Society of Antiquaries: Piccadilly rent rise may force move

Image source, Society of Antiquaries
Image caption,
The Society of Antiquaries has been based in Burlington House since the 1870s

A 300-year-old society, which has 40,000 historical objects, could be forced to leave its London base because of a huge increase in its annual rent.

The Society of Antiquaries says its rent has risen by 3,100% in six years and it may have to sell off some of its collection if it is forced out.

The charity has been based in the government-owned Burlington House, Piccadilly, since the 1870s.

The government said the charity would not pay full market rent until 2085.

Image source, Society of Antiquaries
Image caption,
Tudor paintings are among the items held in the society's collection

The Society of Antiquaries of London was set up in 1707 as an educational charity to promote understanding of the past.

It houses numerous historical items including three of the earliest copies of the Magna Carta and Neolithic stone tools from Stonehenge, which are available for people to study.

The charity said it was now being "being effectively forced out" as recent changes in government accounting meant its annual rent had risen from £4,800 per year in 2012-13, to £150,000 in 2018-19.

Image source, Society of Antiquaries
Image caption,
The charity looks after more than 40,000 objects and 130,000 books

The self-funded society said the costs of relocating so many fragile objects and the building of new infrastructure to protect them may force it to sell off some of its collection.

President Paul Drury said the society "has been proud to play a unique role in making rare and valuable material accessible to academics, students, and the historically curious public" and it wanted to "safeguard this opportunity for generations to come".

"Finding a resolution to secure our home at Burlington House would allow us to keep our precious collections intact," he said.

The government said: "The Society of Antiquaries currently pays around 30% of market rent for its premises in New Burlington House, and won't start paying full market rent until 2085.

"The current lease was agreed in 2005 by the then government and the Learned Societies following an unsuccessful High Court challenge by the societies for ownership of the building.

"Despite this we're sympathetic to the societies' position and are exploring whether there is a solution that can deliver value for taxpayers and help the societies to remain at New Burlington House."

What is the Society of Antiquaries of London?

Image source, Society of Antiquaries
  • The society was founded in 1707 for "the encouragement, advancement and furtherance of the study and knowledge of the antiquities and history of this and other countries"
  • Meetings were originally held in the Bear Tavern in the Strand before the society was granted premises in Somerset House by King George III in 1780 and then later moved to Burlington House
  • The collection contains more than 40,000 objects and 130,000 books which are available for research, including Tudor royal portraits and illuminated manuscripts that were rescued when Henry VIII dissolved England's monasteries
  • The society's 3,000 fellows include Sir David Attenborough, Dame Mary Beard and Loyd Grossman

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