British Museum’s Reading Room, what will happen?


This video says about itself:

Reading Room of the British Museum

16 April 2007

The British Museum in London is one of the world’s greatest museums of human history and culture. Its collections number more than 13 million objects from all continents. The centre of the museum was redeveloped in 2000 to become the Great Court, surrounding the original Reading Room.

By Jack the Blaster in London, England:

What future for the British Museum‘s reading room which inspired Karl Marx?

Friday 31st July 2015

THE British Museum opened a new wing last year which cost £135 million to build and was designed by New Labour’s favourite “starchitect,” Sir Richard Rogers.

The museum was thrilled to announce a purpose-built exhibition area providing the public with a new way of looking at its treasures.

But as the debate as to whether our museums should be allowed to charge an entrance fee raises its head again — the new wing is used for ticket-only events — the British Museum faces a tricky question as to what it now does with one of the greatest assets it possesses.

It is not an artefact pillaged by a Victorian grave-robber, but Sir Sydney Smirke’s astonishing round reading room, found in the very centre of the museum.

Built in 1852 and based on Rome’s Pantheon, it gave Karl Marx a desk, its shelves were browsed by Lenin, and was the place for Victorian novelists such as Bram Stoker and Conan Doyle to be seen slaving over their manuscripts, and later other writers such as the Bloomsbury set.

To construct what was originally the main reading room for the British Library, Smirke used cast iron and concrete — ground-breaking construction techniques for the time.

Its spectacular interior boasts huge windows that flood leather-topped desks with natural light. Shelves packed with tomes curve gently round the walls and history seeps from every nook and cranny.

We can also assume it is in fairly good nick. It was spruced up by a three-year renovation programme after the library’s 1997 move to new headquarters in nearby Euston Road, its original decorative scheme reinstated and post-war additions removed. Desks were discreetly updated so computers can be used.

From 2007 until last year the museum used it as a temporary place to host ticket-only blockbuster exhibitions, including acclaimed shows as The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army and Life and Death in Pompeii.

But while its glorious history as a “temple to the deification of bibliography,” as one Victorian scholar described it, is celebrated, its future is not so certain.

The museum had temporary planning permission to shroud its beautiful features in scaffolding and planks during the construction of the new wing so it could host shows that cost more than a tenner to go and see.

It boosted income while wriggling round the free-entry rule. They said it was a temporary solution while the new wing was completed — but it seems the museum has no idea what happens next.

This is particularly important today, as new calls for museums to charge come at a time when access to public study spaces is under attack.

The idea that the state should fund libraries is increasingly being whittled away in this neoconservative age. Everything must have an immediately obvious economic cost and public services are seen as luxuries, not the corner stone of a civilised society.

Your correspondent has been asking the museum for five long years what the future holds for the room.

I have requested interviews with the directors in charge of its future — but been stonewalled. Instead, after regular badgering, press officers finally answered written questions.

Their answers were far from enlightening.

“The reading room is currently closed while the museum undertakes a programme of work to remove temporary exhibition staging,” they said — a case of stating the bleedin’ obvious.

What happens after this, nobody wants to discuss in any detail. The museum says a new director is to be appointed in 2016 after the current incumbent Neil MacGregor steps down, and then its fate will be considered.

“There are no specific ideas on the table,” the spokesman added. “It is a case of keeping an open mind and considering all options.”

This case of kicking the can down the road is concerning.

Surely MacGregor, widely praised for his stewardship of a collection that, to many, carries the distasteful whiff of Britain’s imperial past, should have a vision for this extraordinary room at the very heart of the institute?

It can only further heighten fears that spaces which can be used for coffer-boosting ticketed exhibitions are just too valuable to hand back to the public.

Surely with Bloomsbury’s massive student population facing further pressures on study space, and the neighbourhood’s schoolchildren — many living in crowded conditions where homework is a logistical issue — the room should be returned to its original role forthwith?

Support is out there. Museum trustee and Nobel prize-winner Sir Paul Nurse told me that opening up Smirke’s masterpiece once more would be a advantageous.

“I can’t second guess what will happen — but I’d like to see its integrity returned,” he said.

“I’d like to see the fact it was this great library and intellectual centre for London celebrated. It means making its structure obvious and some connection maintained to its intellectual history. It is a space that spawned ideas.”

Others are more forthright. Architectural historian Dan Cruickshank queries why a plan has not been long in place.

“It is an extremely important interior and the museum must find an acceptable use for it soon,” he told me. There were promises it would be restored and reopened and they have not done that. So much has happened there of truly international importance. “It is a marvellous place to work — it is so conducive to intellectual achievement.”

Architect Spencer de Grey, senior partner and head of design at Rogers’s practice, worked on the redesign of the museum’s great court between 1994 and 2000.

He says the room’s future must be at the top of the to-do list for MacGregor’s replacement.

“London is short of civilised, free places of study,” he said. “Surely the round reading room could immediately reopen as such. It is an uplifting space that inspired the likes of Karl Marx and should be available to the students and researchers of today.”

The museum holds in its trust treasures lifted from civilisations from around the globe.

Now it must show, as a matter of urgency, how it intends to care for one of its own.

‘Feminist’ London museum revealed as Jack the Ripper sensationalism


This video from England is called East London Women Singing in Xhosa.

By Joana Ramiro in Britain:

Women’s Museum actually the Ripper

Thursday 30th July 2015

Celebration of East End women replaced with murderer

THE hoardings were removed from a museum meant to honour the women of London’s East End yesterday to reveal a gimmicky exhibition about Jack the Ripper and his misogynistic murders.

