St Bartholomew’s Museum

It’s not secret that I’m fond of a hidden museum; those fascinating little places, little nooks and crannies hiding all sorts of stories that often get overlooked. I’ve already visited one museum in St Bart’s hospital, the wonderful Pathology Museum which has an interesting little exhibition all about things found in peoplebut what you might not realise is that there’s another museum lurking  on the hospital’s campus. St Bartholomew’s Museum examines the history of the medical establishment rather than the bodies and illnesses that have passed through the doors but is just as interesting.

I examined the hospital’s museum on a rainy Tuesday, thankful for the break from the weather and a chance to dry out. Discovering a bit of history was just a bonus. Speaking of bonuses, it was full of Museum Mannequins!

A Nun Mannequin
A Nun Mannequin

Take this nun, for instance, offering a welcome wedge of cheese to visitor/patients. Her presence harks back to the museum’s religious origins. Or even this dapper gentleman…

A museum mannequi
A dapper gentleman

This is the pleasingly named Percivall Pott, a surgeon at the hospital in the 1700s (I’m particularly fond of his wig).

Although I enjoy a museum mannequin, I feel that they need some actual artefacts to justify their being there. Being a medical museum, there were a few things that made me wince and even more that made me pause. Take a look at these gloves. Well, not gloves exactly…

Lunatic Restrainers
Lunatic Restrainers

According to the text, these lunatic restrainers were used in the 18th century. In 1787, rooms were partitioned off to treat patients who “may happen to be bit by Mad Dogs,” what would have been nice was to know if these mad dogs were metaphorical or not…

A wooden trephining head
A wooden Trephining head

This wooden head was used to practice trephining (drilling holes in the skull). If you look carefully, or even not so carefully, you can still see the marks of the drills used by student doctors. The museum’s curators suggest that the head looks a bit worse for wear because at one point it had ‘been used as a football.’ This wouldn’t be the first head in London to be but to this unorthodox use, legend has it that Jeremy Bentham’s head was once used as a ball by students from a rival university…

A nurse's tea pot
A nurse’s tea pot

If what I’ve read about nursing is accurate, there’s more to it than just wearing timepieces upside down and gasping for a cup of tea. Clearly tea is a big part of nursing, otherwise, why would a nurse’s tea pot be in a medical museum? 😉

St Bart’s Museum is full of great little stories, but there is something amazing hidden in this museum – a wonderful mural designed and painted by Hogarth.

Hogarth staircase
Hogarth staircase

The two massive works on the wall were completed between 1734-1737. Hogarth wanted to make a generous contribution to the hospital, and did the work for free. He actually had a personal connection to the hospital as he had be born in Bartholomew Close and his mother and sister lived close to the site. It really is an incredible staircase – go and see it!

The museum is open Tuesday to Fridays from 10.00 -16.00 and is completely free to visit.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Rose says:

    Hi Jack!
    Dr Elizabeth Mackenzie, trustee of Kids in Museums, trained at Barts…

    I always enjoy your writing.

  2. Great post but you’ve kinda put me off my lunch.

  3. Susan Elaine Jones says:

    Didn’t even know it existed, and yet awaits a welcome of (wooden) cheese and a pot of tea. Lovely!

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