Updated: 6 days ago
After a whopping £4.6 million redevelopment the fascinating but gruesome Hunterian Museum will re-open once again on the 16 May. Housed in the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln's Inn Fields it is literally jam-packed with pickled dead creatures (2,500 specimen jars to be exact) anatomical bits, skulls, human remains (more on this later) and heaps of surgical parafanalia.
This is a museum the likes of which we here at dandelion have never seen before. It will not be for everyone.
The collection amassed by the18th century surgeon and anatomist John Hunter contained a mind-blowing 14,000 samples and specimens all used for his surgical training and anatomical development. Leaving school at 13 years, Hunter was fascinated with the natural world and started collecting animal samples at a young age. He went on to became a true pioneer of science.
Sadly the vast majority of his collection was lost in 1941 when a bomb hit the Royal College of Surgeons during WW2. The remaining specimens (which to be honest feel like masses) are all on show in the new museum galleries. From pickled baby crocodiles to sloths, bugs and beetles, a walrus and pangolin foetus there is row upon row of specimen jars. Look out for the vast pickled elephant brain.
The last three rooms of the museum are dedicated to current surgical technology and the incredible progress that has been made in the 20th century. There is an incredible 3D interactive that enables you to drag and rotate a vascular skeleton stripping away her nervous system and organs. We were very lucky at the press view to chat to a heart transplant surgeon and his patient - 16 years post surgery and living a brilliantly normal life. Her diseased heart is in a glass box on show.
There is also some great art dotted amongst the specimen jars. Look out for the wonderful Rhino painted by Stubbs, and the ghost like surgical team operating by Barbara Hepworth.
We do feel however that some children (and mothers) could be upset by some of the foetal samples on display. The Museum contains thousands of human remains including a whole cabinet of foetus specimens showing growth from 11 weeks up to full gestation. There are also lots of pickled penises, ovaries and uteruses. We found this particular cabinet a little disturbing. As the samples were gathered over 100 years ago they are permitted to be on show.
We feel this museum could be an incredible outing for any child with a real interest in studying medicine or scientific research. We would put an age limit of 12+ purely due to the foetal content. Of course some children will be totally unfazed by it all and hugely inspired.
Julia can't wait to head back again, Emily is more unsure. Let us know what you think ?
43 Lincoln's Inn Fields, WC2A
Open 10 - 5pm Tues to Sun
By Julia Colls 11 May 2023