You wouldn’t think to walk into a college you don’t belong to, but inside the Royal College of Surgeons, is one of London’s weirdest exhibits. The clue is in the college, a medical museum the Hunterian houses hundreds of jars of animals and even babies examining the process of disease, sickness, lifespan and more.
John Hunter is the namesake of this museum and it is his collection the museum houses. Born in Scotland, he worked as an assistant in an anatomy school in 1748. His brother, a physician, taught him human anatomy and dissection. John went on to spend 3 years as a surgeon in the army, returning to London to become a surgeon at St Georges Hospital. (St Georges Hospital would later employ Henry Gray – author of the book Grays Anatomy and much much later the now-comedian Harry Hill) John Hunter later curated his own museum in Leicester Square in order to teach students.
The museum is like a less intimidating-looking X Files style bunker filled with jars of pickled animals. These serve a purpose though, and are not just there for the gross-out factor. We can see the different stages of development in animals , the process their bodies go through including during different seasons and their reaction to disease and sickness. It’s fascinating and all up close and personal. Besides the cabinet of jars we can see actual nerves in our body laid out as if rolled out on a table, skeletons and skulls, human foetus and (my favourite) the skeleton of a Giant. The gallery is on two floors with the upstairs showing more modern surgery, complimenting the downstairs vast collection of much older research.
They have some brilliant ‘Talks of the Day’ including such topics as heart surgery, dentistry, apothecaries more. If, like me, you have a 9-5 job you probably can’t make it to the usual lunchtime chat, then the audio guides are just as informative.
- · The place in which he was born (Long Calderwood, Scotland) is also a museum – Hunter House Museum
- · There is a Giant’s skeleton in the museum
- · Look out for the foetus in jars at each stage of development
- · The Hunterian Society (London) was founded by him and later named in his honour.
- · Go to the Sir John Soane’s Museum (it’s across the park!)
- · Spend time in said park – Lincoln Fields, it’s beautiful and often the bandstand actually has a band playing on it!
- · Don’t go on a Monday – ‘cos it’s closed!
HOW TO GET THERE