London’s Science Museum is now home to the world’s largest medical galleries. Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries features interactive exhibits , films and audio recordings of patients and doctors, contemporary art installations and more than 3,000 medical artifacts assembled from the collections of Henry Wellcome and the Science Museum Group.
Among them are a panoply of memento mori pieces from different times and places, one of the first stethoscopes, a wooden tube made by French doctor René Laennec around 1820, the prototype MRI made in the early 1970s and a scale model of a hospital so awesome that it bears on its architecturally sound frame the entire responsibility for this post.
Made in 1932 to publicize King Edward’s Hospital Fund for London, an organization founded by the future King Edward VII to raise money for London’s voluntary hospitals which provided free medical care to the poor, the miniature hospital was made to 1/16 scale and is meticulously detailed.
The board room has sycamore paneling. More than 13,000 tiles were made to line its floors and walls, some of them painted with cheerful scenes for the pediatric ward. Wee doctors, nurses and patients, all of them different, all of them realistically posed and accessorized. It even has a working elevator! To operate it, you had to drop a coin in the box and press the button. A sign enjoys admirers in emphatic caps and periods “PLEASE. TAKE. LIFT EITHER UP – OR DOWN. ONCE. ONLY. PLEASE. DO. NOT. USE. AS. A. TOY.” It is an absolute wonderland of miniaturization and medical history.
Queen Mary was so enchanted by it that she donated her lace handkerchiefs for use as bedspreads for the tiny patients. Alas, the royal hankies are no longer extant in the model. In January of 1933, the Prince of Wales, who three years later would become King Edward VIII for a minute before his infamous abdication, launched a national tour of the model. The miniature hospital traveled the country, raising money for the charity and teaching the public about the workings of a modern hospital. It was hugely popular. Thousands of people went to see it during the tour and contributed to the funding of London’s free hospitals.