The RPS Museum is part of a wider network of medical museums and heritage organisations in London, known as the London Museums of Health and Medicine. Every year the group puts on a public event to showcase the collections of its members and, in 2019, the RPS was the host venue.
On 26 October 2019, the RPS opened its doors to around 80 visitors to get ‘Up close and medical’ with a variety of collections and activities relating to the history of medicine.
Some 13 museums and 2 libraries participated in the event, which spread over the entire ground floor space of the Society’s headquarters. The RPS brought out its pill machine for visitors to have a go at being a Victorian pharmacist.
Getting hands-on experience of how much work was involved in dispensing medicines adds an extra element to people’s understanding of pharmacy history that cannot be replicated in a static display. And the RPS Museum staff say it is always satisfying, as a museum professional, to watch people’s faces as their batches of pills roll into their trays at the end — a mixture of surprise, delight, and comprehension of how the process works.
As well as pill making, visitors learned how to insert a breathing tube into a mannequin brought by the team at the Association of Anaesthetists Heritage Centre. They also tried surgical suturing with the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons. The Science Museum brought along a range of objects to whet people’s appetites ahead of the November 2019 opening of their new medicine galleries.
Meanwhile, in the library, the RPS and Royal College of Physicians displayed some gems from their early printed book collections, including a 1485 herbal with hand-coloured illustrations — the oldest book in the RPS Library.
Feedback on the day was very positive, with many people staying the whole afternoon to visit every stall. Lots of visitors also took the opportunity to view the museum displays, which are not usually open to the public on a Saturday.
Overall it was a great success and we’re already looking forward to next year’s event!