Skeletons, Sketches And Serial Killers: The Royal London Hospital Museum

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 13 months ago
Skeletons, Sketches And Serial Killers: The Royal London Hospital Museum

Turner. Fitzgerald. Adelaide. Just some of the names that greet us on memorial stones at the entrance of this little-known museum. The names won't mean much to most Londoners today, but Whitechapel's hospital would be very different without them.

The Royal London Hospital Museum is exactly that — a museum dedicated to the history of the hospital which, in various incarnations, has stood in Whitechapel since the 1750s. It's located in the hospital grounds, in a crypt to be precise, a small stretch of wasteland separating the redbrick church from the 21st century glass hospital building.

On a Wednesday lunchtime, we've got the place to ourselves. It's a modern museum, and tells the story of various aspects of the hospital's history; medical advances that took place here, the history of nursing, the development of the surrounding area, and the politics of the NHS. A TV in the centre works its way through a playlist of short films and medical documentaries.

One of the headline artefacts is a replica of the Elephant Man (aka Joseph Merrick)'s skeleton. He was treated at the hospital by surgeon Frederick Treves, who later went on to operate on King Edward VII at Buckingham Palace.

Treves bent the usual hospital rules to allow Merrick to be an inmate at the hospital for life — he died here in 1890. Merrick's hat and veil are also on display:

Another of the big exhibits is a display relating to the local Jack the Ripper murders. Well, this is Whitechapel — did you really think you were going to get away without a mention?

Photographs of a letter sent to Dr Openshaw, Pathological Curator at the London Hospital, and signed Jack the Ripper, sit alongside a plan of the Mitre Square area, where the body of Catherine Eddowes was found.

The squeamish will find plenty to repulse them. Fancy having your teeth knocked out by this 19th century tooth key?

What about this 18th century amputation knife and saw — used without anaesthetic? Yeeouch.

More advanced medical technology is on display too — after all, it was, as a plaque tells us, the "first hospital to inaugurate an X-ray department working on a systematic basis".  

King George V made full use of these medical advances — this UV lamp was used to treat him in 1928-9.

Directly below the lamp sits this intriguing bit of kit. Our 21st century mind wonders whether it's the world's first microwave or games console — it's actually an X-ray unit dating back to 1934.

Even visitors with little interest in science and medicine will be intrigued by artefacts relating to the local area, such as this map of 'the Parish of St Mary White Chappel' in 1755:

And this drawing of the projected New London Hospital, doodled in 1752 a few years before it was built, back when Whitechapel was nearly all fields.

Royal London Hospital Museum, Newark Street, E1 2AA. Usually open Tuesday-Friday, 10am-4.30pm. Entry is free, donations are encouraged.

Last Updated 30 March 2017