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Surgeons' Hall Museums Reopens Today!

24 September 2015

One of the UK’s oldest and most unique group of museums reopens today having been closed for 18 months to undergo a £4 million transformation. Surgeons’ Hall Museums (SHM), part of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, houses one of the largest and most historic collections of artefacts charting the history and development of surgery. The collections include surgical instruments and artworks and one of the largest collections of anatomical specimens in the world. These specimens are displayed in the Wohl Pathology Museum, which is located within the iconic building designed by William Playfair in 1832.


All of the exhibits which have made SHM world-famous will be back on display: including a pocket book made from the skin of the infamous murderer, William Burke; and exhibits relating to Dr Joseph Bell, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s teacher and main inspiration for Sherlock Holmes, the highlight of which is a letter from the author crediting his mentor as such.


The reopened SHM, whose transformation has been supported by a £2.7m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, will also feature even more interactive and display exhibits, which will help visitors from all around the world discover the stories and breakthroughs that have shaped modern surgical practice.


Mr Ian Ritchie, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, commented:


“Surgeons’ Hall Museums and its collections are a very important part of the heritage of the College and an equally important part of its future. We feel keenly our responsibility to educate and inform the public as part of our commitment to patient care and professional standards. Through SHM, the College can reach visitors from across the globe and inspire the next generation of surgeons. Thanks to the generous support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and our many Fellows and Members who have contributed to the project, the new SHM will help us to reach even more people. We are also very grateful to the Maurice Wohl Charitable Foundation whose significant financial support of this project has enabled us to open much of the collection, housed in the newly-renamed Wohl Pathology Museum, to the public for the first time in nearly 200 years.”


Surgeons’ Hall Museums will be officially opened by the College’s Patron, His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, on Monday 28th September. The public will be able to visit from today, 24th September. New exhibits include a reproduction of a 17th century dissection theatre where visitors will be able to experience a dissection of a human body just as medical students did 300 years ago: unlike 300 years ago, however, the dissection will be carried out using the latest digital technology. Another exhibit is a full-scale Vitruvian man made from medical prosthetics. Visitors will also be able to try their hand at a variety of surgical techniques and learn more about surgical specialties and operations.


The new SHM will also have a new, dedicated education suite to increase opportunities for learning for a range of audiences including schools, colleges, universities, community groups, families and adult learners.


Originally developed as a single teaching museum for students of medicine, SHM's fascinating pathology collection has been open to the public since 1832, making the Wohl Pathology Museum Scotland's oldest museum. That original museum is now part of a group of museums and collections,  including the History of Surgery Museum and The Dental Collection, which chart the transition of medicine from perceived witchcraft through to a recognised science, and share with the general public the historical journey of surgery and its advances, unimaginable to patients a mere century ago.


As the RCSEd Director of Heritage Mr Chris Henry explains, the enhanced SHM also has an important remit to encourage visitors to think about their own health and wellbeing:


“As a College and through our collections, we are committed to bringing information and artefacts to the public to allow them to understand more about surgical principles and processes and about the human body itself.  We are therefore delighted to be reopening our doors after a year and a half of extensive redevelopment so that the public can explore our exciting new displays and galleries and, ultimately, know their own bodies.”


Expanding on the challenge of undertaking such a complex redevelopment, Mr Henry continues:


”The SHM collections are quite unique in their content and in that they are displayed in a building originally constructed to house them nearly 200 years ago. This was a major challenge of the redevelopment project, to enhance the public space within the Museums and to ensure accessibility across all areas, whilst maintaining the integrity of the William Playfair-designed building which forms the Wohl Pathology Museum.


“This refurbishment was the first time the building had been radically altered since 1908, and it has allowed us to double the number of items we put on show, creating exciting, new, engaging exhibitions with innovative educational audio-visual and interactive elements. We hope previous visitors are impressed with the transformation and vast improvements that have been made and look forward to welcoming new visitors to the Museums for what we hope will be a rewarding and stimulating experience.”


Dame Seona Reid, Chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Scotland Committee (HLF), said:

“The SHM has undergone a glorious transformation which will surprise and delight all those who cross its magnificent pillared entrance. A new addition to Scotland’s portfolio of ‘must-see’ visitor attractions, it contains some of the most fascinating and intriguing artefacts in the world. It is thanks to players of the National Lottery that SHM will entertain, educate and enlighten many thousands of people from home and abroad for years to come.”


Surgeons’ Hall Museums will be open to the public from 10am to 5pm, seven days a week from today.

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