Some of the display cabinets in this well laid out medical history museum – All photos courtesy of The Royal London Hospital Archives
The Royal London Hospital Museum is a wonderful small, medical museum located in the crypt of a beautiful former church, St Augustine with St Philip's, in the hospital grounds. Whitechapel is an area best known for its associations with the infamous Jack the Ripper and this is just one of the displays at the museum.
However, there is so much more to offer and for me, my visit there was to find out more about Nurse Edith Cavell and the hospital’s most famous patient/ inmate Joseph Merrick, who is also known as The Elephant Man, while I was researching a new walk for Centre of The Cell.
Operations Bell, dating from 1791, reputedly rung to summons attendants to hold surgical patient still in the days before anaesthetics - ouch
The hospital was founded in 1740 and has been located on its present site in Whitechapel since 1757. The museum tells the story of the development of the hospital, which at one time was Britain’s largest hospital, and the famous people associated with it. There are lots of interesting artefacts to look at and it’s well worth making a special visit to see it.
The museum’s display is laid out chronologically. I particularly liked looking at the old medical equipment and found the contents of this medical chest fascinating as it includes a variety of remedies such as a bottle of laxative made from rhubarb.
A selection of medical books – note the top right hand book is about use of leeches
The medical textbooks were a nice reminder that the UK’s first medical school was established at the London Hospital in 1785.
Cased amputation knife & saw
The amputation knife dates from the late 1700s and thought to have belonged to Sir William Blizard, who co - founded the medical school. The set contains a crooked knife for dismembering.
The Jack the Ripper display includes a copy of the infamous “From Hell” letter
The hospital is located in the heart of Whitechapel, just a few minutes’ walk from the location of many of the Ripper’s murder sites. On display is a copy of the “From Hell” letter which was sent to George Lusk, Chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, and was accompanied with a box containing a portion of kidney. Dr Thomas Openshaw, Pathological Curator of the London Hospital, examined the kidney to determine whether or not it was human.
Nurse Edith Cavell display
Edith Cavell is today one of the forgotten stars of the medical profession. She trained, qualified and worked as a nurse at the London Hospital around the turn of the twentieth century. She then moved to Brussels where she trained nurses and worked tirelessly to improve standards. She remained there during the First World War caring for injured soldiers and helped some of them to escape occupied Belgium. As a result Edith was arrested and shot by a firing squad on 12th October 1915.
Edith’s sketchbook of beautiful watercolours
I was delighted to see Edith’s sketchbook on display and noted what a talented artist she was.
Joseph Merrick – the skeleton is a replica
Joseph Merrick, who was also known as “The Elephant Man” due to his deformities, spent his final years living in the hospital. Fredrick Treves, one of the hospital’s most famous surgeons, used to visit Joseph on a daily basis and found him to be intelligent with a romantic imagination. The display includes Joseph’s hat and veil.
The model church assembled by Joseph Merrick
Of all the objects in the museum the beautiful model church assembled by Joseph was the most charming and is worth a visit to the museum in its own right.
The Royal London Hospital Museum while small is full of eye catching artefacts. Although a medical museum it’s certainly not stuffy, as the wide range of displays from Joseph Merrick to Jack the Ripper, it ensures that there is something of interest for everyone and makes it one of London’s most interesting small museums.
If you would like to know more about the Royal London Hospital and its fascinating medical history I am leading Whitechapel: Murder, Maladies and Medical Marvels, a guided walk round the hospital campus on Tuesday 26th November 2013 at 6.30pm. For more details see here. SORRY THE WALK IS NOW SOLD OUT BUT PLEASE CHECK THE WEBSITE FOR NEW DATES IN 2014.
Address: Royal London Hospital Museum, St Augustine with St Philip's Church, Newark Street, London E1 2AA. The Museum is located in the former crypt of St Philip's Church in the grounds of The Royal London Hospital and the entrance is on Newark Street.
Nearest Tube Station: Whitechapel in Travelcard Zone 2 and is a 5 minute walk from the museum.
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Friday, 10am - 4.30pm (closed over Christmas and New Year, Easter and public holidays). As the museum has a small number of staff, opening hours may be subject to change at short notice. We recommend that you check opening times before planning a special visit by telephoning 020 7377 7608.
If you enjoyed this you might like reading my blog about Centre of the Cell a medical educational centre which open to the public and is located close to the museum.
The author of this blog is a qualified City of London and City of Westminster Tour Guide who leads guided walks combining world famous landmarks with hidden treasures often missed by the crowds.