Days out in London can be costly and attractions incredibly busy, especially in the summer months. In a bid for a free day out in Central London, Contrary Life visited a trio of medical museums, full of quirky exhibitions and not at all overcrowded…
The Anaesthesia Heritage Centre can be found at the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland on Great Portland Street. I popped along and found I had the museum to myself. Although it is all in one little room in the basement there were plenty of interesting exhibits.
The room is made up of a temporary exhibition and a permanent exhibition, an informative video introduction and a library. The permanent exhibition features instruments from the beginnings to the modern-day uses of anaesthesia in surgery. There are plenty of interesting facts to accompany the collection including students ‘ether frolics’ and how pain relief was first used. A range of masks, vaporizers, syringes, tongue forceps and mouthgags make up the unique collection.
The current temporary exhibition is A Blessing in Disguise: Misuse of Anaesthesia and gives details of the various uses and misuses of drugs through the ages. Opium, cocaine, codeine, ketamine, propofol, morphine, chloroform, ether, methamphetamine and hexobarbital have all been used medically for anaesthesia and have all been abused at some point, quite often with fatal consequences. The exhibition notes many famous people and the drugs they have crossed paths with. This entertaining exhibition runs until October 2012 and is definitely worth a visit.
The second museum I visited is a short walk away from the Anaesthesia Heritage Centre. The Royal College of Physicians at 11 St Andrews Place, opposite Regents Park has a museum and medical garden that open to the public and are free to visit. The museum itself contains portraits and instrument collections. There is currently a quirky exhibition, Curious Anatomys, which focuses on dissection and contains some rare and slightly gruesome exhibits.
The main focus of the exhibition is a set of anatomical tables that have survived from the 17th century. The tables bear actual human remains and may not be for everyone but they are an important and interesting part of medical history. This exhibition also does a good job of highlighting the sinister past of anatomy. The exhibition also contains a video explaining what the tables are and their history, not to mention a selection of wax models, some preserved specimens, lots of interesting information about the dark and smelly conditions of dissection theatres, bodysnatching and the history of Grays Anatomy.
If you are making a day of it and visiting these museums, Regents Park is an ideal stopping point for a break and some refreshments. In true frugal style, Contrary Life popped to the park with a packed lunch to enjoy before heading to the final museum of the day.
The last port of call on my free day out was the Wellcome Collection, roughly a ten minute walk from the park and Royal College of Physicians. Their current exhibition is Brains: The Mind as Matter, on until 17th June. Rather than explaining the ins and outs of how the brain works, it is a historical and cultural exploration of how we have treated or understood the brain through the ages. From early tools used to operate on ourselves to the latest techniques, artworks, and past cultural theories, the exhibitions cover some really fascinating aspects of our most important organ.
There are warnings as you enter the exhibition, so again, if you are a little squeamish this exhibition may not be for you. However, if you like looking at preserved brains in jars, then you’re in luck!
More info: The Anaesthesia Heritage Centre is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 10am – 4pm. When visiting head to the main door and buzz reception, you will be lead downstairs and given a brief explanation of the exhibits. Visit www.medicalmuseums.org for more details.
The Royal College of Physicians Museum & Garden is open Monday – Friday (except bank holidays) from 9am – 5pm. Head to the main reception desk for a visitor pass and then explore at your leisure. Visit www.rcplondon.ac.uk for more details.
The galleries at the Wellcome Collection are closed on Mondays (except bank holidays) and open Tuesday – Saturday, 10am – 6pm, Sundays 11am – 6pm and 12pm – 6pm on bank holidays. Visit www.wellcomecollection.org for more details.