Wellcome Collection Museum
The Wellcome Collection Museum, named after pioneering 19th century pharmacist Sir Henry Wellcome, is the destination for the incurably curious.
The Medicine Man gallery introduces the visitor to Henry Wellcome — an extraordinary character whose entrepreneurial flair took him from humble American log cabin origins to millionaire pharmaceutical business giant and philanthropist.
Along the way Wellcome also found time to run major archaeological digs, pioneer aerial photography and amass a one million strong collection of medical and cultural artefacts, 500 of which are displayed here. The offbeat cross-section of material takes in everything from serried ranks of amputation saws to 18th-century nipple shields, from Napoleon's toothbrush to a Peruvian mummy, and it's hard not to conclude that Henry Wellcome must have had terrific fun amassing this stuff. Although the apparently random material is tamed into a dozen or so categories such as 'Beginning of Life', 'Understanding the Body', 'Votive Offerings' and 'Masks', there's still a cabinet of curiosity feel about the gallery which is entirely in keeping with the ethos of the collection.
There's typically macabre medical humour here too — a dentist's chair and a birthing chair are displayed alongside a torture chair made from razor sharp blades, hinting darkly at the affinity between healthcare and torture. Detailed information about the exhibits are discretely tucked away behind doors set into the wooden wall panelling or in pull-out drawers — a stylish and intelligent touch that lets these extraordinary objects speak for themselves first.
The Medicine Now gallery looks at science and medicine since Wellcome's death in 1936, concentrating on the key topics such as obesity, genomes, and the body. Ethical dilemmas generated by scientific advances such as the decoding of human DNA are tackled head on while a selection of contemporary art works offer a different take on the issues under debate.
A third gallery houses challenging temporary exhibitions on medical subjects, explored from different scientific, social and cultural perspectives. The new Reading Room opened in February 2015 and offers yet another space for exploration and contemplation and is an elegant re-imagining of a gallery, library and events space.
Furnished with medical artefacts and medically themed artworks (both historic and contemporary, including some with quite gruesome subject matter) and lined with over 1000 books, the Reading Room is stylishly kitted out with arm chairs, sofas and beanbags to make an inviting space in which to further explore the mysteries of what it is to be human.