Since a young age, Lucas has always been fascinated with the human body and what’s inside us so when we were invited to visit Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds, I jumped at the chance as I thought that Lucas would find it really interesting…I was also slightly nervous that he would ask lots of questions I couldn’t answer so we made a family day of it and took Daddy, Sienna and my niece, aged 6, along too.
The building in which Thackray Medical Museum is set is filled with history. It first opened in 1861 as the purpose-built Leeds Union Workhouse, for poor and homeless people with nowhere else to go. Over the years, new buildings were gradually added, including an infirmary. In 1925 the Leeds Union Workhouse infirmary was renamed St James’s Hospital. By 1945, the rest of the workhouse had merged with the hospital and it became part of the NHS in 1948. It’s a beautiful building which, in itself, is a pleasure to be in and look around.
Their aim is to be the UK’s leading medical museum, inspiring and visitors with interactive exhibitions, fun family workshops and schools programmes. As a charity, all the profits from TMM go back into the museum and they are currently raising money via “Thackray in Lego Bricks” where they are building the Grade II listed building out of Lego! For every £1 that is donated, a brick is added to the model and they are hoping to raise £150,000 and the final build will be 3m long and 1m wide! On our visit, the kids loved playing in the creative area with the lego and there was also colouring sheets of lego people which could be displayed on the wall.
We began our tour downstairs and after a couple of exhibits (iron lung chamber and some introductory information) we found ourselves on a street in Leeds in 1842, exploring the dirt, diseases and deaths. At the beginning of the street, you are encouraged to each pick a character card (the former drama teacher in me obviously loved this) and you find out what happened to your character as you walk down the street. This section of the museum is very much a sensory experience with smells, sights and noises all around. Truthfully, my son (4) and niece (6) found this a little intimidating. They were very brave and walked through it but they kept their little hands clutched in ours and stayed close by but still asked lots of questions and were obviously very interested by it.
We also explored”
- “Disease in Retreat” – giving information about germ theory, vaccines and antibiotics,
- “Pain, Pus and Blood” – exposing the world of surgery BEFORE pain relief,
- “Medicine and Conflict” – showing how medical treatments have changed from the first world war to present
These exhibitions were less interactive but were broken up with video footage, things to touch, doors to open with information behind etc. Within these sections we spent time reading information out to the children and explaining it in a way they understood. They did really well and, again, asked questions and found the pictures, instruments of surgery etc interesting. They were giggling and cringing when they found out that putting a cow pat on your body was a medicinal treatment and they squirmed at the leeches! There is a video that shows a girl having her leg amputated without pain relief however there is a warning so you can miss it if you have young children with you, which we decided to do. We didn’t feel like we missed out as the information is there to read and, again, we could explain it to them using the pictures. They were also able to dress up as surgeons and look at x-rays. To be honest, I felt a bit like I was on Grey’s Anatomy! Like with most things, I think if you can make it accessible for them then you’re onto a winner and because they can look in things, behind things, stick their hands in mystery boxes, it all adds to the fun!
I think our highlights were definitely the “Having A Baby” section and the LifeZone.
Having a baby…
Given that the older two have younger siblings, they could relate to all the information about looking after a baby. We all had a lot of fun trying the pregnancy suit on and, ok yes, I got a bit broody when I remembered the feeling of a bump…before I remembered how bloody heavy it is too! We sat in a quiet corner and read a book together about looking after a baby and they kept interrupting with their experiences of their little brother/sister. They were fascinated by the pictures of a small embryo and it was nice to be able to explain how lucky they are to have the NHS due to the high amount of maternal deaths in the “olden days”. Yes at four and six they can’t fully appreciate it, but I believe it’s good to be honest and open with them.
Whether you’re following the journey of a pea from being eaten to coming out the other side, measuring your height, weight, how far you can stretch or looking at what your pelvis and spine do when you rotate your hips, the LifeZone! is fully kitted out with children in mind. It’s a fully interactive, play based learning experience that even Sienna (aged 13 months) was able to get involved with as it was soft for her to crawl about and had a little reading/play corner for her to sit in. My son is a typical four year old boy so all the poo information went down a treat with him – ha ha!
Including lunch, we spent around four hours at Thackray Medical Museum. It was a Sunday and not too busy so we were really able to make the most of everything. There is a lovely cafe that sells jacket potatoes, sandwiches, hot drinks and sweet treats as well as creative areas dotted around the museum with opportunity for children to draw, colour, build jigsaws and much more. I wasn’t sure whether Lucas and Isla would be a little young for it but actually they were the perfect age as they are so inquisitive and absorb information like a sponge. Lucas even exclaimed that evening that it was “the best day ever” which is a pretty good review!
From a parents point of view, I definitely recommend making Thackray Medical Museum a day out, particularly if you’re children are interested in the body and medical things like Lucas is. It’s important to remember that this is a museum for all ages therefore some are more information based than others but, as I said earlier, if you can explain things in children’s terms, it makes it assessable for all and we spent a lovely few hours there having quality time together. I definitely never felt like the children had to be careful or say “don’t touch that!” as it was all child-friendly, which is handy as they are “Child Friendly Leeds” ambassadors.
Have you been to Thackray Medical Museum before? Do you think your children will enjoy it? Comment below and for more information on days out in and around Yorkshire, see my Facebook and Instagram pages!
DISCLAIMER: We were gifted entry to the museum in exchange for this review and social media post however all opinions are my own.