You have most probably heard of the very famous British Museum and you may or may not know a bit about it, but did you know that this museum was made possible because of the lottery?
It all started with Sir Hans Sloane, a physician and scientist, who collected an impressive 71 000 enviable objects throughout his lifetime of adventures and travelling. Not wanting to see his precious collection broken up after his death, his will stated that it should be given to King George II in exchange for £20,000, and that the collection should belong to the nation. Parliament was thrilled to receive the collection and wanted to create a national museum including Sloane’s collection, Sir Robert Cotton’s collection which they had acquired in 1700, and the Harleian Collection of manuscripts and medals belonging to the Earls of Oxford – which they still wanted to buy. The problem was funding; funding to buy the Harleian Collection and funding for a place to house all these objects together.
Not wanting to lose such precious collections to the Russians or French, Parliament passed the British Museum Act on 7 June 1753, providing for a public lottery to raise funds. They hoped to raise £300,000 with which to open The British Museum.
Sadly, as with most lotteries of the early eras, it was vastly corrupt. The original idea was to sell a hundred thousand tickets for £1 each, and later for £2 each, with no one person being allowed more than 20 tickets. However, tickets were hoarded by sellers, by buyers using fictitious names and sellers turning a blind eye, and by selling tickets privately and therefore not making many tickets accessible to the public. A black market in lottery tickets began and those on the inside where making a killing. By the time of the draw, £95,194, eight shillings and two pence worth of ticket sales were handed over. These funds were used to purchase Montagu House which would become the famous British Museum.
Now, more than 250 years on, the museum still receives funding from the National Lottery via the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The HLF was set up in 1994 and allocates 20% of the lottery’s “good causes” funding in the form of grants to heritage projects throughout the United Kingdom. To date, the grants have made it possible to restore some 19 500 historic buildings and monuments, have funded over 3 200 projects which helped conserve threatened habitats and species, revitalised 850 parks, allowed over 3000 people to be involved in work-based training in heritage skills, and of course has enabled the British Museum to continue to be the world famous heritage site that it is…but to name a few.
Overall, since it’s conception in 1994, the HLF has “awarded £2.41billion to 3,727 projects benefiting over 1,100 museums and galleries around the UK”, private and public. So now you know, there is far more to the lottery than meets the eye, and mostly it’s for a good cause.
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