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Hunterian Museum

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Published January 17th 2011
The Hunterian Museum. Unless you're already in the know, the mention of this place probably conjures up images of not-very-much-at-all.

It might help if I told you that this somewhat quirky little museum can be found at the Royal College of Surgeons. Any images coming to mind now?

Though not well publicised, the Hunterian Museum offers, among other things, a fascinating look inside insides, so to speak. Thousands of anatomical specimens will cause your jaw to drop, your mind to boggle and possibly your stomach to turn.

A vast number of preserved specimens are on display, including dissected animals, human bits and pieces, foetuses, a range of organs (healthy and diseased), lots of body parts, bones, insects......ever wanted to know what a hernia looks like? Probably not, but you'll see one if you come here.

It was John Hunter (1728-1793) who collected many of these specimens. He was a highly respected scientist and surgeon in his day, and evidently had a penchant for collecting innards and such like.

The museum is home to the skeleton of Charles Byrne (1761-1783), who on account of being very tall (around 230cm), was also known as "the Irish giant". No doubt averse to the idea of ending up in a museum like this, Byrne's dying wish was to be buried at sea. Suffice to say, his corpse was purchased by John Hunter with a watery grave the last thing on his mind.

The museum also has a fascinating display of surgical implements from long, long ago, leaving you feeling rather pleased that these days general anaesthetics are available for operations. You'll also find items such as wax teaching models, as well as a number of paintings and sculptures.

The place is astonishing, fascinating and gruesome in equal measures and is probably not recommended if you are of a squeamish bent.

A free guided tour is available every Wednesday, starting at 1pm. To book a place, call 020 7869 6560.

The museum runs special events throughout the year – click here to see if there's something that takes your fancy.
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Why? Because considering it's a museum you don't hear much about, it ranks surprisingly high on the gobsmacking scale.
When: Open Tues-Sat, 10am-5pm.
Where: Closest tube station: Holborn
Cost: Free
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