You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to find St Bartholomew’s Pathology Museum, near Smithfield Market in London, but you might have to do some detective work to get inside it. Because, like Scotland Yard’s famous Black Museum, this repository of the weird, the wonderful and the medically morbid (which does have a connection to Holmes, of which more in a later blog) is not usually open to the public, unless you attend one of its regular evening seminars, which begin their new season on Wednesday, September 25th with Sarah Tobias talking about “Death & Mourning in Victorian England”.
However, no matter who is talking about what, the actual venue is a constant star of the show. Grade II listed, it dates from 1879 and is a stunningly dramatic Victorian room, an open space with three galleries or mezzanine levels, topped off with a vaulted glass roof. On the shelves that line this hall are endless jars of specimens, some five thousand in all, dating back to the 18th century, of everything from a ravaged scrotum (a cancer known as chimney sweep’s disease) to various foreign bodies pulled out of people (you’ll have to find out where the artillery shell was found and what it was doing there for yourself).
The museum’s original purpose was as a teaching aid for training doctors in the various pathologies of the human body, but as more hands-on techniques for training became fashionable, the collection fell into disrepair. It is now being re-catalogued and conserved by Carla Valentine, the Technical Assistant Curator, who has advised on TV shows such as Silent Witness and films like Resident Evil and is prone to utterances such as: ‘I’ve always been interested in death’ and ‘I’ve wanted a job in pathology since I was ten.’ Whatever her motives, the collection is looking decidedly healthy – if that’s not a strange term to apply – these days.
Here she picks some of her favourites from the collection:
I have been asked to give a talk about Watson and his medical career on 13th November, alongside a new short, silent film featuring the world’s most famous sidekick. So if you want to see the soaring inside of the building and those endlessly fascinating specimens, book in to one of the events, especially October 23rd when Carla Valentine herself with be discussing some of the stories behind the specimens that line the shelves. Who knows, she might even mention that artillery shell.
* St Bartholomew’s Pathology Museum, 3rd Floor, Robin Brook Centre, West Smithfield, London EC1A 7BE. Not open to the public except for its seminars (tickets from £5.95, including glass of wine) and various workshops. Details on: http://potts-pots.blogspot.co.uk/.
Filming and recording by Bella and Gina Ryan; edit by Bella Ryan.