Wellcome to London

Day one in London = museum number one: the Wellcome Collection. I was extremely excited to see this collection after reading up about it last year. The wonderful and bizarre contents inside did not disappoint. To give a little history Sir Henry Wellcome was a pharmaceutical entrepreneur and a keen collector of medical artefacts. His collection was first exhibited around the end of the Victorian era. It is now owned by the Wellcome Trust. There is a permanent exhibit as well as temporary ones that change from time to time.

I arrived around 10.25 am and was lucky enough to get a spot on a free guided tour of their semi-new forensics exhibition. It was marvellous. Do yourself a favour and look up Frances Gleaner Lee and her crime scene doll houses. She virtually revolutionised crime scene management using doll house models to teach up-and-coming police men how to look for clues and how to not tamper with evidence. What a remarkable woman. One of the models was on display and the level of detail Ms Lee went to is second to none. For example in the living room of the scene was a newspaper. Although just the front page is on display to the naked eye, each page has been filled out to be as accurate as possible.


After the scene of the crime we walked through the morgue. A lovely Royal Doulton ceramic autopsy table was the highlight for me! Finally, we learnt a bit about DNA and the general development of forensic science. It was a fantastic exhibit and thanks to our tour guide it was so enjoyable to see.

Besides this temporary exhibit I loved the section called “The Medical Man”. Do not go in if you have a weak stomach. There are some pretty full-on objects including an entire case of medical saws and equipment. The audio guide at the entrance was really good and provides a great introduction. I want to focus on two objects that caught my attention and interested me the most.

The first were the moccasins belonging to Florence Nightingale. These were beautifully embroidered and in such good condition. It is believed that they were a gift – never worn in the operating theatres but in her own quarters. The condition indicates this strongly.

Moccasins belonging to Florence Nightingale.
Moccasins belonging to Florence Nightingale.

The other object that fascinated me were two pieces of preserved skin with tattoos on them. Oh they were wonderful! And with a further 298 skin tattoo samples in the museum I would love to delve into this collection. Gemma Angel has completed her PHD on this topic of tattooed skin preservation and I cannot wait to see her conclusions. There is no clear reason why these tattoos were collected – some thought you could link tattoos to criminals so kept them for further examination. Whatever the reason they make for fascinating objects in a museum and well worth seeing!

Two pieces of tattooed human skin.
Two pieces of tattooed human skin.

The other exhibition spaces were small but full of lots of information. I spent around two hours here which I felt was plenty of time to see and experience the whole thing. There is also a solid book shop at the end if you want any more information on the collection or on forensic science.

Entrance to the Museum


The Medical Man

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