A 4th-century Roman stone mosaic from the British Museum's research collection.

British Museum plans Reading storage facility

Jonathan Knott, 06.12.2017
Site would house objects currently held in Blythe House
The British Museum intends to develop a storage and research facility outside Reading, which would house many of the approximately 2m objects it currently stores at Blythe House in west London.

The site, which is planned in partnership with the University of Reading, would store part of the museum’s research collection, including sculptures, mosaics and archaeological material.

The government announced its decision to sell Blythe House, which is also used for storage by the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), in the 2015 Autumn Statement, earmarking £150m to replace it with “new world class museum storage facilities”.

A spokeswoman for the British Museum said that some objects currently in Blythe House might also move to the museum’s main site in Bloomsbury, central London. It is also likely that some objects would move from Bloomsbury to the new facility, but the exact arrangements have not been finalised.

The museum and university hope to locate the facility next to the Thames Valley Science Park in the borough of Wokingham. It would provide access to the collection to students, academics and the public, and include a “dedicated loans hub” to support lending across the UK and internationally.

The two institutions have previously worked together on a number of archaeological research projects.

A statement from the British Museum said: “Discussions around the look and feel of the proposed development are at a very early stage and talks with officers at Wokingham Borough Council are ongoing. Subject to these discussions, the British Museum and the university will engage the community in a broader public consultation in the New Year before any planning application is submitted to the council.

“Should the planning application be successful it is anticipated that the facility will be completed in time to allow objects from Blythe House to be moved by the end of March 2023.”

Sir David Bell, the vice-chancellor of the University of Reading, said: "We are delighted to be partnering with the British Museum to develop this important storage and research facility. The University has an impressive collection of museums so this partnership is a natural extension of our work that will benefit not only our students and academics, but the local community and beyond."

Hartwig Fischer, the director of the British Museum, said: “The museum's study is of incomparable research value and the facility will ensure more access to the collection for study and loans, fulfilling two of the central purposes of the British Museum".

John Glen, the minister for arts, heritage and tourism, said: "This is a really exciting partnership that will give researchers, academics and other institutions more access to the British Museum's incredible Blythe House collection”.

Other collections at Blythe House

The Science Museum plans to move its Blythe House collection to its site in Wroughton, Wiltshire. A spokesman for the Science Museum Group said: "As part of a major strategic initiative to re-imagine how we care for and provide access to the Science Museum Group collection, we will relocate over 300,000 objects from Blythe House, West Kensington to a new storage facility at our collection centre in Wroughton, Wiltshire. Over the next five years, we will be working to digitise and then move objects from Blythe House as part of an ambitious project to rationalise and provide better access to the collections of our five museums”.

And the V&A is considering moving its collection close to its planned outpost in east London.

A spokeswoman for the museum said: “The V&A has been looking at options to relocate its world class reserve collections to a state-of-the art, purpose built and accessible collections centre in London. We are considering sites close to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and in close proximity to the proposed new V&A East in the new cultural and higher education quarter in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.”

The Museums Association is holding a one-day seminar on storage at the British Museum on the 3 December 2018. More details will be available on the Events page in due course.