Case study: The British Museum Cast Iron Gates and Railings

This 10 month restoration project was featured on BBC2's series The Museum. The 20 tonne cast iron gates and railings at The British Museum in London were completely refurbished from top to bottom by our highly skilled craftsmen and architectural engineers.

The cast iron gates were originally erected in 1852.  The elaborate design is 40ft wide and consists of two pairs of main gates and two side gates creating a magnificent entrance to the Museum.

Each 5 tonne gate is beautifully designed so that the 5 hinges on each gate are not visible when they are open creating smooth, flowing lines that add to their grandeur.

The Museum initially realised the cast iron gates needed restoration in 2000 when they first seized.  After other consultants failed to identify the problems, Dorothea Restorations was called in to carry out a detailed survey and devise a programme of repairs.  

Before any restoration work could be started hundreds of individual components were carefully dismantled, photographed and catalogued - requiring 2000 photos and hundreds of diagrams.  

All work was carried out within the Museum's strict security and public access requirements to programme and budget. 

Dorothea's careful work over a 1 year period ensures the future operation of these magnificent cast iron gates will be secured for generations to come.

This was a uniquely challenging contract, with many unknowns at the outset, strict site constraints and tight tolerances between large components.

A Brief History of the British Museum Gates

These splendid ornamental iron gates were designed by Sidney Smirke (1798-1877), an architect from London most prevalent in the mid-19th Century. He was also responsible for the glorious structural segmented dome inside the British Museum which has been The Reading Room now since 1857.  

Models were made from the architect’s final designs and moulds produced and used for all the cast iron work gates asides from the main ornamental frieze made from traditional hammered wrought iron. This ironwork was taken on by John Walker of York, who also designed the cast iron standard lamps in the Museum courtyard.

The gates, weighing in at a whopping 10 tonnes, required a windlass (a crank and winch operated piece of apparatus) to open them to the public on completion in 1853. 


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