London 1753 at the BM
Sheila O’Connell describes one of the key events in the British Museum’s 250th anniversary celebrations.
In 1753 Britain was a dominant player on the world scene. London was the hub of what was within ten years to become the first British Empire, extending its power from India to the Caribbean and North America. It was the largest city in the Western world with a population of 700,000 and growing fast. ‘London 1753’ at the British Museum is a major new exhibition, which celebrates the Museum’s 250th anniversary with a survey of the city in which the Museum was founded.
The British Museum has a huge collection of material that allows us to look at London through the eyes of people of the time: prints, drawings, coins, medals, porcelain, glass, jewellery, watches and other luxury goods made in London, as well as the advertising handbills issued by their makers. Besides London-made products, there are objects imported from around the world – porcelain brought on six-month voyages from China for Mayfair tea-tables, ancient sculpture for collectors with a passion for the classical past, curiosities like a fake ‘merman’ made in Japan from the body of a monkey and a fish’s tail.
Such a wide range of material needs a clearly structured display if it is to make sense as a story. In ‘London 1753’ this has been done by arranging the exhibition according to five areas of London: the City, the River Thames, Covent Garden and Bloomsbury, Westminster, and the West End. Those who know London today will be familiar with these central areas. In 1753 they comprised the whole of London, yet each district had a distinct character.