Thackray Medical Museum is in Leeds in West Yorkshire, in the building that was once the Leeds Union Workhouse. It was re-opened in 1997 as a medical museum by the Thackray family, founders of a world-famous medical supplies company – the building once manufactured hip replacement joints and instruments for renowned hip replacement pioneer Sir John Charnley. It now houses exhibits of medical history and is a great place to learn about medicine and its impact on modern life.
Thackray Medical Museum is on Beckett Street in Leeds. There is a pay and display car park right out front. We had no problem finding a space though we did get there not long after the museum had opened. If you travel by bus, keep your bus ticket as you get a reduction on the entrance price.
The museum is open every day from 10am to 5pm, apart from Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Day. It has late night opening until 8.30pm every third Thursday of the month.
What is there to see at Thackray Medical Museum?
Thackray Medical Museum has a host of exhibits on lots of different themes. Some of these are child-friendly, and some not so much, but they are all interesting and will all help you to understand the history of modern medicine.
We started our tour of the museum by going the wrong way around. We suspected that we were going the wrong way round as the chronology of the exhibition didn’t make sense, and there were more people coming towards us than going with us. There is a proper place to start so your journey makes more sense. It is signposted (we missed it), and if you’re not sure, ask. Don’t forget to collect a map on the way in too as it’s most helpful.
The 1842 Street gallery
The right place to start is in the Introduction Gallery, which tells you the story of the olden days and gives you examples of how things used to be done, health and hygiene wise. The 1842 Street gallery is proper grim, but that’s the point. It shows you, in model form, what a 19th-century British urban street would have looked (and smelled) like. You can collect a character card on the way in, and look out for your character in the street scenes. You get to find out what happens to them at the end. Hint* they’re mostly stories of premature death caused by something suitably horrid like Cholera or TB.
The children really engaged with this part of the museum, even though they did say it was smelly and a bit scary.
After this section, we were told about how Victorians treated their illnesses and how modern medicine developed from discoveries by scientists, such as how germs spread. We also found out that people used to use toads and snails to treat illnesses, and that it was thought that riding a donkey in a circle could treat whooping cough.
We headed upstairs. – there is a lift if you need one!
Pain, Pus & Blood
Our first foray into the upstairs galleries was in Pain, Pus & Blood. This was the one that convinced the teen that a career in medicine was not for her. There were lots to look at in this section and be warned, there are a couple of grown-up pictures that amused my children immensely. Some of the galleries in this section are grisly. Tales of surgery, blood and other bodily fluids surround activities where you can test your strength and steady hand and see if you could have a career as a surgeon.
We skipped the animated show Hannah Dyson’s Ordeal – a recreation of the amputation of a limb from a factory girl. It looked at least mildly horrific.
The twins liked the section on X-rays, and there was a lightboard here where you could interact a little and see how X-rays work.
Having a Baby
We did enjoy the Having a Baby gallery. I liked the very decent collection of baby extraction instruments, such as forceps, and the youngest children liked caring for the baby dolls. This gallery is more about childbirth and maternal health than how babies are made. The vintage incubator raised a few questions. The twins said this was their favourite part of the museum.
Just next door was a gallery on dentistry, which was small but had a vintage dentists chair, and a decent collection of dentures and falsies.
Another part of the upstairs collection was dedicated to medicine in war. The girls didn’t enagage with any of this so we didn’t dwell long in here. There is however, a nice display of prosthetic limbs and some fantastic images of facial reconstruction.
Back downstairs, and we headed through the gift shop and cafe to LifeZone. This is the truly child-friendly part and we spent around an hour of our three hour trip in this part alone.
There are interactive games where you can measure your reaction times, test your sight and nasal organs, and weigh yourself. You can also wiggle your bum and see how your spine works.
The best bit of this (according to the children) was the zone where you followed the path of food – in through a mouth, through a giant intestine (where you got to find out how long an intestine really is using a rope), and out through the ‘exit’. We learned about trumps and wee, which of course, is the best thing ever.
Here are some facts about wee for you, in case you didn’t know already.
Pus and Pimples SFX Workshop
While I was checking out back passages with the twins, the older two were taking part in a workshop. Here they learned how to use stage make-up techniques to recreate the plague, gangrene, and smallpox. It really was gruesome and messy, and they had a lot of fun. This is available during October/November 2018 half-term and costs £3 extra per child. They were in there for 45 minutes. I think this is great value for what they did.
Thackray in LEGO(r) bricks
Currently, Thackray are raising money to save the museum for future generations to enjoy. They are recreating their Grade II listed building out of LEGO. Can you donate £1 to add a brick?
You can learn more at https://www.thackraymedicalmuseum.co.uk/thackray-in-lego-bricks/ and you can follow their progress over on Twitter @ThackrayinLego
Look out for famous medical icons recreated in LEGO throughout the museum!
About Thackray Medical Museum
- Your entrance ticket will last a full year. Ask when you buy it what you need to do to turn your day ticket into an annual pass.
- Visit time – the website says 3-4 hours, which I would say is about right
- There are toilets, baby changing, and disabled facilities.
- There is a cafe and a very extensive gift shop.
- Don’t forget to use Gift Aid – the museum is a charity and can claim back 25p for every £1 you spend.
There are lots of events coming up at Thackray Medical Museum – check out their what’s on guide on their website for more info – https://www.thackraymedicalmuseum.co.uk/whatson/
Disclosure – we were guests of Thackray Medical Museum. All opinion is our own.
Want to keep up to date with our family days out? Sign up for our newsletter