The Brilliant (And Gruesome) Hunterian Museum Is Finally Reopening

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 12 months ago
The Brilliant (And Gruesome) Hunterian Museum Is Finally Reopening

Discover more London museums and galleries that opening and reopening in 2023.

Glass cabinets full of curiosities - with a skeleton standing in the middle
The Hunterian Museum is among the first to reopen in 2023. Image: StoneColdCrazy in creative commons

A beloved (albeit somewhat gruesome) central London museum finally reopens this May — yes, the Hunterian is back.

Closed since 2019, the Hunterian, in Lincoln's Inn Fields, is an eye-opening collection of the anatomical and the surgical — a curious, unsettling place where glass cases bristle with dissected toads, sections of spinal cord and half of Charles Babbage's brain. Brawn and bone is everywhere you turn, and while the experience is undoubtedly fascinating, you probably don't want to visit immediately before going to Hawksmoor for ribs.

Various medical objects on display in glass cases
Image: Huntarian/RCS

Following a £4.6 million redesign by Casson Mann (museum specialists who've worked everywhere from the V&A to Nottingham Castle), the Hunterian reopens on 16 May 2023. Its new look includes a permanent installation of Concourse (2), one of a series of Barbara Hepworth drawings of surgical teams. There is also a new 10-minute time-lapse film of an orthopaedic operation, showing the ballet-like choreography of surgical staff. One thing that won't be on display is the skeleton of 'Irish Giant' Charles Byrne, which has been removed from public view, but remains available for medical research. As before, entry to the museum is free.

Named for the great 18th century surgeon and anatomist John Hunter, the Hunterian contains 14,000 specimens and preparations of Hunter's, and tells the history of surgery using various instruments, drawings, models and the like. Much of this was Hunter's private collection until he died in 1793 (the rumour is he accidentally gave himself syphilis), when it was handed to the Royal College of Surgeons, then became a museum in 1813.

An image of surgeons at work
Concourse (2) by Barbara Hepworth, 1948; Barbara Hepworth © Bowness

In its time, the Hunterian has been a place for research both good and bad. Charles Darwin came here for advice on fossils he'd discovered to help progress his theory on evolution. The Hunterian is also where certain Westerners developed sinister ideas on racial theory. All this is covered in the revamped experience.

Hunterian Museum, Lincoln's Inn Fields, reopens 16 May 2023, free

Last Updated 14 April 2023

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