My name is Tom Ball, and I am a second year student at the University of Birmingham. I’m working with the George Marshall Medical Museum from October through into December. I am here to explore the history of medicine in Worcester, and uncover the lives of those that have - voluntarily or not - contributed to our understanding of medical science.
I am originally from Worcester. My father has lived here for 25 years, myself for 21, and neither of us had any idea of Worcester’s rich history in regards to medicine. When I first saw the museum for myself, I was astounded at the hidden history, the importance of Worcester in the history of medical science - and, admittedly, slightly ashamed of my ignorance. Despite the old adage of the dangers of assuming, I suspect that this museum holds nothing short of a surprise to Worcester and her people. There has clearly been a wonderful job done here to ensure there is something in every display to make you say - “Wow! I had no idea.”
It certainly came as a shock to me that Worcester hosted, in her older days, the face of Women in Medicine - Florence Nightingale. It was even more of a pleasant surprise to see one of her letters hanging in the display cases.
While I knew of the executions that used to take place in Worcester, to see the faces of the criminals hung was something of a morbid fascination. As moulds were made of the deceased’s heads - creating so-called Death Masks - there is something somewhat indescribable about looking into the face of a murderer, executed some 100 years before you were born.
I think the artefact that sticks out to me most prominently, is simply a wooden chair. It does not sit in a display case, in fact it is nestled in the corner between two larger displays. The description of it, under the ominous title of Amputation Chair, tells us that this is an original object from the Worcester infirmary. Patients from Worcester had been strapped in this chair, anxiously awaiting for a surgeon - with little knowledge of disease, bacteria, or hygiene - to saw through their bones. And, looking at the desperate scratch marks etched into the wood near where the hands would have been restrained, it would be fairly safe to assume that most patients (or is that victims) started to wish they’d just taken their chances.
The museum, at the risk of sounding cliche, is nothing short of a hidden gem nestled away in a quiet corner of our city. It is crafted from surprises, original pieces from the original infirmary, and manages to touch on the morbid curiosity all of us are carrying - especially around this time of the year.