Thackray Medical Museum


Did you know that your brain smells like strong cheese? Or that when Edward V had his appendix removed, it began such a craze for the procedure that by 1910, 15% of all operations in Britain were appendectomies? I didn’t, but I do now!

There are a fair few places in Leeds that I always feel I should have been to by now, and Thackray Medical Museum is one of them. Since this Bank Holiday weekend brought with it a few rare opportunities for Ant and I to spend a good few solid hours together, we decided to go check the place out and see what we thought. (After fuelling up with a good breakfast at The Greedy Pig, of course.)

Unlike many Leeds attractions, this one isn’t free: it’s £7 for adults and £5 for children, with under 5s going free. There is some very handy parking, which is just £1. An added bonus is once you’ve paid for entry, you can go back again as many times as you want for the next twelve months for free. This is great as I think kids would love repeat visits, meaning that for a one off payment you’ve got an afternoon filled in each school holiday for the year!

The first half of the museum is pretty immersive. You learn about the history of health and medicine using Leeds as a base. We walked through a dark, dirty, smelly mock-up of a street in Victorian Leeds, trying to find out more about the characters we had chosen on our way in. Mine was Alice, the young daughter of a bookseller who had caught measles. Looking at the place where her family lived and worked was quite upsetting: the street really is very realistic and the smell and noises are all very overwhelming. About halfway through I had to give up and walk quickly to the end of the street, because the smell was too much for me! It’s hard to imagine that people lived in such conditions, but they did.

After this, we learned a bit more about how people treated illness before the advent of free healthcare. It would depend very much on how much money the patient had, and often they would try useless home remedies or cure all tincture from salesmen, because they couldn’t afford to see a qualified doctor or go to a pharmacy.

At the moment there’s a new exhibition called Magic and Medicine. This is definitely a section where kids would have fun: it’s very interactive and discusses the links between magic and medicine, referencing Harry Potter and Peter Pan among others.

Cold remedies suggested by museum visitors

Cold remedies suggested by museum visitors

After this it was upstairs to see a quite distressing video of a girl having her leg amputated without anaesthetic, and then into the Pain, Pus and Blood gallery, which is exactly as gory as it sounds! It’s all in good fun, though, and you’ll notice signs suggesting alternative routes if you’re touring with a child (or adult) of a sensitive nature. It’s fascinating to learn how the nature of surgery has changed over the years as science has learned more about infections and anaesthesia.

Finally, we went through the Life Zone, which was really interesting, really interactive and full of positive messages for the kids crawling over every surface of it. There were pipes where you can whisper things to your friends at the other side of the room, a long corridor where you can take the journey that food takes through your body, and a scale to help you measure how high you can jump. All the children in there were having a whale of a time, and actually we quite enjoyed it, too.

Although it’s a bit dry in places, there’s plenty of fun to be had here, so go check it out for a good two hours of education and entertainment.

Keep an eye out over the rest of 2013: there are lots of activities planned in line with the Magic and Medicine theme that look really exciting for families. For instance, April is Spellbinding Stories month, while May brings juggling, street magic and Night at the Medical Museum.


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