A weird and wonderful collection of medical paraphernalia from the past is the subject of a special collection put together by a dedicated group of people from Lancaster, as Aaron Cox reports
It’s more than 30 years in the making, but Lancaster’s medical tales of the past could soon be educating the generations of tomorrow.
A group of experts committed for the past three decades to researching Lancaster’s medical history will be opening their doors to the general public for the very first time to reveal a special collection.
Thanks to Heritage Lottery funding, the Lancaster Medical Museum will be giving the public an opportunity to see a collection of historical medical instruments at Royal Lancaster Infirmary’s Education Centre.
The Lancaster Medical Museum Group was founded in the late 1980s, when four health care experts set out to uncover the secrets of the city’s medical past.
Combining a love for their profession and their passion for local pride, the group has gathered several collections of medical equipment, mostly savaged following closures of Lancashire hospitals during the 19th century.
Following the closure of both Lancaster Moor and Royal Albert hospitals before the year 2000, more than 2,400 items from a range of specialist fields, including cardiology, dentistry and obstetrics, were recovered from the sites, in an attempt to preserve a chapter of Lancaster history. The group went on to gather instruments from buildings at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary and Queen Victoria hospitals during refurbishments after the millennium.
The collection of rare artefacts features folding saws, amputation sets and dentistry kits used during the Second World War which were previously stored in cabinets around local hospitals before a change of personnel inspired the venture for how these pieces could be showcased to the people of today.
Dr Miles Rucklidge is the last of the original four doctors who set out to salvage the old medical equipment from abandoned asylums across the Lancaster area. He remains involved in the Lancaster Medical Group today and focusses efforts on seeking new ways the group can now put these items to good use.
He also works as an anaesthetist in Lancaster so, as for the salvaged instruments, he takes a particular interest in his specialist field and the old anaesthetic equipment: how it has changed with the times. Dr Peter Dyer is the newest member of the Lancaster Medical Museum Group, joining 18 months ago following a return back home to Lancaster for the next stage of his career, but his reasons for getting involved span much deeper than just an interest in the history of surgery.
“My father was working here as a public health consultant at the time of the hospital closures and became one of the founding members of the original group nearly 30 years ago,” recalls Dr Dyer. “I began my journey in this field as a dentist, before moving on to specialise in facial reconstruction later in my career. One of the things I came across while looking through the collection was a dentistry kit used in Colditz during the Second World War.
“I was always interested in the history surrounding Lancaster and the impact the local area had on both physical and mental health after the war. It’s not just something for those in a medical profession but something people of Lancaster should be very proud of and that’s the reason we want to make this a success.”
One year ago, the group decided to explore new ways not only to increase interaction with these instruments but ways they could possibly benefit members of the local community today, which led to the application of a Heritage Lottery grant.
“The initial plan was to come up with a single stand-alone museum where we could exhibit the collection for the public to come and view,” says Dr Dyer.
“We asked ourselves whether it was going to appeal enough to the public to justify the costs it would take to fund the venue but, on reflection, we decided we wanted to do something different. The new idea was to set up an organisation where people of all ages were involved and in a way which generates a hands-on experience for all while giving insight into Lancaster’s proud history.
“We got two consultants on board and applied to the Heritage Lottery one year ago, proposing the plan and now, with the grant, we have the chance to make it happen.”
The group intends to use the public event later this month not only to show off their historical collection, but to provide insight for members of the public into Lancaster’s influence on medicine over the past 100 years.
The four-hour free drop-in will consist of a mix of guest speakers in a range of medical professions, a guided tour and interactive technologies dating back more than 150 years old, while giving members of the public the chance to recommend ideas for the future.
“The most important thing for us is to make this as interactive as possible and get the feedback from the public,” says Dr Dyer.
“There will be a guided tour around the oldest functioning part of the Royal Infirmary – A Victorian wing more than 100 years old, which is something we are really excited about.
“We need support and to understand exactly what they want. We are looking for the people of Lancashire to take control and be proud of their history, We are open to the idea of going into schools and educating young people or even working with social groups and other heritage groups on making something special. As soon as we know what people want, we will apply for more funding and try to make it happen.”
The event gets under way at 10.30am on Saturday (February 24) with guest speakers including chairman of the medical group, Dr Bryan Rhodes, and long-standing Lancaster surgeon Dr Eric Cooper.