Tag Archives: school workshop

Hidden Histories: Taxidermy Hedgehog

Bisected taxidermy hedgehog.

Bisected taxidermy hedgehog.

One of the objects in our Hidden Histories exhibition is a model of a western European hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus. This species is prevalent across the North and West regions of Europe and is found in wood and grasslands, although it has been known to venture into towns and cities due to their easy access to food sources. It is an omnivore, mainly consuming slugs, beetles and other insects, although it has been known to eat small rodents and young birds. The hedgehog has a strong phylogenic link with shrews and other small mammals, and models have been used extensively in the past as a demonstration tool for Biology Department lectures on anatomy and mammalian evolution.

Our taxidermy model hedgehog has been bisected on one side to display its skeleton and allow for a better understanding of its anatomical structure. The hedgehog has been taken from the larger zoology collection recently acquired by the Museum. This collection originally belonged to the Zoological Museum based in the Department of Biology. The Museum contained vertebrate, invertebrate, entomological (insect) and pathological collections, in addition to microscope and magic lantern slides. Parts of these collections date back to the beginning of the Yorkshire College of Science in 1874 and initially they were displayed in the corridors and around the sides of laboratories of the Biology Department, originally based in the second floor of Baines Wing. In 1908 the Zoological Museum was officially established and set up in the old botanical laboratory, where it remained until 1997 when the L. C. Miall building was opened. In addition to a new museum room, the Miall building contained store rooms, a preparation room, an insect collection room and a room for the department’s Herbarium.

The bisected taxidermy hedgehog displayed in Hidden Histories was bought by the Department of Biology from E. Gerrard and Sons, a London based taxidermy company, in August of 1934. The specimen cost £2-15-0, or £2 and 15 shillings. The hedgehog was not the only bisected taxidermy model bought in 1934; a rabbit and a bullfrog were also obtained for £4 and 10 shilling, and £1 and 15 shillings respectively. In addition to providing new specimens, the biology department relied heavily on E. Gerrard and Sons for cleaning, repairing and remounting services.

Side image of hedgehog displaying taxidermy work.

Side image of hedgehog displaying taxidermy work.

Side image of hedgehog, displaying skeletal structure.

Side image of hedgehog, displaying skeletal structure.

Whilst university natural history collections, such as those held by the Zoology Museum at Leeds, were used extensively in the early 1800s as a teaching resource, a rise in laboratory based work and cellular and molecular biology in the early- and mid-1900s saw the use of these collections reduced.  However by the 1990s subjects such as biodiversity and wildlife conservation were becoming increasingly prominent and natural history collections became important again for both teaching and research. In spite of this, university collections remained at risk of being sold or given away due to financial problems. The Zoology Museum at Leeds seemed to avoid this financial pressure, and after the move to L. C. Miall and the better access the new rooms provided the collections became exceedingly popular amongst students. The collections were used to teach subjects such as vertebrate comparative anatomy and entomology, in addition to providing research material for final year students.

In recent years the collections have been used far less in teaching, although their involvement did not stop completely. In 2011, during my first year as an undergraduate in Biology and History and Philosophy of Science, we used skeletons within the Zoology Museum in a practical session for the Diversity of Life module. The practical involved measuring various bones of the hind legs from mammal skeletons within the collection to better understand how leg structure depends on the animal’s size and way of life.

The Zoology Museum in 2012, shortly before closure.

The Zoology Museum in 2011, shortly before closure.

Zoology Museum, 2012.

Coral specimens displayed in the Zoology Museum, 2011.

Sadly the Zoology Museum closed in 2012. A large number of the skeletons and skulls have been retained and displayed around the foyer of the L. C. Miall building. Some of the collections, such as the Herbarium and majority of the insect collection, were given to the Discovery Centre of Leeds City Museum. The remainder of the Zoological Museum has been passed onto us within the Museum for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, forming part of our biological science collection. Whilst we do not have the space at the moment to display the whole collection, which includes skeletons, skulls, coral, taxidermy and specimens preserved in spirits on a large scale, we are doing our best bring it to the attention of a wider audience . This includes representing it in the Hidden Histories display and a smaller display outside the Gillinson Room within the Philosophy department. In addition to this, we are trying to use the collection for its original purpose: teaching.  Recently the Museum carried out a workshop with a local school using skull’s from the collection to highlight natural history and how an animal’s skull can help to reveal its life style, size and habitat. The workshop also focused on the importance of objects as a source of information in their own right. In addition to the natural history workshop, the school group attended a Victorian medicine workshop, and in the afternoon put together their own displays using various objects from our museum store. The day was very successful, and the students gave some wonderful feed back. Hopefully our natural history workshop will become as popular our Victorian medicine one.

