Museum reopens with gruesome exhibits old and new

Director Chris Henry
Director Chris Henry
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ONE of the world’s foremost collections of medical artefacts will today reopen its doors after a £4 million renovation.

Surgeons’ Hall Museums, part of the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh, has undergone an extensive modernisation over the past 18 months.

The Nicolson Street attraction, which documents the history of surgical developments, will now have on display artefacts and specimens that have never been seen for close to two centuries.

Officials at the museums say the revamp – the first time the building has been radically altered since 1908 – will allow the public to learn more about anatomy, while also inspiring the next generation of surgeons.

As part of the multi-million-pound redevelopment, the number of items on show has doubled, with some high-­profile new additions.

These include a reproduction of a 17th century dissection theatre where visitors will be able to use digital technology to experience the dissection of a human body in the same way as students did 300 years ago.

Another exhibit is a full-scale “Vitruvian Man” made from medical prosthetics. Visitors will also be able to learn more about surgical specialities and operations.

These new displays will be housed alongside some of the museums’ best-known artefacts, such as a pocket book made from the skin of serial murderer William Burke, and exhibits relating to Dr Joseph Bell, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s teacher and the man who was the main inspiration for Sherlock Holmes.

Ian Ritchie, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, said: “Surgeons’ Hall Museums and its collections are a very important part of the heritage of the college and an equally important part of its future.

“Through the museums, the college can reach visitors from across the globe and inspire the next generation of surgeons.”

Originally developed as a single teaching museum for students of medicine, the museums’ pathology collection has been open to the public since 1832, making the Wohl Pathology museum which houses it Scotland’s oldest museum.

That museum is now part of a group of collections, including the History of Surgery museum and the Dental Collection, which chart the transition of medicine from perceived witchcraft through to a recognised science.

The collection opens its doors to the public today and will be officially unveiled on Monday by the Duke of Edinburgh.