Ref NoRC/70
TitleNatural History Museum (formerly British Museum (Natural History) )
DescriptionThe idea for a separate building for the British Museum's natural history collections was first raised at the end of the 1850s because of pressures of space in the Museum's buildings. Antonio Panizzi, the Principal Librarian, was determined that they should be removed and in 1859 Professor Richard Owen, the Superintendent of the Natural History Department, who had originally wished the collections to be preserved under one roof close to the national library, drew up a plan for the Museum's Trustees of the space that would be required if the natural history collections were to be rehoused elsewhere. Although the Select Committee on the British Museum reported in 1860 in favour of the collections remaining in Bloomsbury, a sub-committee of the Trustees, with the backing of the Treasury, reported in January 1862 '…that the removal of all objects of natural history should take place….'. A Bill introduced in the House of Commons by Gladstone for the removal of the collections from Bloomsbury was rejected, but despite this the House approved in 1863 the purchase of land in South Kensington on grounds of cost.

The 16½ acres bought by the Government in 1863 was the site occupied by the 1862 Exhibition and was acquired from the 1851 Commissioners for £120,000 (less than half the estimated value) as a site for the Natural History Museum and other public institutions with the stipulation that it must be permanently used for purposes connected with science and art. The 1862 Exhibition did not make a profit and it was unlikely that the buildings, which had been leased to the Society of Arts with the intention that similar international exhibitions could be held in future years, would again be used for such purposes. The contractors, who were required to clear the site, sold the temporary buildings and demolished the main building. The sale of the site enabled the 1851 Commissioners to reduce their mortgage debt to the Greenwich Hospital.
The architect appointed for the new building was Captain Fowke but on his death in 1865 the designs were taken over by Alfred Waterhouse whose completed building added architectural distinction to the Commissioners' South Kensington Estate. Delays by the Government meant that building work was not started until 1872 and the Act to remove the Natural History collections from Bloomsbury not passed until 1878. The Mineralogical collections were the first to be moved in 1880, followed in the same year by the Botanical and Geological collections and by the Zoological collections in 1882 and 1893. The Museum was officially opened in April 1881 under the name British Museum (Natural History).

See Appeals from Organisations, RC/54/2/24 for correspondence, 1989 - , relating to the Commission's support for exhibitions and other projects in The Natural history Museum.
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