For information on the history of the Zoology Museum and its collections, and also university natural history collections in general see:

Baker, R. A. ‘The University of Leeds Natural History Collections – Part 2’, The Biology Curator, 15 (1999), pp.2-4

Baker, R. A. & Edwards, J. M. “Louis Compton Miall (1842-1921) – the origins and development of Biology at the University of Leeds”, The Linnean, 14 (3) (1998), p.40-48

24th May Education Event and Tour of Old Medical School

Monday the 24th of May saw the first in a series of school workshops to be hosted this summer by the museum. Around 15 children travelled up from Newham in London to take part in a three day stay at Leeds University that kicked off with the museum’s Victorian surgery workshop followed by a tour of the Old Medical School. The kids, who were in years ten and eleven and in the process of completing their GCSEs, had been selected as the ‘gifted and talented’ students from their respective year groups and invited to take part in this scheme.

Laura led for the first section of the workshop (a presentation about Victorian amputation) and Kiara led for the second section, ably assisted by Claire, Sue, Liz, Lawrence, Becky, and myself. The students could have been forgiven for being a bit tired after an early start and a long coach trip up from London but were instantly engaged by Laura’s ebullient delivery and were quick to answer the questions that were put to them during the presentation.

The kids also responded very well to the second section of the workshop which required them to try and deduce the uses of certain objects from our medicine collection by looking only at the object itself. Within just a few minutes (we were a bit pushed for time as the group had arrived a bit late) almost all of the groups were able to make an accurate assessment of what the object would have been used for and give strong reasons for their judgments.

Plaque outside the Old Medical School.

Plaque outside the Old Medical School.

Next it was on to the tour of the Old Medical School. After the short walk down from the Gillinson Room through the LGI and into the Old Medical School the school group and volunteers were greeted by our enthusiastic tour guide John.

The Old Medical School was opened in 1894 and operated as the site for the Medical School until as recently as 1977, when the new Worsley Medical building was opened. The building was designed by W.H. Thorp, who was also responsible for the Leeds City Art Gallery, and had many features that would have been considered technologically advanced around the turn of the twentieth-century; such as electric lighting, natural roof lighting in lecture theatres and dissecting rooms, and an ingenious steam-powered heating and ventilation system.

Old Medical School

Old Medical School.

Our tour started in the hexagonal Entrance Hall, where John pointed out the various crests of associated medical and educational institutions that adorn the walls, the Medical School’s Latin motto (which translates as ‘Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers; freely have you received, freely give’) and the stair set from which the medical students’ results would have been publicly announced.

We then moved into the Library, a splendid wood-panelled room, which is now occupied by laboratory benches and a presentation area, but was originally used as a study area for the students of the Medical School, as well as for degree ceremonies and even as a ballroom. On display in the Library are some interesting objects from the Medical School’s past, which could well be worthy of further investigation. Next, we went up to the first floor of the building and into The Anatomy Lecture Theatre, a steep amphitheatre-like room with a large roof light designed for illuminating the dissections that would have taken place in front of the medical students.

Dissecting Room, 1895.

Dissecting Room, 1895.

After this we ventured past the old dissecting room and up to the hexagonal meeting room at the top of the building. Here John told us of his successful search for evidence of a tunnel leading from the crypt of St. George’s Church directly to the basement of The Old Medical School. We then descended through the rest of the building, seeing the room in which cadavers used to be stored prior to dissection, before going into the courtyard and leaving through the gate where hearses once delivered the bodies for the use of the Medical School.

The whole afternoon was a success, especially considering it was the first time that the workshop has been held since Easter, and the tour was an interesting opportunity to see the building in which much of Leeds’ recent medical history was written, and for which thanks must go to John. The students who had travelled up from London were engaged and interested throughout both the tour and the workshop and hopefully it will encourage some of them to consider doing a degree in HPS at Leeds University and possibly even join the ranks of the museum’s volunteer team.


All information on the history of the Old Medical School taken from Bill Mathie’s excellent pamphlet entitled: A Brief Tour of the Old Medical School.

Photos from (in order):