The royal college of surgeons near Holborn station contains one of London’s hidden gems the Hunterian museum which tells the story of surgery from the past right up to the present. The museum contains the remaining specimens of John Hunter, the founding father of scientific surgery. It is a fascinating if somewhat small museum, which is definitely not for those of a squeamish disposition. The décor is essentially Swedish minimalism meets Dr Frankenstein. On the one hand you have a series of slick crystal clear glass displays. On the other, you have a bazillion gruesome jars all filled with disease ridden body parts. As such it’s awfully popular with goths. In May 2017 this wonderful purveyor of the macabre will close its doors for three years. Having never previously visited, earlier this week I hopped on the Piccadilly line and went to investigate for myself.
There were so many highlights to my trip that it is hard to know where to begin. Starting with the serious, it was fantastic to see one of the first anaesthetic inhaler’s. On the whole, the museum gave one an incredible insight into the development of surgery and left one feeling grateful for the ingenious work of the past. On the uncomfortable side, for me the small collection of portraits of unusual people gave an unflattering sense of the past as it does have an air of the freak show about it. On the striking side, the centre piece of the museum is the skeleton of the Irish Giant Charles Byrne which stands at a mighty 7ft 7 inches tall. I would recommend reading the Wiki entry on this poor fellow who feared John Hunter wanted his body for dissection. As such, he made plans to be sealed in a lead coffin upon his death and buried at sea. Unfortunately as the skeleton on display at the museum makes clear his plans were thwarted. Finally to top it off, they even have Winston Churchill in here, or to be more precise his dentures. Hopefully I’ve inspired you to check this place out before it’s too late (hammer horror music plays out).
The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10-5, and has a strict no photo policy.