We caught up with Hayley Kruger – Acting Head of Learning and Access at The Hunterian Museum to ask a few questions.
Would you say that it was essential to have an enthusiasm for science and the history of medicine in order to enjoy The Hunterian Museum?
I would say that it is not essential – the museum appeals to people on many different levels – aesthetically, historically, scientifically. Go in any day and you might see a class of medical students being toured round by their tutor, a bunch of school children studying History of Medicine, a group of art students sketching, and lots and lots of fascinated individuals moving slowly from one case to another, marveling at the complex oddity that is the human – and the animal – body. A lively curiosity is all you need to get the most out of a visit – the displays will do the rest for you.
Have you had any customers that have found themselves ‘surprised’ by how much they enjoyed their visit?
We have had people describe themselves as ‘hugely impressed’ and ‘amazed’ by our collections. Visitors generally have an idea of what we have in the museum before they come so they are not often surprised by it in that way – but people have said how much they enjoyed their visit because of the presentation and display and well as the sheer variety in the collections. Sometimes if someone has accompanied a family member – say to a child-friendly event – so they might not have ordinarily visited us, they will often mention that they had not been before but would certainly come again to have more time to view the collections.
What five words would you use to describe the museum to someone who hadn’t heard of it?
Unique, fascinating, challenging, unexpected, inspiring.
Would you say it was the type of place that you could ‘lose yourself’ in?
Very much so – every time I go in I spot something that I haven’t seen before and I only spend a little actual time down there most days when I’m not running an event. I can only imagine what it must be like for a visitor with time to spare.
Do you have a favourite exhibit? Does there seem to be a favoured exhibit for the customers?
Mine is the Surinam Toad which represents for me a link with one of Gerald Durrell’s fantastic animal collecting books that I read as a child but each visitor gets something different out of the exhibits and displays that will be unique to them. Obviously the human remains elements of the collections are particularly fascinating to visitors as they cannot often see them elsewhere.
The museum’s array of exhibits is startling well laid out and themed – given its density this is surprising – is there anything that you worry may get overlooked?
There are some wonderful things in the museum which have stories behind them that may not be immediately obvious but I never worry about things being ‘overlooked’. A flying visit won’t show you everything but will leave you wanting more and return visitors are great because they will inevitably bring a friend who is coming for the first time, and when they come back…! People find the things that personally interest them and in doing so are drawn to the object next to it, and so on. To have fewer objects on display would destroy the ‘wow-factor’ that people experience when they visit for the first time. The fact that the collection is so huge is part of the story that it tells – that of John Hunter’s lifelong collecting zeal and the value of these specimens to the individuals who would have studied from them when the museum was still the College of Surgeons’ major teaching collection.
We personally liked the way the museum charts historical and scientific developments simultaneously – was this always the intention, to show how things ‘work’ hand in hand?
Surgery has made huge advances over the centuries to become the skilled academic and scientific profession that we recognise it as today. From changes in the way surgeons are trained through to the designs of the instruments they use, every step of this hugely important journey has been underpinned by our increasing understanding of the world around us and our own bodies through scientific endeavours and breakthroughs. In order to tell the story, it has to be put within the context of our scientific understanding and the many historical events that prompted changes especially wars and conflict that historically have proved decisive in the development of new and improved surgical techniques for dealing with injuries.
Would you say that the historical value of the museum can still be appreciated even if the scientific elements are not really ‘your thing’?
Absolutely – you can’t fail but to be impressed by the single-minded nature of John Hunter in building up his magnificent collections and the very fact that over 200 years on, these specimens are still here today. We also have paintings, portraits and sculptures related to the collections as well as such unusual items as Winston Churchill’s denture and a false nose worn by a lady who lost her own to syphilis.
How much time would you suggest to allocate for a visit here?
Most people reckon that it takes a couple of hours to do us justice but even a short visit will give you a sense of the scope and purpose of the museum.
If you have had the pleasure of visiting this museum we would love to know what you thought?
*The Hunterian Museum is the second in our ‘Quirky Finds’ London series, showcasing interesting places to visit during your ‘free time’ on our London breaks.*