The museum, based in a working hospital in the City of London, exhibits objects and archives dating back to the 12th century, from the hospital's unique historical collections, and gives visitors the opportunity to view two vast and spectacular paintings by William Hogarth. Visitors can also enjoy the famous 18th century hospital square, designed by James Gibbs.
Displays include original and facsimile archives dating back to the 12th century, among them the agreement between Henry VIII and the City of London which refounded the hospital. Henry’s signature can be seen in the top left-hand corner. This magnificent document, complete with the Great Seal of Henry VIII, is one of the most important treasures of the hospital.
The oldest document in the hospital archives is Rahere’s grant of 1137, and a facsimile can be seen in the museum. Sealed in the presence of Rahere, the founder of St Bartholomew's, this deed has remained in the hospital ever since, except perhaps during the Fire of London in 1666. Visitors to the museum can enjoy a short film about the life and travels of Rahere, and how he came to found the hospital which still operates from the same site in Smithfield today.
Objects from the hospital’s unique historical collections are also exhibited, including works of art, and surgical and medical equipment used in the hospital. Visitors can view a case of amputation instruments which belonged to John Abernethy, surgeon to the hospital in 1815-27, and the tools of the apothecary’s trade, including pill-making equipment, scales and drug bottles.
Visitors can learn about William Harvey, physician to St Bartholomew's from 1609-43 and discoverer of the circulation of the blood. The patients’ diet in earlier times is explained, and a volume of 19th century drawings and watercolours illustrates in graphic detail particular diseases and cases.
Equipment used by nurses in their work is exhibited, such as feeding cups, a hypodermic syringe and items of uniform. The hospital’s role in the training of medical students is also covered.
Look out for…
Statues of a wounded soldier or sailor: these painted wooden figures may have been used to indicate the special ward set aside for sick and injured soldiers and sailors during the seventeenth century, and it has been suggested that the larger figure originally held something in his wounded hand, perhaps a collection box.
Cricket bat autographed by W G Grace, c1880s: W G Grace was a medical student at the hospital in the 1870s; this bat was formerly displayed in the hospital ward named after him
Roll containing an inventory and valuation of the Hospital’s possessions, property and goods, October 1546: the hospital was originally a religious institution and its existence was threatened when the Priory to which it was linked was closed by Henry VIII at the dissolution of the monasteries. This document is probably the original 'particulars for grant' document compiled by the Court of Augmentations prior to the granting of the new charter to the hospital in 1547 by Henry VIII.
Did you know?…
The museum is located in the former Steward’s Office of the hospital. The Steward was responsible for purchasing provisions for the hospital from the sixteenth century, and from the seventeenth century he was also ordered to keep a register of all patients admitted (although those before 1818 have not survived), and so this was where patients were formally admitted to and discharged from the hospital.
All information is drawn from or provided by the museums themselves and every effort is made to ensure it is correct. Please remember to double check opening hours with the venue concerned before making a special visit.