Thackray Medical Museum

Thackray Medical Museum

Museum entrance
Established 1997
Location Beckett Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, England
Type Medical museum
Curator Lauren Ryall-Stockton

The Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds, West Yorkshire, England, is a museum of the history of medicine adjacent to St James's University Hospital. In 1998 it won "Museum of the Year" and has other awards including in 2004 both the "Excellence in England Small Tourist Attraction of the Year" and "Sandford Award for Heritage Education".[1]


The building is a Grade II listed building, the former Leeds Union Workhouse, which opened in 1861 (foundation stone laid 1858) to accommodate 784 paupers.[2][3] By the end of the 19th century, the buildings had become largely used for medical care of the poor, rather than workhouse and training. During the First World War it was called the East Leeds War Hospital, caring for armed services personnel.[3] The building was later known as the Ashley Wing, which was part of the hospital until the 1990s when the old Leeds Union Workhouse building was considered unfit for modern medicine. As a listed building, it could not be demolished and Parliament gave permission for it to house the Thackray Medical Museum, which opened in 1997.[4]

The museum’s origins can be traced to Great George Street, Leeds, where Charles Thackray opened a small family-run chemist shop in 1902. In less than a century the corner shop grew into one of Britain’s principal medical companies, Chas F Thackray Limited, manufacturing drugs and medical instruments and pioneering the hip replacement operation alongside Sir John Charnley.[5][6] In the 1980s Charles Thackray’s grandson Paul Thackray established a small collection as an archive of the Leeds-based medical supplies company. In 1990 a charitable trust was established to develop the collection.

Museum displays

Highlights include Leeds 1842: Life in Victorian Leeds: visitors walk through a reproduction of slum streets complete with authentic sights, sounds and smells and are invited to follow the lives, ailments and treatments of eight Victorian characters, making the choices that determine their survival amongst the rats, fleas and bedbugs. Pain, Pus and Blood describes surgery before anaesthesia, and how pain relief progressed and Having a Baby focuses on developments in safety for childbirth. Hannah Dyson's Ordeal is a video reconstruction of 1842 surgery, before anaesthetics were in use: visitors watch as a surgeon, his assistant and a group of trainee doctors prepare for Hannah Dyson's operation - the amputation of her leg after it was crushed in a mill accident. (The actual operation is not seen in the reconstruction.) The LifeZone! is an interactive children's gallery, looking at how the human body works, with a smaller room for the under-fives. The 'Recovery?' Gallery explores treatment of veterans of warfare, looking at the First World War and modern conflict medicine. There is a temporary exhibition gallery which changes annually.[7]


The Thackray Medical Museum houses a collection of over 47,000 objects from medical history which date from Roman times to the present day. The museum also cares for a collection of historical medical trade literature, which can be accessed by visitors in the museum's Library and Resource Centre by appointment. Highlights in the collection include the Wilkinson English Delftware apothecary jar display, an impressive display of early pharmaceutical jars which are all on permanent display. Also on display is Prince Albert's personal medicine chest and a selection of eighteenth and nineteenth century surgical equipment including amputation knives, saws and trepanning instruments. [8]

The Thackray Medical Museum featured in Most Haunted on 1 November 2015 on Really (TV channel).[9]

Temporary exhibitions

The Thackray Medical Museum is one of fifteen venues across the UK, Europe and Africa to have been selected by the Wellcome Trust to, simultaneously, exhibit the winning collection from the Wellcome Image Awards, 2016. The awards celebrate scientists, clinicians, photographers and artists of images that best communicate significant aspects of biomedical science. A temporary exhibition of twenty images is displayed at the Thackray Medical Museum. The display includes inside the human eye, a 3D image produced using optical coherence tomography. The image depicts blood vessels as tunnel like structures. Other images focus on bone development, the Ebola virus and engineering human liver tissue.[10]

Medicine and history lecture series

The museum offers a medicine and history lecture series which runs from October to March each year. Lectures focus on the changing nature of health and medicine. Themes explored include robot-assisted surgery and health informatics.[11]

Education and learning

Visited by 20,000 school students each year the museum delivers a series of in-classroom work and education resources, loans boxes and teacher events. The museum has been awarded the Sandford Award for Heritage Education.[12]


  1. Thackray Museum (2008) Thackray Museum Background Information
  2. Historic England. "St James Hospital Northside Building (1256272)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  3. 1 2 "St James's University Hospital". Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. Retrieved 21 June 2008.
  4. "Thackray Medical Museum". Thackray Medical Museum. 1 November 2016.
  5. "Chas. F. Thackray Limited, suppliers to the surgeons". Socialist Health Association. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
  6. "A Historical and Economic Perspective on Sir John Charnley, Chas F. Thackray Limited, and the Early Arthroplasty Industry". NCBI. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
  7. "Exhibitions - Thackray Museum - Leeds Museum". Retrieved 2 November 2016.
  8. "Library & Collections - Thackray Museum - Leeds Museum". Retrieved 2 November 2016.
  9. "Most Haunted | UKTV Play". Retrieved 26 October 2015.
  10. "Welcome Image Awards 2016". Wellcome Trust Foundation. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
  11. "Thackray Medical Museum". Thackray Medical Museum. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
  12. "Thackray Medical Museum". Thackray Medical Museum. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
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Coordinates: 53°48′29″N 1°31′06″W / 53.80806°N 1.51833°W / 53.80806; -1.51833

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