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Your Insides Out: Gordon Museum, King’s College London

Published 7 April 2010

Where can one have a look at a real gunshot wound, the first stethoscope used in Britain and a baby with a third eye? The answer is the Gordon Museum – a museum based at King’s College London dedicated to pathology. The museum houses one of the largest collections of diseased bits and bobs of the human body – around 8,000 specimens – housed mainly in aged, yellow-tinged Victorian cases.

You would be forgiven for not choosing the Gordon Museum as your first port of call for a typical London museum trip. After all, the subject of pathology holds connotations with disease, illness, suffering and death. However, existing primarily as a teaching and learning resource, this pathology museum has great importance in medical education. Without collections like this, the training of our doctors would be very different today, and our healthcare would not have advanced this far this soon. Of equal importance, and perhaps more interestingly, the museum gives us a real glimpse of the inner workings of the human body. After all, it is not every day that we have an opportunity to look at and examine the physical structures that make us who we are.  According to museum curator Bill Edwards, “this is not a temple of death; it’s about the business of life. Many people have been cured because of the teaching and training that goes on in the Museum”.

If you thought the initial list of exhibits was a tad strange, you would find the entrance equally bemusing. Being one of the largest collections of anatomical models and actual pathological specimens, you’d expect a grand entrance to the museum, with a big, shiny ‘look-at-me’ building sign. However, the weird and wonderful museum can only be found behind an ordinary looking, small blue door within a teaching stairwell at the university’s Guy’s Campus. Entering the museum conjures up thoughts of Alice in Wonderland as you wonder how a room of its size exists beyond such an unassuming door!

Being much smaller than the more commercial and well-known museums in London, the Gordon Museum has a cosy and welcoming feel, despite its subject matter. The exhibits are neatly arranged into various categories – all shelved together with accompanying exhibit books. A couple of the expected categories include pancreas and liver, but more specialist categories, such as forensic medicine (which covers gunshot wounds) and congenital defects, also feature on the museum’s packed shelves. In addition to the real human specimens, there are flawlessly intricate anatomical wax models constructed in the 1800s by Joseph Towne and paintings depicting patients with unimaginable tumours and other maladies also created in 1800s by Lam Qua. Some exhibits have been taken from the first operations of their kind to be performed, and there is material that once belonged to scientists that now have diseases named after them such as Addison and Hodgkin. Edwards exclaimed, “We have surgeons who come from all over the globe, who almost cry when they see what we have”.  This alone is proof of the exclusivity of the museum and proof of the quality of the pieces the museum has obtained.

Due to the material and exhibits the Gordon Museum possesses, a visit to the Museum is extremely exciting and eye-opening. But at times, being surrounded by, put plainly, remains of the dead; the experience can be quite raw and unnerving. It’s probably for this reason that the museum is open only to the ‘medical public’ – that is doctors, nurses, dentists, and others from allied health professions, as well as students studying biomedical disciplines. If you fall into this category however, the Gordon Museum is a must-see. Never before have I been to a London museum that is so down-to-earth, touching and quaint. It really possesses a rugged charm and personal feel that other bigger and more well-known museums lack. Quite simply, the Gordon Museum is Medical London at its best.

Address: Gordon Museum, Hodgkin Building, Guy’s Campus, King’s College London, London Bridge, SE1 1UL

Getting in: Technically, the museum is only open to the medical public (such as doctors, dentists, and surgeons, allied health professionals, and students from a medical/biomedical/allied health professional course). Potential visitors should get in touch with Bill Edwards, who is the museum curator, to arrange a visit. To do so, you can reach him at 020 7188 2678, or check out the website for more information.

Getting there: The nearest Tube station is London Bridge (Jubilee/Northern Line & British Rail). Take the St. Thomas St exit to reach Guy’s Campus.

London Insider Tip: If you are unable to get in or just can’t wait to see bits and bobs of the human body, the Royal College of Surgeons have a comprehensive website gallery of anatomy specimens of the human body here.

Article Written by Lucy Pereira.

  • Trol Ling

    Trust Kings to have a baby with three eyes on display.

    I always get the feeling that the movie Pathology was based off Guy’s Campus…

    But I am intrigued, a baby with three eyes… I knew those babies were up to something, what with their superb acting, and infatuation with taste, but something as sinister as fusing a cyclops with a human?? I blame Teletubbies.

    I may visit just for the baby. Will be hilarious to show a photo of it to a child you saw grow up and say “Your parents still kept you even when you came looking like this”.