The Museum at the Royal London Hospital

For medical reasons, I am required to visit a hospital for prodding and poking every few months, and the clinic I visit was recently moved from Barts in the City to the Royal London Hospital in the distinctly non-regal Whitechapel.

However, on almost every visit I keep meaning to stick my nose in the museum the hospital is reputed to have, but being distracted by medical matters I keep forgetting. It was therefore slightly bizarre to make a specific trip to the hospital yesterday, not to see a doctor, but to see this fabled museum.

Going in through the main entrance, there is a big directions sign pointing out where everything is – but no sign of a museum. Fortunately, the reception could guide me down the corridor, over the courtyard, across the road and it is in the church outside. The church that incidentally I had walked past on my way to the hospital.

In the courtyard, there is a statue of Queen Alexandra and thinking it looked rather impressive I decided to take a photo of it in the empty courtyard. Opps! Out darted a matronly looking nurse berating me for taking a photo without a permit from the press office.

I might take photos of patients she explained, as I looked around the empty courtyard for the patients of whom the privacy I was so wantonly invading.

Now, I perfectly understand a restriction on deliberately taking photos of patients, but in a hospital where I can guarantee that hundreds of camera phone photos are taken every single day by doting relatives visiting patients, to huff and puff about someone taking a photo of an empty courtyard is rather irritating.

As instructed, an email has been sent to the press office for permission to take a photo.

In the meantime, have a look at some photos of the statue that other people took.

Pettifogging over – I continued to the museum, which is round the back of the church and not at all accessed through the large doorway indicating the library and archives. Nope, its the next smaller doorway along.

Down the slope and opening the solid looking wooden door and an electric bing-bong heralds the arrival of another visitor into the museum.

Considering the lack of signage in the hospital about the museum I wasn’t expecting that much to be honest, but was pleasantly surprised at the size of the place. Roughly horseshoe shaped, the museum is lined with large glass cases packed full of mementos from the hospital’s long history, which can be dated back as far as 1740.

Entry to the museum

Past the original royal charter and the small group watching the now ubiquitous video screen explaining the history of the museum for those less inclined to read the display boards and I was into the museum proper.

Here is the sort of museum I love, lots of glass cases full of things to look at, each with a letter code and a key explaining what they are. Some of the cases are generic medical history and a few are devoted to specific people who are famously linked to the hospital.

Display cases

Whether you are interested in the story of the nurse, Edith Cavell, the Elephant Man or Jack the Ripper, there is ample here to sate your curiosity.

Of considerable interest to me are the three representations of the Whitchapel Mount, which was a huge mound of earth that can possibly be linked to Saxon times, and was almost certainly part of the English Civil War defences of the city. I had see one of the drawings before, but the other two were new to me.

The museum is free to enter apart from the donations tin by the door. I was probably in there for about half an hour, although the more diligent visitor can easily spend an hour or more if they want. I will probably dip in every few months on my regular visits to the hospital to look at things in more detail.

The Museum is sadly not open at weekends though – being just Tuesday to Friday, 10am-4.30pm, but is certainly worth a visit if you have a day off work.

Unsurprisingly, the Diamond Geezer has been there already.

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2 Comments

  1. When I took a photo of that statue, without a permit, I was cordially invited by the hospital to add the photo to their official Flickr group. Times change, obviously.

    And rest assured that you’re not the only person who has to attend a clinic round the corner from this charming museum-ette.

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