The Hunterian Museum is about to close for a three-year refit, so I decided to pop in one Saturday beforehand. I had visited the museum a few years ago, but don’t actually remember all that much about my visit, so it was about time for another.
The museum is located in the Royal College of Surgeons, in Lincoln’s Inn Fields just across from John Soane’s house. On this occasion I had to queue for half an hour to get in: the imminent closure of the museum means that people are rushing to visit, but it isn’t usual to have to queue for this place.
The collection of John Hunter, a pioneer and hugely important figure in the field of surgery, was purchased by the government in 1799 and given to the Company (later The Royal College) of Surgeons. This collection formed the basis for the museum which opened as part of the new Royal College of Surgeons of London’s building, which still stands today. The museum was redesigned and expanded several times during the nineteenth century, but during the Second World War the building was bombed and much of the collection destroyed. It reopened in 1963, but was remodelled again in the latter half of the century, before reopening in its current form in 2005.
The museum, the bulk of which is made up of John Hunter’s collections, contains many medical specimens. I admit I didn’t look too closely at these as I am rather squeamish. However, it is a valuable resource for students of medicine. Notable displays include preserved tumours, skeletons affected by syphilis, and the full skeleton of Charles Byrne, ‘the Irish giant’. There are also some interesting paintings, and displays covering the history of surgery and the exploration of anatomy in London.
It’s a shame this excellent small museum will be closed for three years, but hopefully it will reopen to the public in 2020 even bigger and better than before.
Address: The Royal College of Surgeons of England, 35-43 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, C2A 3PE
Opening Hours: Currently closed; due to reopen in 2020