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a grand day out

Thackray Museum of Medicine

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The Shine team delve into the history of health at Thackray Museum of Medicine.


Where to Go                 

Thackray Museum of Medicine, Beckett Street, Leeds, LS9 7LN



The museum is based in Burmantofts, a short bus ride from Leeds City Centre





Adults £11.95, over 65s get 10% off. Tickets last for 12 months. Residents of Harehills can get free entry on Mondays.



There are plenty of toilets and a museum café.


Getting There                 

Buses depart frequently from outside Leeds City Bus Station. Service 16 leaves from stand B on York Street, and numbers 49, 50 and 50A from stand C. All services follow the same route to Beckett Street, with a stop outside the Bexley Wing: get off at the next stop, which is outside the main entrance to St. James’s Hospital. A few yards walk further along brings you to the entrance to the Museum.                 


The building is fully accessible to wheelchair users and has toilets on 2 levels. Though there are stairs, all levels are accessible via lifts.


Opening Times

Monday – Sunday                                       10am – 5pm

Thackray Museum of Medicine tells the inspiring story of medicine and health. The building started as a school and workhouse, but since 1997 has been welcoming visitors to educate and inform them about how healthcare has changed over the years. The museum recently underwent a £4m redevelopment and re-opened with new interactive galleries and a whole new look. The Shine team took a Grand Day Out to this fascinating museum.


The bus journey from Leeds City Centre to the Thackray Museum is pretty straightforward. Though buses don’t go from the Bus Station, they are just outside on York Street. The buses are regular and clean; we all got seats easily. As with most buses, the stops are announced via a tannoy. It should be clear when you get to St James’s Hospital. It’s on the left - you can’t miss it! It’s only around 10 minutes from town. Most fellow passengers were travelling to the hospital or the museum. The museum is a short walk from the bus stop. After our visit we crossed the road to get the bus back to the centre of town. All the buses go from the same stop so we hopped on the first bus that came. Easy!

THE basics


our visit
By Diana Al-Saadi, Angie Smiles and Valerie Wood-Robinson

The Shine team found the museum well maintained and welcoming, housing interesting and informative displays. The theme is health; the exhibitions tell the story of the workings of the scientific, medical, surgical and nursing systems over the ages in Britain. The refurbishment of the museum is beautiful. Most of us remembered the dingy Victorian Street (which is still there), but the new state-of-the-art curation and display has made exhibits much more coherent, relevant and inclusive. There’s a continuous story as you move through the galleries and the exhibitions bring the story of health up to date, even including the Covid pandemic. We were particularly impressed by the artwork of stylised multicoloured coronavirus particles that seemed to guide us straight upstairs to start the tour.


For many of us, the visit brought back personal memories. Mally and Angie had worked at St James’s Hospital so the buildings held particular interest. “My first job as an Occupational Therapist was at this hospital,” says Angie. “The office was in Chancellors Wing, where we had a workshop where we made equipment to issue to patients.” The health services run in Angie’s family: “My gran ran a chemist shop so it brought back memories when I saw the shelves and drawers of an old chemist shop,” Angie recalls.


The history of medicine has changed hugely over the years and the displays in the museum reflect this. Some of our highlights were: the Invalid Carriage from 1890; Polly Esther doll that shows different body parts; and the 1954 “Pedoscope”. “I remember regularly trying it out in Clark’s shoe shops, “ says Angie. “I thought this was an interesting toy which showed you your toes in your shoes. I now realize I was overdosing on radioactive waves!” Another highlight was the display of medicinal bottles, jugs and containers. Quite fascinating to learn about old fashioned apothecaries and how each remedy had different purposes.


The assistants and guides were friendly and helpful. We listened to a clear description of the history and purpose of the Iron Lung by Lynn, a well-versed guide. This was of interest to those of us who remember their use during the polio epidemics of the 1950s before the vaccine was invented. Most displays were clearly labelled – but some of captions are low down on the wall near the case and printed in small font. There are plenty of places to sit and you can use the museums stools that are designed to carry around. Be aware that these aren’t particularly sturdy though. The shop was well-stocked, light and airy, encouraging visitors to purchase gifts, book and toys. The cafe, although not large, was adequate for the few visitors that day and we enjoyed a sit-down and a coffee.


To take full advantage of your visit you would need at least two hours and go round the two floors systematically. We left the museum feeling that we had seen and absorbed a fraction of what was on offer. Most of us vowed to return, possibly with grandchildren. We were pleased that the entrance ticket means you can come back again and again for a year, without paying extra. there is plenty of interest to all ages, particularly for older people to reminisce about their experiences of health and medicine in the last century.  


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By MAUREEN KERSHAW and Anne Chitty



Colin volunteers at the museum to bring the exhibits to life. He’s had many jobs but loves to keep busy, so a few years ago he decided to help out.
I’m here twice a week, I take people round. I’ve been here a long time, about 10 years. I also check round, make sure the kids haven’t left things or pulled things off. If there’s things been broken, I know where everything goes and let the maintenance do it. It’s changed since it was the old Thackray Museum. But they still show the operations and the amputations. There’s an interesting film about a soldier who had to have his legs amputated.

