The Wellcome Collection is the Best Museum You Don’t Know About

The Wellcome Collection is the Best Museum You Don’t Know About

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Hello from London. It’s my third day here, and despite having been here many years ago, I’ve been able to see a lot of new things I didn’t get to check out on my first trip. Yesterday I came across a building that said The Wellcome Collection. I wonder “is this some kind of art gallery, or a misspelled centre for visitors?” I decided to check it out.

London can be pricey (especially when going from the Canadian $ to the British £ …ouch), but a lot of museums and galleries here are free. That includes The Wellcome Collection. In the lobby, I hear an announcement about a free 20-minute tour starting in a couple of minutes. Great luck; I joined the tour to see what this place is about.

What is The Wellcome Collection?

The Wellcome Collection isn’t an art gallery (although it has some art). It is a quirky museum that contains the collection of Henry Wellcome who was a British pharmaceutical entrepreneur. He was the first person to bring the medicine tablet (pill) to Britain instead of the old-timey way of having people mix powders and tonics in their home when they were sick. Wellcome was born in the 1850s and was a pretty eccentric character, as I learned on this tour.

Picture of Henry Wellcome. Eccentric? Just a bit.

Like the stereotypical picture of a wealthy and eccentric British man in the 19th century, Wellcome collected all sorts of stuff from auctions. He had an interest in medicine and healthcare, so there were a lot of items relating to those topics. After he died in the 1930s much of his collection was auctioned off, but some remained here, and so the Wellcome Collection was started. A trust was also formed that funds medical research.

Tour of The Medicine Man Gallery

When I got to The Wellcome Collection I learned there would be a tour starting of The Medicine Man Gallery. This has information about Henry Wellcome and his collection. Be sure to check at the front desk when you arrive to see when the next tour takes place as they’re held throughout the day. If you miss a tour, you can pick up a free audio guide for the Medicine Man Gallery that will tell you about some of the items in the gallery.

Wellcome collected all sorts of items include a horsehair toothbrush belonging to Napoleon. Apparently, Napoleon was fond of licorice, and his teeth rotted out. So Napoleon tried this new dental practice (at the time) of brushing his teeth instead of getting all his teeth ripped out of his mouth. Napoleon’s toothpaste was apparently opium-based, so he probably never had a toothache. Here are some more of the items in The Wellcome Collection.

Metal nose at The Wellcome Collection. I guess nose jobs are older than I thought.
It wasn’t just medicinal and health-related items Wellcome collected. Here is a Buddhist Shrine he had from Japan.
This trepanned skull is the oldest item in the collection. Trepanning was a surgical practice where a hole would be drilled into a person’s skull to get rid of headaches, cure epilepsy, etc. Luckily we don’t have to do this anymore.
Some of the artwork collected by Henry Wellcome. The large painting at the top is Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. The original is at The Prado Museum in Madrid The black and white picture below shows the early days of triage car during a war.
This is a mummy of a 15-year-old boy (from current research) who was a member of the Chimu peoples. They lived in present-day Peru until they were conquered by the Inca. There are no living descendants of the Chimu.
The two canes in the front belonged to Charles Darwin. The one metal box didn’t actually go to Mount Everest, but the small box did go to the Arctic.

Other Galleries

Outside the Medicine Man gallery are two more galleries. One is the Modern Medicine Gallery, which (like its name implies) talks about our current knowledge in healthcare and medicine. There is also a temporary exhibit gallery. While I was there this gallery featured the States of Mind, which explores (through art) the relationship between our mind and science, and how it has evolved. Plus they have a library and reading room with books about different topics about medicine and healthcare. These two galleries you explore at your own pace.

Modern Medicine showcases displays relating to our current understanding of health and medicine.

Having had no previous idea this place even existed The Wellcome Collection was undoubtedly a welcomed (haha) while I was in London. I don’t know much about healthcare or medicine, but I found this museum a lot of fun to explore. As an added bonus while there were some people it wasn’t as busy than some of the other more prominent museums and galleries I’ve visited in London.

Things To Know
The Wellcome Collection is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm (open until 10 pm on Thursdays). Admission is free, but donations are accepted. The Wellcome Collection is located at 183 Euston Road. If you are taking the Tube get off at Euston Square and exit on Euston Street.
While in London I stayed at the YHA St. Pancras Hostel. Located within a two-minute walk of the St. Pancras/Kings Cross station this was an affordable accommodation option for budget travellers. Of course, if you aren’t on a budget there are plenty of great hotels in London you can book here.

Have you ever heard of the Wellcome Collection? What’s your favourite museum in London?

19 thoughts on “The Wellcome Collection is the Best Museum You Don’t Know About”

  1. Primitive medicine was so crazy. It makes me think I am so glad I am alive today! You had some fascinating facts, especially about Napoleon. It’s cool that he made and effort to brush his teeth, but added opium. I’ll put this on my list for next time I am in London.

  2. The title of this post is very apt! I have definitely never heard of this museum, and it seems like such an interesting place to visit! How did you come across it? (And agreed about converting Canadian to pounds. So expensive!!)

  3. Isn’t it great when you stumble on something so randomly like that. You were so lucky to time it with the free tour. I would have thought Wellcome was misspelt as well lol

  4. Wow. i love museums! We also have a lot of museums in PH but not like this! I really fond this prettu interesting. Hoping to visit someday

  5. London is such a huge city with so much to do I can totally understand if you hadn’t heard of this museum. It’s definitely a great place to check out if you wanna play tourist in London. Thanks for the comment. 🙂

  6. Whenever people say something like “I wish I could live in 18th century England” I’m like “nope, because today we access to better healthcare and a higher standard of living.” It was really interesting to learn about the primitive medicine. I highly recommend a visit to this museum the next time you’re in London.

  7. Honestly I came across it just wandering around. I went in thinking I’d get to lecture someone on a grammatical error, but I got to learn about a really interesting man, and medical history in Britain. And I really wish the Canadian dollar was stronger, but visiting free museums in London, like this one, certainly helps stretch the money a bit.

  8. It was such a strange collection to see. Even the other exhibits in this museum were really interesting to see. If you’re in London it’s a pretty neat place to visit.

  9. This museum certainly was different, and I loved that it was free (although most of the museums in London are free, so that’s nice). Thanks for the comment Kathy.

  10. I just came across it when wandering around the neighborhood. I lucked out finding it. I’ve heard about the Museum of Broken Relationships, but I couldn’t remember where it was. When I go to Zagreb I’ll definitely be checking that out. Thanks for the comment Maja.

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