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Worcester, England

George Marshall Medical Museum

Quaint, disturbing, and macabre objects are all on display at this intriguing collection of medical instruments from bygone eras. 

The George Marshall Medical Museum showcases an impressive collection personally amassed by (you guessed it) one George Marshall, an Edinburgh-born 20th century surgeon as well as an avid collection of old medical curios.

Featuring death masks, Victorian pharmaceuticals, and pre-anesthesia operating chairs, the museum charts the progress of medical knowledge and technology over the past 250 years.

The death masks are believed to bear the faces of convicted criminals executed in the early 19th century. Prisoners were hanged in the nearby Worcester Gaol and their bodies taken through an underground tunnel running to the Worcester Royal Infirmary to be dissected by staff and students. This was an important aspect of medical education and research at the time, as the dissection of any bodies other than those of criminals was prohibited by law.

As part of this examination, making death masks of criminals was a common practice, thanks to the burgeoning pseudoscience of phrenology. Attempts were made to connect physical features of the head with the nature of the crimes committed in order to be able to predict future criminal behaviors in others. Phrenology, of course, later gained sinister connotations alongside its brief popularity, with some advocates using it to argue in favor of white supremacy. The nameless masks at the George Marshall Medical Museum give visitors an enigmatic and haunting glimpse at this dark corner of 19th-century medical science.

The museum also boasts a library of rare medical books dating back to the 17th century, which cover such timely and cutting-edge topics as the healing powers of the waters from various local spa towns. There is also a display recreating an old apothecary shop (see if you can tell which “medicines” would do nothing and which would just get you high), and a reconstructed Victorian operating theater, complete with a chair where conscious patients were strapped down for surgery.

Know Before You Go

Open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm; free admission.Bus 38 from the City Center stops right in front of the Medical Center.

Contributed by
lukewildman
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