London has 24 medical and dental museums. A few museums are very close to me here in Harley Street, including the British Dental Association’s dental museum. A little further away, but close to my heart, is the British Orthodontic Society’s museum, which has been developed over the past few years.
And now we have a new one: Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries. It’s hard to believe that there is space for another medical collection when we have so many, all representing a niche area or organisation like anaesthesia, pathology, optometry or the Red Cross.
But I confess to being very excited by the new collection because it has been curated to suit the modern way of approaching health and medicine. New art has been commissioned, with 3000 items occupying five rooms on the first floor of the Science Museum in South Kensington, and two of those providing immersive experiences. Objects range from a beautifully wrought iron amputation saw to an early robotic arm. My enthusiasm for all things digital and robotic is well known, so this is something I shall make a point of seeing and I’ll definitely be taking my daughters there over Christmas!
I am also interested to see the collection of phrenology heads. Phrenology was a Victorian pursuit where followers believed that you could tell a person’s character by measuring the shape of their skull. Not so very long after this had gone out of fashion, orthodontists were studying the development of the face and jaws. The masks created by dentist George Northcroft are now on display in the BOS museum and contribute to our modern day understanding of facial development, which is so critical to our work.
The new exhibition is drawn from as many as 150,000 objects from two different collections, Henry Wellcome’s collection and the Science Museum’s own collection. Henry Wellcome was a pharmaceutical entrepereneur and, in addition to the artefacts now displayed by the Science Museum, there is still a separate museum for his artefacts at the Wellcome Collection on the Euston Road.
I am glad to say that dentistry appears to be covered in the new Wellcome galleries. The press release for the exhibition states: “We all have our own history of medicine. From birth and broken bones in our adventurous youth to routine trips to the dentist, doctor and optician, visits to loved ones in hospital and experience of loss. We are deeply invested in our own health and that of friends and family.”
If you are interested to find out more for yourselves, you can read about the new Wellcome galleries here.