Slum Life

Slum Life

Apothecary Jars

Apothecary Jars


You may be forgiven for thinking you had entered a chamber of horrors; but the museum is a recreation of real life. The building is the former Leeds Union Workhouse, built in 1858 to accommodate 784 paupers. By the end of the 19th century, the buildings had become largely used for medical care of the poor, rather than workhouse and training. During the First World War it was called the East Leeds War Hospital, caring for armed services personnel. The Museum comprise 10 exhibitions. Health Choices: In Victorian times there was a cure for everything – at least, that’s what many of the quacks and chemists of the time claimed! This exhibition explores the choices on offer in 1842 and shows how real cures were rare at that time. Treatment depended on how much money people had, but even expensive remedies could be ineffective or harmful. People saw little difference between qualified doctors and ‘quacks’, and medicines were made by chemists and druggists as well as doctors. Millions of people who could not afford to see a doctor took ‘patent’ medicines made by private companies who spent huge sums advertising their ability to cure anything. Wealthier people kept personal medicine chests, such as the one on display that belonged to Prince Albert. Doctors would also prescribe strong laxatives or purges to treat various illnesses, as well as treatments such as drinking or bathing in sea water. This fascinating exhibition invites visitors to imagine what it must have been like to be ill in Victorian times and the choice of treatments available.


Leeds 1842: The sights, sounds and smells of a Victorian street in Leeds will transport you back in time to 1842 and introduce you to a range of characters who lived there at the time. Queen Victoria had come to the throne in 1837 and with the industrial revolution in full swing thousands of people flocked to the cities to work in the new factories. Filthy and crowded living conditions led to poor sanitation and disease with infectious conditions like TB, cholera and measles spreading rapidly. One in five children died before they were five, and childbirth killed one in 30 women. A 21-year-old labourer could only expect to live to the age of 50. Visitors can choose one of the characters living in the authentically recreated street to find out what their homes are like, what is causing their ailments, and what can be done to help cure them. Disease in Retreat is a great antidote to the crowded and disease-ridden Victorian street! Here you can find out how scientific discoveries gradually led to a greater understanding of disease and a revolution in treatment and medical practice. Nineteenth century ideas about the causes of disease included theories such as ‘miasmas’ or bad air; poisons generated by a sick person; or simply acts of god or punishment for immorality. But scientists gradually learnt about the existence of microscopic organisms or ‘germs’ and how disease can be transmitted from person to another. In addition, the introduction of vaccines, antibiotics and other medicines vastly improved the health and wellbeing of the population and illnesses that were once Britain’s biggest killers are no longer a threat to most of us.


Hannah Dyson’s Ordeal: You can follow the true story of 11-year-old Hannah Dyson whose leg was crushed by machinery at the mill where she worked in 1823. The surgeons fought to save Hannah’s life and you can find out what happened to her. This realistic audio-visual display highlights the horror of surgery at that time, even though it was the best treatment available in the early nineteenth century. Now, of course, children in the UK are no longer allowed to work in factories and our strict health and safety laws mean that accidents like Hannah’s are far rarer. Advances in medical science ensure that patients are far more likely to recover from similar accidents. Pain, Pus and Blood: Would you like to be operated on without anaesthetic by a surgeon who hasn’t been to medical college? People in Victorian times had no choice, and this exhibition brings the horrific realities of the era vividly to life. Almost half of all patients undergoing major surgery in Victorian times died, either from blood loss, shock or infection? No one knew about germs, and there were no anaesthetics to numb the pain or antiseptics to keep the wound clean. Surgeons trained as apprentices at private schools or universities and gained practical experience in hospitals or the armed forces. Most of the time they treated simple problems, applied bandages, set broken bones, lanced boils and pulled teeth. Major operations were rare and a Victorian surgeon had to work quickly with a keen eye and steady hand!


Younger visitors love exploring Life Zone! Fun, educational and interactive, kids have a great time finding their way around the colourful, hands-on exhibits and learning more about how their bodies work and how to stay healthy. They can follow the progress of a pea through the intestines, find out more about the brain, discover how high they can jump, and see how long human intestines are. New Frontiers of Surgery: The first public operation on a patient made unconscious with anaesthetic took place at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1842. However, survival rates didn’t improve until the 1870s, when Joseph Lister invented a spray that killed germs by covering both the patient and the surgeon in a fine mist of carbolic acid. Death rates from infection then plummeted and surgeons could attempt more ambitious operations. These advances paved the way for modern procedures such as organ transplants, which have transformed many people’s lives. Today, surgeons can transplant a wide range of organs including the cornea, liver, heart, heart valves, pancreas, kidneys, skin and bone marrow. Other innovations include laser and keyhole surgery, which reduce the risks and complications of surgery even further, and microsurgery that allows delicate operations to be performed using microscopes. For example, the thread used in cornea transplants is finer than a human hair.


Fantastic Plastic: What scent should a medical face mask have? Which material would you choose to make a replacement hip? Come and learn from the experts! Today, we take plastic for granted, but it plays a key role in modern medicine and is at the heart of today’s life-saving operations. This exciting and interactive exhibition will help you explore the many different ways it has helped to advance the care and treatment of patients. You’ll have the opportunity to touch and feel the PVC and plastics that are now so widely used in surgical procedures, from the patient’s face mask and surgeon’s operating scalpel, to the floor of the operating theatre itself. Having a Baby: Having a baby in the 1890s was very dangerous, and it was common for women to die during childbirth. One in seven babies also died before they reached their first birthday. Women who survived would probably have many babies in their lifetime; the average family had six children but many women had more. They gave birth at home, helped by a relative or neighbour who had no formal qualifications. Forceps, used to pull the baby out of the birth canal, were invented at the end of the 1800s and saved many lives, but could cause injury and infection. Before the 1950s, when gas and air apparatus was developed, most women in Britain gave birth without any form of pain relief.


The Wilkinson Apothecary Gallery houses a unique collection of 600 ceramic apothecary jars. Spectacular and priceless, this is the largest collection of its type in the world and is among the Thackray Medical Museum’s most treasured possessions. Spanning several centuries, from the 1500s to the 1800s, this historically important collection includes 400 English examples and 200 from Italy and other countries. Many of the jars, which were used by pharmacists and apothecaries to store medicine and medicinal ingredients, are exquisite works of art in their own right. There is also the Recovery? From Flanders to Afghanistan exhibition, a new display. The museum is fully accessible throughout and there is plenty of seating on the way round. They have a level access toilet and lift to all floors. The galleries have hearing loops and many of the displays are interactive and can be touched and handled. Written versions of spoken displays are available. Guide/hearing dogs are welcome. Wheelchairs are available for loan free of charge, please call 0113 244 4343 to reserve. They are currently working hard to provide guides in Braille. A baby changing area is also available.


Location : Thackray Medical Museum, Beckett Street, Leeds LS9 7LN

Transport: Leeds (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : 16, 42, 49, 50, and 50A stop nearby.

Opening Times : Daily 10:00 to 17:00.

Tickets : Adults £8.00;  Children (5 - 16) £5.00;  Concessions £7.00.

Tel: 0113 244 4343