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.
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.
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.
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.
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