ELHAS Meeting Report - September 2013

Meeting Report September 2013

Our winter 2013 season got off to flying start with an illustrated talk by Alan Humphries, librarian at the Thackray Museum. Alan has worked at the museum since it opened 22 years ago and his enthusiasm and affection for the artefacts under his care, came across quite clearly during his talk.

He began his talk by describing how the museum came about as a result of all the archive material belonging to a prominent Leeds company, which became available after the company was sold. The prestigious surgical instrument company Charles Thackray Ltd started life in 1902 as a chemist shop opened behind the town hall by Charles F Thackray and Henry Scurrah Wainwright. After a few years the business expanded into supplying sterilised surgical dressings, and eventually became one of the foremost suppliers of surgical instruments in the world. When the business was sold in 1990 there was such a wealth of material available that Paul Thackray, descendant of the original owner was keen to open a museum and make it available to the general public. Searching Leeds for a suitable building, the trust behind the museum were delighted when the former Leeds Union Workhouse at St James 's Hospital became free, and the museum opened in May 1997.

Alan's images of some of the museum exhibits had his audience cringing in their seats, but his knowledge of the artefacts, and the history of surgery kept us all fascinated. We were surprised to learn that the Romans perfected surgical techniques which in England didn't come into use until the late Victorian era, and some procedures survive until today only having been marginally updated . He also showed examples of many instruments, now produced in different materials but still retained in only a slightly modified form from the original.

Alan was proud to show us exhibits such as Prince Albert's medicine chest and Adolf Hitler's blood transfusion equipment which are unique to the museum. In the final part of his talk he moved on to show various examples of the artefacts which he says he is obsessed with - the museums unique collection of over 600 ceramic drug jars. The collection, with examples dating from the 1500's to the 1800's, is the largest in Europe and possibly the world. Seeing the range of sizes and the detailed decoration of these jars it was easy to see why Alan is so enthusiastic about them. They made an exciting end to a thoroughly interesting talk.


The next meeting on Monday 28th October will be a talk by Leeds Guide Ken Goor entitled "That's Entertainment".