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.
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.
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.
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.