The Wellcome Collection in London | The Best Museum You’ve Never Heard of

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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 this building that says The Wellcome Collection. Is it some kind of art gallery? 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 join the tour to see what this place is about.

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 1850’s and was a pretty eccentric character, as I learned on this tour.

Picture of Henry Wellcome. Eccentric? Just a bit.

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 interest in medicine and healthcare, so there was 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.

Wellcome had all sorts of items in his collection such as 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. Napolean’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 in London, UK.

Metal nose at The Wellcome Collection. I guess nose jobs are older than I thought.

A Buddhist Shrine from Japan at Wellcome Collection, London.

It wasn’t just medicinal and health-related items Wellcome collected. Here is a Buddhist Shrine he had from Japan.

Trephinated skull at Wellcome Collection in London, UK.

This trephinated skull is the oldest item in the collection. Trephination was a surgical practice where a whole would be drilled into a person’s skull to get rid of headaches, cure epilepsy, etc. Luckily we don’t have to do that anymore.

 Art at the Wellcome Collection in London, UK.

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, Spain. The black and white picture below shows the early days of triage car during a war.

Mummy of a Chimu boy at the Wellcome Collection in London, UK.

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.

Charles Darwin's canes at The Wellcome Collection in London, UK.

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.

The tour of The Medicine Man Gallery (the gallery specifically about Henry Wellcome and his collection) was excellent. Check at the front desk when you arrive to see when the next tour is because they are held throughout the day. If you do 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.

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. Right now this gallery features the States of Mind, which explores (through art) the relationship between our mind science and how that has evolved. Plus they have library and reading room with books about different topics about medicine and healthcare.

Modern Medicine Gallery at The Wellcome Collection.

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

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

Things You Should Know
The Wellcome Gallery is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm (open until 10pm 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. For more information including hours of operation go here.
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.

19 comments on “The Wellcome Collection in London | The Best Museum You’ve Never Heard of

    • 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. 🙂

  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.

    • 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.

  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!!)

    • 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.

    • 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.

  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

    • 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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