London: Anaesthesia Heritage Centre


This is a shortish post, so let’s just consider this part of a medical twosome, to go with the Army Medical Museum from last week.  If nothing else, it’s really emphasised to me that British medical words are hard to spell.  There’s always an extra “a” or “o” or something in there to trip you up.  Maybe I should just give up on the Anglicised spellings, and revert to pure American, to match my uncompromisingly American accent and vocabulary (sorry, but trousers will always be pants to me!).  Anyway, the Anaesthesia (extra “a”) Heritage Centre was one of the few non-appointment only museums on this London medical museum website I hadn’t made it to, so I finally got around to venturing up there the other day (to be honest, all those Harley Street-esque premises intimidate me, so I waited until my boyfriend could come with me (it’s only open on weekdays) so I wouldn’t have to brave it alone).


The website says you should contact them before your visit, but you really don’t have to.  There’s just a normal receptionist there who will have someone from the museum take you downstairs, so there’s no need to make an appointment or anything, no matter what they tell you.  The museum is free, which is good because it’s super teeny (that panorama above shows pretty much the whole of it, and the perspective probably makes it look bigger than it is), as I have learned is generally the case for museums based in some kind of medical association (like the BDA Dental Museum).  I will say that they do manage to cram an awful lot of text in there, so at least it takes a bit longer than the Dental Museum to look around if you read everything.


I already knew a fair bit about the history of anaesthesia (that damn “a”) just on account of being a medical history nerd, and we also saw some of the first general anaesthestic related instruments at the Warren Anatomical Museum in Boston, Boston being a kind of anaesthesia hub in the 19th century, so there wasn’t a whole lot that was new or particularly impressive in this museum, save for some instruments belonging to Dr. John Snow of cholera fame, and a machine that was used when George VI was operated on for lung cancer, but the collection of disturbingly long spinal needles was certainly suitably terrifying (I think I’m more scared of having a needle jammed in my spine than most other medical procedures.  I’m not generally bothered by needles, hence the tattoos and multiple ear piercings, but seriously, do not put one of those things near my spine.  Though I guess if I ever had to go through childbirth, I might change my mind right quick).


The main draw of the museum was meant to be this WWI exhibit, the second in a series of four stretching from 2014-2018 (maybe they change them in August, or November?), on “The Riddle of Shock,” but man, this shit was lame.  The “exhibit” turned out to be two posters in a corner of the museum.  I mean, the information therein was interesting, basically on how they discovered shock was common because the men were normally dehydrated and chilled when they went into battle anyway, and getting wounded on top of that was more than the body could take, so they were able to develop ways to treat it based on warming and rehydrating the body (no coffee enemas for me though, thanks).  But I really would not call two posters an exhibit.  A display, maybe?  If they’d called it a display, I don’t think I’d have been as disappointed.


There’s also a small library there, which you apparently DO need an appointment to use, and I discovered another display case inside the empty restaurant (though it was even less impressive than the stuff in the museum).  And their toilets are quite nice, which is maybe worth remarking on due to the scarcity of public loos in this part of London (who hasn’t popped into the M&S on Oxford Street just to use their toilets?!), though as you have to sign in and everything, it probably wouldn’t be advisable to stop in just for that.  But the fact that I’ve just wasted that much space talking about their toilets (with fancy soaps!) shows how little there is in the museum worth discussing.  Good if you need a primer on the history of anaesthesia, not really worth the trip for much else.  2/5.



  1. I’m with you on the long needle thing – I’ve actually been the victim of one. My mother was 45 when she became pregnant with me and the doctor (thinking I might be a Downs baby) decided to give her an amniocentesis – basically sticking a long needle into her stomach. He misjudged I guess because the needle went through the womb and into my leg. Luckily it didn’t kill me, but I was born with a dimple in my thigh. Which is probably why I’ve never liked short-shorts.

    1. I shuddered while reading your comment. Your poor mother (and you)! I know there are a number of reasons why you might have to get a long needle shoved in your stomach, but I wholeheartedly hope none of them happen to me. I’ve never been a fan of short-shorts either, though in my case it’s just because I don’t like the sensation of my thighs rubbing together. Actually, I can’t say I enjoy wearing any kind of pants except for my jimjam pants, which I practically live in. I think that’s partly why I hate leaving my house so much; pajamas aren’t really socially acceptable, and I’m all about comfort.

      1. Ha! I’m with you on all counts – no to stomach needles (gah!), getting dressed and leaving the house 🙂

  2. Sounds disappointing. I don’t understand the reasons for extra letters in medical spelling either, though the only one that truly defeats me is “diarea” which I know is actually about three times longer than that. If someone called in sick with it I’d just put stomach upset,

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