Trees." By the end of 1755, it was reported that "The whole garden has been mowed, weeded and cleared of the Anthills; the Gravel Walks and borders restored, the Slopes made less steep and together with the borders planted; the Kitchen Garden trenched; a Tool House built in it; and the Basin repaired."  Now restored, the gardens were opened to visitors on 11 March 1757, proving so popular; that the Trustees issued season tickets for admission to the restored garden, although, like the Museum, it was admission free.