Women’s rights campaigners and local residents were up in arms as they found out about the “crass and ill thought-out” project about to open on historic Cable Street.

The founder of the Jack the Ripper Museum, Global Diversity List chief executive Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, said the venue was a “serious examination” of the serial killer.

The museum will “tell the story from the perspective of the women who were his victims for the first time,” his statement claimed.

The owners originally applied to Tower Hamlets Council to convert the disused shop into a “Museum of Women’s History [that] will retell the history of the East End through the eyes, voices and experiences of the women that shaped [it].”

The application even criticised most history of the area being “told from the perspective of poverty, crime and social unrest.”

The original Women's Museum application

It was backed by sample exhibits with pictures of Suffragettes, anti-racism campaigns and female trade unionists.

Campaigner Jemima Broadbridge told the Star she raised the alarm after one of her friends living on Cable Street told her about his shock as the site’s scaffolding came down.

She said Mr Palmer-Edgecombe had “cynically” suggested a popular theme for the site in order to dodge opposition.

“It doesn’t look good, it’s unfeeling and crass and ill thought-out,” Ms Broadbridge said.

The English Collective of Prostitutes complained that the museum would trivialise violence against sex workers.

Collective member Alia said: “The murder of women shouldn’t be fetishised into an intriguing murder mystery.”

The museum tried to placate complaints by arguing it would donate “a proportion of our profits” to women’s charity Eaves.

Eaves said it had not known about the museum or heard of its plans to make the charity a beneficiary.

Tower Hamlets Council said it had granted planing permission in October 2014 on the basis that the premises would be used as a women’s museum but “ultimately has no control in planning terms of the nature of the museum.”

A spokesman said the council was investigating whether any unauthorised works had been carried out.

Protesters plan to target the museum on August 5.

Announcement of protest against Jack the Ripper Museum

See also here. And here.

More photos included in the Women's Museum application

From daily The Independent in Britain about this:

Community campaigner Jemima Broadbridge told the East London Advertiser that she felt “offended by this museum of the macabre”.

“Cable Street had nothing to do with Jack the Ripper—that was in Whitechapel, not here. It’s misleading to tourists,” she said.

She told the newspaper that the street had “a glorious history about resisting Mosley’s fascists in 1936” which the community did not want “muddled up by Ripper mythology”.

Bloody glass, sold at Jack the Ripper Museum

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Jemima Broadbridge, an east London campaigner and community organiser, said that local residents were not told about the change. “We haven’t had anything through our doors,” she said. “Fair enough he’s a businessman, but we object to him not being honest with the council and residents. Don’t pretend to build a museum about women – and this is a prime area for that, we have a lot of philanthropists around here – and then choose to do this.”

She added that Cable Street was “known for Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens, not Jack the Ripper”.

East End women

Bahraini pro-democracy demonstration in London, 2011


This video is called Australian family happily taking part in 9 March [2012] Bahrain pro-democracy demonstration.

On 26 November 2011 in London, England, Bahrainis demonstrated against the dictatorship in their country.

The march went to the embassies of Saudi Arabia and the United States (both countries have soldiers in Bahrain). The demonstrators also stopped at the embassy of Egypt to express solidarity with pro-democracy Egyptians.

Virginity test” ruling in Egypt this Tuesday: here.

The London demonstration was especially against death penalties for three Bahraini democrats, convicted by military courts in show trials.

British anti-fox hunting demonstrators win, photos


Anti-fox hunting demonstrators in London today

As this blog reported today, the British Conservative government today stopped a vote on its plans to legalize fox hunting; because the plans probably would have been defeated in parliament. Outside Parliament, many people demonstrated against fox hunting, as these photos, from NOS TV in the Netherlands, show.

Anti-fox hunting demonstration in London today

Anti-fox hunting activists in London today

Realistic anti-fox hunting activist in London today

Realistic anti-fox hunting activists in London today

Outfoxed! How Britain’s most divisive animal lived to fight another day: here. And here.

London police apologizes for associating Cuba with terrorism


Cuban flag

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Met apologises for Cuban flag T-shirt worn by ‘terrorist’ during mock attack

Cuba Solidarity Campaign welcomes apology for what police describe as ‘regrettable error’ in costume choice for actor in simulated terrorist attack

Duncan Campbell

Friday 10 July 2015 15.46 BST

The Metropolitan police have apologised unreservedly for dressing one of their “terrorists” in a Cuban flag T-shirt during the recent Operation Strong Tower simulation of a terrorist attack in London.

Complaints were made to the police after the officer, who was also wearing a balaclava and carrying a weapon, was shown on national television on 1 July.

Maxine de Brunner, the Met’s deputy assistant commissioner, has written to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, which raised the issue, to offer an official apology.

“I have viewed the footage which has concerned you and others,” she wrote. “Photographs and film do show one of the role actors wearing a T-shirt under their jacket, which shows the flag of Cuba. This was clearly a regrettable error, which I take full responsibility for.”

She added: “The role actor has been spoken to. He genuinely did not think of the significance and implications of wearing a T-shirt with a national flag on it. The impact has been explained, he is genuinely sorry and states there was no intention to cause offence or associate the Cuban people with terrorism.”

De Brunner offered a “sincere and unreserved apology” and said lessons would be learned for future exercises.

Rob Miller, of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, welcomed the apology. “The cruel irony is that, in fact, the Cuban people themselves have been the victims of numerous terrorist attacks from US-based groups over the last 55 years, which have left 3,478 dead and 2,099 disabled,” he said.

“Too often, the small island of Cuba has suffered misrepresentation and misinformation from the anti-Cuban mass media. This incident could further perpetuate such dominant anti-Cuba smears.”

See also here.