By Dan Metcalf, author of the Lottie Lipton Adventures
Bloomsbury, the area in London that is bordered by Euston Road and Holborn, has a rich history. It is synonymous with the Bloomsbury Group of course, the circle of writers that included Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes and EM Forster. The nearby Atlantis Bookshop was home to the occult meetings of The Order of the Hidden Masters, attended by influential Wiccan Gerald Gardner. Most importantly for me it is the home to Bloomsbury Publishing (also known in my house as Them-who-pay-the-bills). It it also home however, and has been for 250 years, to The British Museum.
When I first visited the museum as a child, I wondered around it as a sponge, soaking up information and images. I clearly remember the mummies, dried out in the desert sand, and the huge Chinese carvings which I got told off for touching. It wasn’t until I revisited the museum around twenty years later that I really got a sense of how important the building was and the work they do. Much had changed since my first visit. The grand courtyard had been enclosed by a towering glass roof. The British Library, who had been squatting in the museum since the early Seventies, had scuttled off to St Pancras. But for the most part, the exhibits were the same.
I find it immensely reassuring that in this ever changing world something so important can remain unchanged. I love that in twenty years or so I could conceivably meet up in London with my sons and take a look at the very same Rosetta Stone that I saw when I was just eight years old. London could be rebuilt ten times over and the British Museum would remain the same.
When it came to writing my set of books, The Lottie Lipton Adventures, I knew I wanted to set it in a museum. I had long loved to browse museums such as the Pitt Rivers in Oxford, the Bristol Museum and my childhood one in Torquay. When I saw the British Museum (the second time) I knew that it was where Lottie should live. I often explain to children whom I visit in schools that I would love to live in a museum (failing that, a library of course). I want to have access to all that history after the crowds have gone home, to ride my bike around the corridors and shuffle around the exhibits in my slippers.
The important thing about the museum to my writing was that it provided an endless source of material. While I weave in legends such as the lost eagle of the ninth legion or a hoard of gold looted from Roman London by Boudica, there are enough treasures in the 92,000m2 site to keep me going for several books more. Indeed, in the next two Lottie Lipton Adventures, The Catacombs of Chaos and The Eagle of Rome, I haven’t even scratched the surface of the contents of the museum. With over 8 million artefacts within its walls and ornate stone columns, I should have plenty of material to work with.
While I believe that the British Museum is a unique and important place, I know that it should not be taken for granted. It relies on donations and grants to keep going, and while visitor numbers show no signs of dropping, I for one am slightly wary of national treasures being sold off or shut down. After so many public libraries have disappeared in the last few years, I do not want our museums to be next.