British Museum Blythe House storage
British Museum in storage at Blythe House in West Kensington © British Museum

The British Museum announced plans on Friday for a large storage facility outside Reading to house most of the 2m historical treasures it currently holds at Blythe House in west London.

Ancient Peruvian textiles from Paracas, African wall hangings and Roman writing tablets from Vindolanda fort on Hadrian’s Wall are some of the objects preserved at the former Post Office building in West Kensington, which the British Museum shares with the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Science Museum.

But the British Museum needs to find a new home for the artefacts, since the government-owned building is due to be sold in 2023.

Roman writing tablets from the Vindolanda fort on Hadrian's Wall
Roman writing tablets from Vindolanda fort on Hadrian's Wall © British Museum

In a partnership with the University of Reading, the museum said it would create a new storage and study centre at Thames Valley science park, currently host to a bevy of biotechnology and IT companies.

The British Museum did not give costs for the project, saying it was in the early stages of development. The government is giving £50m to each of the institutions occupying Blythe House to help them set up elsewhere. The museum and the university aim to apply for planning permission from Wokingham council “in the coming months”.

“The land is not yet developed but its proximity to the university and the M4, and the local infrastructure improvements agreed as part of the science park, make it a logical location for this new cultural development,” said the museum.

The university has already worked with the museum on a series of research projects, including a Reading-led study alongside the University of Manchester exploring the significance of items found in prehistoric graves.

As well as helping it loan out artefacts to other institutions, the museum said the Reading facility would incorporate study rooms giving access to university students, academics and members of the public.

These 2000-year-old textiles fragments are made of alpaca or llama wool and would originally have been part of a cloak. They depict flying shamans grasping human heads in their talons. The figure pictured above carries a knife used to behead his victim. They were found wrapped around mummified bodies in the great Paracas Necropolis in Peru. They were featured in the BBC and British Museum collaboration A History of the World in 100 Objects.
A 2,000-year-old textile fragment from Peru © British Museum

Hartwig Fischer, the British Museum’s director, 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.”

Curators will use the move as an opportunity to reassess the location of all the museum’s objects, since it also has extensive stores at its Bloomsbury home in central London. Some pieces held there will move to Reading and some objects at Blythe House will be taken to Bloomsbury.

British Museum Blythe House
Blythe House © British Museum

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