Family Outings: Thackray Medical Museum, Leeds

Make friends with your inner boa constrictor
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The Independent Travel

What is it?

What is it?

Home to a vivid and sometimes graphic display of things medical from the past 150 years. The building started out as Leeds Union Workhouse. (Don't be fooled by the stately entrance - this was just for visitors; the inmates had to use a side door well away from public view.)

The museum was set up in 1997 by Paul Thackray, founder of Thackray Instruments. A £3m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund helped to create a multi-award-winning project.

Where is it?

Next to St James's Hospital, Beckett St, Leeds LS9 7LN (0113-244 4343; www.thackraymuseum.org).

Something for children?

The museum is awash with fascinating facts. For example, coiled inside us like a sleeping boa constrictor is a 9m labyrinth of intestines. And, unfortunately for neurosurgeons, our brains smell like a ripe blue cheese.

The recreation of Leeds' Victorian slums, including smells and sounds, is an eye-opener. The poorest families shared a bare floor with chickens and pigs. Children can find out how poverty and deprivation affected people by "adopting" a character and discovering how they fare. James Wilson, a servant boy who contracts diphtheria after drinking infected milk, for example, and fragile Mary Holmes, a dressmaker struck down by tuberculosis.

Something for adults?

The exhibit Pain, Pus and Blood has a macabre fascination. The gruesome spectacle in the operating theatre is based on the case notes of an 11-year-old mill girl, Hannah Poynton, admitted to Leeds General Infirmary in 1824, her leg having been caught in machinery. Amputation was considered to be the only chance of saving her life. The procedure, right down to Hannah's cries, is harrowing stuff. Half of those undergoing major surgery in those days would die of blood loss, shock or infection, as did Hannah. Videos of modern techniques such as keyhole surgery show how far we have come.

The apothecary's shop is intriguing. Sciatica was treated with a compound featuring boiled earthworms soaked in olive oil, while tincture of myrrh was prescribed for asthma, and as for whooping cough, well, the answer was to ride a donkey seven times in a circle.

I'm hungry

There's a simple café on site.

Can I buy a souvenir?

Along with skeleton key rings, the museum bookshop has titles ranging from Thackray Museum Secret Guide, aimed at seven- to 10-year-olds, to more erudite titles such as Obstetric Forceps: Its History and Evolution.

How do I get there?

By car: at junction 43 of the M1 join the M621 and get off at junction 4, follow the signs for Harrogate and St James's Hospital. The museum car park is £1.

By public transport: from Leeds city centre take the number 11 bus from Vicar Lane, or numbers 41 or 50 from the Headrow.

Will there be queues?

Unlikely.

Admission: The museum is open from 10am-5pm, last entry 3pm. Entrance costs adults £4.90, children £3.50, family ticket (two adults, three children aged five to 16 years) £16.

Disabled access: There are free parking spaces for orange badge holders. Carers are admitted free. There is full access to both floors via a lift. A wheelchair is available, if booked in advance.

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