When people are working and the kids are off from school, we find that the grandparents will bring them here. It’s interesting for the grown-ups but also interesting for the kids, because they’re seeing things they’ve never seen before.


Jackie was on a visit to the museum with her husband and was very pleased to share her experience with the Shine team.
I’m a retired nurse, but we come from Sheffield so I was at the Royal Hallamshire and the Northern General - all the hospitals in Sheffield really. I was in general nursing but A & E is my background and then I ended up in Endoscopy and day surgery. My husband and have always wanted to come here so I said, “We’ll go and have a day out in Leeds”. It’s really fascinating because of all the old stuff - very interesting!
I like all the old hospital buildings too. We still have A & E meetings with the Yorkshire Nurses’ Association and we used to come to Jimmy’s and the Leeds General Infirmary. Then they would come to us in Sheffield. I love seeing all the old instruments and equipment they used, like the midwifery forceps. I worked for a bit in Midwifery as well: we used those forceps, even in my lifetime. We’ve just seen one of the rooms with the uniforms through the ages. How cumbersome they were! The first was a big grey, horrible dress. Then


you come up to the new ones, which are great. But you knew who-was-who in my days, when you had your cap and gown on. I loved it with my cap on because you felt like you were a nurse. I think it’s very good here. I’d heard a lot about it and I’m quite impressed with it. The tickets last for a year so we can come back and have another look. It really is very interesting!


Margaret is a member of Burmantofts Senior Action, which provide activities and services for older people in the area. We caught up with Margaret at BSA, shortly after she’d been to the museum.
I’m not a Leeds girl, I wasn’t born here. I was born in County Durham and travelled the world with my husband, who was in the army. When he finished in the army, we got a house in Leeds.
Nowadays, I’m out every day. Every day there’s something on in with Burmantofts Senior Action. This place is like my second home. With Covid you got depressed being on your own. Coming here has been a wake-up call, it took away the depression.
And we do trips. The museum trip – it was absolutely gorgeous. It’s different to how I knew it. Before, when I used to take my children, it was the old museum with the old-fashioned street. It was all very old – the run-down street, the old toilets with just a hole. But the modern bits – it’s out of this world. What they’ve done is really interesting. The old stuff is still there but they’ve modernised everything else. Lots of new things. Some things are a bit squeamish! We got a very good welcome. The lady that showed us round, she couldn’t have


been more helpful. Every section she took us to, she knew everything about it. To anyone who hasn’t been to the museum lately, I say, “Go now!” You’ll be gobsmacked. The change it’s gone through is amazing.




As I entered the imposing double doors of Thackray Museum of Medicine, memories came flooding back to me. I recognised the 19th Century tiling lining the walls and the ornate metalwork supporting the banister. I was seconded for six months to St. James Hospital in the 1960s and I clearly remember the familiar tiles and the metalwork. I’m not sure if this was the building where I lived (many were demolished in the developments in the 1960s), but it might be. However, the museum didn’t start as nurses’ accommodation –t he building started as a school and a workhouse.


During the first half of the 19th century, the workhouse in Lady Lane became increasingly inadequate. However, the Leeds Board of Guardians were reluctant to build a new workhouse. In 1845, they bought land in Beckett Street, Burmantofts for a school for 499 pauper children. Pupils at the Moral and Industrial School spent half their time in elementary school work and the other half in industrial occupations: gardening, tailoring and shoemaking for the boys; domestic duties and sewing for the girls. A new workhouse, chapel and infirmary were finally added in 1858-61. Subsequent additions were a mental ward block, infirmary building, a nurse’s home and an ‘imbecile’ block. As the site grew, the need grew.


Catherine Hughes, William Elliot and Mary Bradford were amongst the first ‘inmates’ into this new, state of the art Leeds Union Workhouse. By 1870 the workhouse was full - many of its inmates were sick and feeble. In 1874 the 20 sick beds were found to be too few and a new hospital was built: The Leeds Union Infirmary. In 1925 it was renamed St. James’ Hospital. During the First World War, the workhouse was used for sick and wounded officers. The Guardians offered the buildings to the War Office and the inmates were transferred to Hunslet Union workhouse. New buildings were commissioned in the 1930s and a huge redevelopment of the site occurred in the 1960s.


After 130 years of service to the sick and poor, the workhouse building was considered unfit as a modern hospital. In 1997, the building opened as the Thackray Medical Museum. Over the last couple of years the museum has been spruced up and rebranded as Thackray Museum of Medicine. The museum now stands as a small memorial to the lives of all the poor and ill people who lived and died there.


If you are inspired to visit Thackray Musuem of Medicine yourself, do let us know how you get on. We’d love to hear from you. We can print some of your experiences in a future issue of Shine. Email

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