HL Deb 20 March 1946 vol 140 cc297-8

5.34 p.m.


I beg to ask the question standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Faringdon.

[The question was as follows:

To ask His Majesty's Government in view of the prolonged delay in reopening the British Museum, when this institution, so invaluable to students, will again be open to visits by the public.]


My Lords, the postwar disabilities which delay the full resumption of the public services of the Library and the Museum are structural damage and shortage of staff. Certain parts of the Museum (Department of Antiquities) have been very badly damaged. Their repair will involve major building operations which will take a considerable time in present circumstances and no estimate can be made of the date when they will be completed. Repairs begun in October last are being carried out as quickly as possible, subject to available labour and materials, for the reopening of the following sections:

  1. (i) Central Entrance in Montague Place.
  2. (ii) Ethnographical Galleries, first floor, and the following via Main Entrance Hall.
  3. (iii) Entrance, Hall, Roman Inscriptions and Roman Gallery.
  4. (iv) Grenville Library and Manuscript Saloon.
  5. (v) Greek, Egyptian and Assyrian Galleries, comprising 14 rooms.
  6. (vi) King's Library.
  7. (vii) New Parthenon Rooms.
Of the above work, that on the King Edward Galleries will be completed by the end of this month, and that on the Manuscript Rooms is already finished, except for some plate glass which is still on order. Work on the Main Reading Room is also in progress and will be finished approximately at mid-April, while the North Library is already in use. Of the rooms on which work is proceeding, only the King Edward Galleries will be open to the general public without tickets. The Trustees propose to open there a comprehensive exhibition of antiquities and works of art within the next 4 or 5 weeks.

The main division of the Library (Department of Printed Books) has been accessible to students in restricted numbers since the beginning of the war. It is housed in the North Library. With the end of the war it became desirable to bring the Great Reading Room back into use, but the copper roof of the dome had been damaged during the war, and work on this was put in hand in February last. It is estimated that the external repairs and internal reconditioning may be completed in about three months from now.

During the war many of the Museum staff were seconded to other Government departments: others joined the forces. A certain number of the staff seconded to other departments have now returned to the library but the urgent needs of other Government departments make the release of all seconded staff difficult at this juncture. It is expected that the speed up in demobilization will result in a reasonable number of the Museum staff returning from the Forces within the next month or two. The staff is not yet up to its full strength. This will cause a certain delay in the rearrangement of the books and will restrict the speed of the Library services. But every effort is being made to see that the Museum gets back a nucleus of its essential staff.