British Museum to display largest Viking ship ever discovered following £135m building revamp

view gallery VIEW GALLERY


Senior figures at the British Museum will next year realise a dream when they display the largest Viking ship ever discovered as part of a major new blockbuster exhibition.

This will be made possible by one of the most significant building projects in the institution’s history, which is on budget and on track to open next March.

The museum revealed the first glimpse of the £135 million project called the World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre today, which will change how it displays exhibitions, and will also provide research, testing, conservation and storage space.  

British Museum director Neil MacGregor hailed the project as “one of the largest redevelopment projects in the museum’s 260-year history” adding there would be a “huge impact” on the scholarly community.

The existing facilities have frustrated some attempts at bringing the larger antiquities to its exhibitions. In the 2008 Hadrian exhibition, the museum had to pass up a large sculpture lent from Rome as it was too large for the Reading Room, the site of a number of its blockbuster exhibitions.

“We hope this will not happen in the new building,” Mr MacGregor said.  So much so, he added, that the first show in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery will focus on the Vikings and include the largest known Viking ship.

He said: “We have wanted to do it for some time but we could not have done it in the spaces available before, so it’s the one we’ve been waiting to put on.” Carolyn Marsden-Smith, head of exhibitions at the British Museum said bringing in the ship would be “quite special”.

The nine level centre, designed by architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, is in the north-west corner of the British Museum’s Bloomsbury estate.

The Great Court development at the turn of the century, which cost £120m, was “a much more visible change,” Mr MacGregor said, “this is really about the functioning of the museum largely in the areas that the public doesn’t see, but which are absolutely fundamental.”

As well as more room for exhibitions the centre, which is the same size as 14 Olympic swimming pools, will provide storage, laboratories and studios.

Artefacts held offsite will be brought in and stored. About 175 British Museum staff will move into the re-developed site when it is fully opened.

Demolition work on the site, which cleared a disused bindery building from 1920s and some portacabins, started in December 2010. The frame of the building is now in place, and construction is expected to complete in the autumn.

Tony Spence, head of collection services at the British Musem, said: “This is a major leap forward for the museum. When most of it was thought of the internal combustion engine was in its infancy.”

The centre will be close to 45 metres high, although 19 of those will be underground. Over 4,360 muck lorries were used to clear the site, and 1,778 tonnes of steel put in. There is enough concrete used in the basement to cover two tennis courts 30 metres high.

The British Museum is the “largest lender to exhibitions around the world,” Mr MacGregor said, with thousands of objects loaned out every year in the UK and around the world. Yet it is one of the few major museums without a loading bay, making the process of moving artefacts hugely complicated.

The new site will include a loading bay, and the largest truck lift in Europe, allowing objects to be safely prepared, packed and put on lorries. Mr MacGregor said: “This is what will change and greatly expand, we hope, the programme of loans around the UK and the world.”

The project is 80 per cent funded, and is backed by the Government, as well as the Linbury Trust and the Monument Trust and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn