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Secrets of the British Museum.

by Rajul on October 26, 2009

The British Museum contains some delightful secrets: provided you know where to look! The British Museum contains some delightful secrets: provided you know where to find them!

Everyone knows about the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone which we mentioned in our earlier British Museum must-see guide.

But the British Museum has its little secrets too – and they’re well worth seeking out.  This London Hotels Insight exclusive reveals all.

It can be heart-stopping to find yourself in direct contact with people who lived millennia ago, seeing the things they lived with, used and loved.

So one of my favourites is the little case which holds a couple of Egyptian wooden toys – a lion and a little mouse made out of wood.  Some Egyptian toddler once pulled them along the floor, watching their wooden jaws open and close (there’s also a toy cat in the Tomb Chapel of Nebamun room).

Or you can come face to face with Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa (room 71).

She’s a rather imposing Etruscan lady, dating from about 150 BC, who reclines on her sarcophagus.  She was about 55 when she died, and not at all well as she had an old riding injury and a painful abcess.

But though the tomb portrait idealises her and makes her a good deal younger than her real age, it really is a portrait – her face has been reconstructed from the body inside the sarcophagus.

The British Museum’s South American holdings aren’t a secret but they’re not that well known.  Just one small room contains amazing riches – turquoise encrusted skull-masks, obsessively-carved lintels from the temple of Yaxchilan, and best of all, a huge coiled rattlesnake in polished granite.

My favourite “secret” of all is the clock collection.  It’s intriguing to hear the subdued ticking in the dim light, like a hive of bees humming away.

Some are huge medieval timepieces where you can see the roughly-made cogs turning; others are delightfully-baroque ornaments where telling the time comes second to heavy decoration in gold or mother of pearl.

That would be attractive enough in itself.  But if you arrive at five minutes to the hour, you’re in for a real treat.  First you’ll hear the little whirr of an engagement mechanism and then (suddenly!) all the clocks strike, slightly staggered (they don’t all keep the same time) – an amazing experience.

Highly-rated Montague on the Gardens Hotel is right behind the British Museum The highly-rated and peaceful Montague on the Gardens Hotel is right behind the British Museum

Where should you stay to make the most of these delights?  In a recent British Museum article we mentioned several hotels, but none is better-placed than the Montague on the Gardens (right behind the museum).

It is currently in the top 6 London hotels on TripAdvisor (ahead of over 1100 others) and is run by Red Carnation – a company dominating the top of the TripAdvisor London rankings, thanks largely to its 12 service standards.

I recently visited the Montague on the Gardens and received a guided tour from its General Manager.  I was struck by how the small, discreet entrance revealed a substantial hotel with real character.

The highlight is perhaps the conservatory bar and dining area at the back, overlooking a peaceful private garden (hence “on the Gardens”) – it’s hard to believe you’re in central London as you quietly sip your cocktail or tea.

Check rates at the Montague Hotel

The lovely conservatory at the Montague overlooks a pretty private garden The hotel’s conservatory overlooks a lovely private garden

Guests seem to come back to this hotel again and again, so much so that they tend to celebrate “anniversaries” of repeat visits.

Rooms can sometimes be a bit small (unless you opt for the magnificent “Governor’s Suite”) but the attentiveness of the staff and the hotel’s friendly, unstuffy vibe seem to more than make up for this.

The location is within easy reach of both the City and the West End.  We’ll cover this hotel in more depth another time.  But if you wish to maximise your time at the British Museum, it certainly offers an ideal London base.

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Photo credits: The Montague on the Gardens Hotel (Red Carnation Hotel Collection).

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