The Wellcome Collection is, they seek to claim, a destination for the incurably curious. And a mere 900 days after drawing up my list of 100 Things to do in London within a year, latent curiosity struck. It was certainly nothing to do with an unsuccessful mission to find a case for my new phone on Edgware Road, ending up sulky, and deciding to pop in when I walked past it on my way home.
The Wellcome Collection is based on two floors; the permanent articles reside upstairs meanwhile, on the ground floor, a temporary exhibition is concubine to the cafe, gift shop, and branch of Blackwell’s bookshop. My companion for the afternoon, @njb, is a frequent visitor to the Wellcome Collection. Although conceding it is expensive, he made the point that the cafe ‘absolutely smashes it’ and the bookshop has ‘excellent books about London’. After a perusal of the cafe price list, the universally sated faces, and the shelves of Blackwell’s, I’m inclined to agree.
Until the 24th February, the temporary exhibition is the somewhat morbid ‘Death: A self-portrait’. Assembled by Richard Harris, a Chicago-based curator of the macabre, the exhibition explores attitudes to death. Skulls, masks, paintings. An interactive computer system for people to leave their thoughts and memories about death. Not really somewhere to lurk with the new year blues, even if you end up accidentally reading about someone’s late mother’s shopping list. It was written a day before she’d died, apparently, and left in the usual place on the mantelpiece.
For me, the most striking article in the Deadibition was a wall-sized hub-and-spoke diagram (with proportional hubs) showing causes of death in the last century. Snakes won it, by a long way, for the animal kingdom. Claire is evidently right to be wary of them. And, although war and famine made noble efforts, cardiovascular diseases and infectious diseases completely smashed it out of the park. Nothing else came close to those two titans of termination.
Upstairs, the permanent exhibition contains all manner of 19th and 20th century medical devices. Amongst hundreds of other bits, you’ll see a Victorian dentist’s chair, an opium pipe (for purely medicinal purposes, you understand), and a selection of surgeons’ weapons. ‘Tools’ doesn’t do their majesty and stature justice. You might also see a heavily tattooed and pierced Dutchman taking photographs. Around the corner, there’s a behemoth of a machine that was used to do some DNA stuff at the Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research. It runs Windows 95:
Entry is free. A good way to spend a couple of hours, particularly if you can get on one of the free guided tours. @njb highly recommends the one on dentistry. Being somewhat odontophobic, I don’t.
(The new phone is an LG Nexus 4, since you ask. Hat-tip to Martin for recommending the excellent Yoshie & Nico. They supplied a good quality case and screen protectors, in a timely manner, for a most reasonable price.)