The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, London

There are some museums in London that I’ve just never managed to visit, some from preconceived ideas about whether I’m going to like them and others because there are just so many and other priorities take over. The Hunterian Museum falls under the latter, but I also think maybe a museum full of specimen jars felt a little like what I’ve seen before in various Natural History Museums so I haven’t been in a hurry to visit.

Courtesy of the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons of England

Crystal Gallery at the Hunterian Museum.  Courtesy of the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons of England

But from the moment I walked in I loved it. I loved the clean, bright, modern feel and spent ages just looking at the room. It’s far from the ‘cabinet of curiosities’ feel that many museums relating to the 18th Century choose. In place of dark wooden cabinets are sparkling cases filled with clean specimens.

The specimens all relate to dissections prepared by John Hunter, a Scottish surgeon who produced hundreds and hundreds of anatomical preparations, which he displayed in his property in Leicester Square that functioned as home, anatomy school and museum for his collection.

Crocodile and egg dissection specimen at Hunterian museum

Crocodile and egg. Courtesy of the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons of England

Some of the specimens are pretty gruesome, including animals dissected to show inner organs, human fetus’ at different stages of gestation and organs with various illnesses. But some are beautiful as well, such as a pipefish snake that spirals round its jar, and it was interesting to hear that John Hunter was able to show these preparations in polite society, even making some for King George III and his family.

Surgeons needed dead bodies to teach anatomy and to practice their own skills, but getting their hands on these wasn’t exactly legal. The police would turn a blind eye as body snatchers illegally brought dead bodies to the back entrance of John Hunter’s house in Leicester Square, greatly contrasting with the grand frontage onto the square, so its no surprise that this house has been suggested as the inspiration for the one in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Hunterian Museum specimens crystal gallery

Courtesy of the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons of England

There are hundreds of interesting exhibits – half of Charles Babbage’s brain, Winston Churchill’s upper dentures and quintuplets from a premature birth in 1786. But it was the design of the museum that won me over and I look forward to going back as the sheer amount of interesting objects and information mean many more visits will be needed to take it all in.

Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons
35-43 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2A 3PE
FREE entry
Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s