Thanks to our erstwhile coach driver we arrived in London after a somewhat frustrating journey due to traffic problems and we met Martin for the tour. We first had a refreshing coffee at the 'Shooting Star', off Bishopsgate, before starting our tour of some of the sites of medical interest in London.
Martin explained that hospitals in medieval times were run by churchmen and were places to go to in order to prepare oneself for death during a final illness.
The first site we came to was Bethlem Hospital which stood on part of the site now occupied by Liverpool Street station. This was the notorious 'Bedlam' famous as epitomising the idea of a lunatic asylum. It was founded in 1247, as a priory for the Order of the Star of Bethlehem.
In Southwark is Guy's Hospital, famous as one of the great teaching hospitals. It was founded in 1721 by Sir Thomas Guy who had made a fortune from the South Sea Bubble affair. In 1704 he had become a governor of St Thomas's Hospital and built three wards there. He opened Guy's Hospital opposite St Thomas's in order to treat incurables discharged from St Thomas's and those who couldn't afford to pay. Both hospitals are now part of the same Foundation Trust and the current building incorporates Guy's Tower which is the tallest hospital building in the world.
The Lock Hospital site in Southwark was one of several Lock Hospitals set up in the London area. They were originally established to treat leprosy and venereal diseases. "Locks" refer to the rags covering lepers' lesions. One of the chemicals used in the treatment of syphilis involved the use of mercury salts. Inorganic mercury has the side effect of attacking the central nervous system which causes the patient to tremble and shake. Mercury compounds were also used in the curing of animal pelts during the making of hats. The men carrying out this job developed "the shakes" which became known as Mad Hatters' Disease - the Mad Hatter was later immortalised in Alice in Wonderland.
During the Victorian era the Thames was heavily polluted and in the summer of 1858 the smell became known as 'The Great Stink'. It was thought that the vapours from the river were the main source of the cholera epidemic and not the water itself. Sheets were soaked in a solution of chloride of lime and draped over the windows of the Houses of Parliament to protect the Members. The river was eventually cleaned up after the sewer network of central London was built by Sir Joseph Bazalgette in 1865.
After lunch we visited the Wellcome collection. Sir Henry Wellcome was born in the United States in 1853. He was not a chemist but he was brilliant at marketing. He teamed up with Silas Burroughs in 1880 and formed a pharmaceutical company, Burroughs Wellcome and Company. The big marketing breakthrough for them came in Britain where they introduced 'the tabloid', medicines in tablet form to replace liquids and powders. The company also introduced the concept of direct marketing to doctors by providing them with free samples. In 1895 Burroughs died, but the company flourished. Wellcome became a British subject and consolidated all his commercial interests under the Wellcome Foundation in 1932. He died in 1936 and the Wellcome Trust was formed.
The Wellcome Collection is in the Euston Road and housed in the original building, next door to the headquarters of the Well come Trust, his philanthropic legacy. His vision was to create a space where professionals could come to learn more about the development of medical science. He was a great collector and amassed more than a million artifacts from around the world. The venue offers exhibitions, the world-renowned Wellcome Library, a cafe, a bookshop and conference facilities. We explored three exhibitions - 'Medicine Now', 'Medicine Man' and 'Brains'. It was interesting to see how eclectic and amazingly comprehensive the exhibitions were. For example in 'Medicine Man' there were collections of 25 different kinds of medical forceps, nineteen types of amputation saws and sixteen surgical knives. I must admit to enjoying the morning tour more than the Wellcome Collection but that was a personal view. The enjoyable anecdotes imparted by Martin during the morning tour were a major source of interest for me.