Poetry Tour with Tom Ball - Guest Blog

Today was the day of the Spoken Word Poetry Tour. Fortunately, I’m glad to think it was a success - though I don’t have much in the way to a frame a reference. It was certainly the first time I’ve done something like this. I’ve spoken at Poetry events in the past, but over a dozen in just half an hour was somewhat daunting.

Our little group of 8 poetry enthusiasts, including a Father with his 2 children, served as a delightful audience. I was slightly concerned that I had written for a more mature audience, however they seemed to be as fully engrossed as the rest of the group were - and even responded with some poetry of their own, which I’m not ashamed to admit made me a little bit envious of their talent.


I was pleased with the end result. I would have liked to write a poem for each of the display cases on show, however the amount I’d written turned out to fit into the 30 minute time-slot exactly. I was pleased in that sense - and based on the reaction of my audience, the decision to focus on quality over quantity turned out to be a smart one. Perhaps, should something similar to this happen again in the future, I’ll dedicate more time to fit in more poems - poetry is something of a dying art, and the more time spent appreciating it, the better.

Looking back, I feel I could have provided a more immersive experience. While reading handwritten poetry is arguably better than attempting to give a tour whilst carrying a laptop around, in an ideal world I would have memorised the poems - some of them, at least. Unfortunately, I am a student, and with essays due the same week as the tour, time simply did permit me the hours to both write and learn the poems. This isn’t to say that reading from the notebook distracted from the experience, but where a person can go that little bit further in the name of art, they should at least write a blog post saying that it’s what they would’ve done.

Overall, I feel like this unique tour was a success. It certainly challenged my creative abilities - existing poetry about 19th century bone-setters to use as a reference point was a terrific way to waste an hour - but it was also a learning experience as well. I had to get to know the artifacts, and the displays, and the lives behind the people featured in the museums, in order to portray them with the respect they deserve. Not only was able to improve my creative builds through writing about niche topics, I was able to appreciate what it was like to be instituted in an early mental asylum, or be strapped into an amputation chair in a time before anaesthetic, or to be a patient-come-victim of untrained bone-setters in a way that I never would have before. Preparing for this tour was a good test of my abilities, and something that I would be very happy to have the opportunity to perform again.

First Impressions - A Guest Blog


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.


Update by Laura Mainwaring on her research work with us for our #Influenza100 #Spanishflu exhibition and workshops in 2019. Funded by the British Society for the History of Science.

One hundred years ago, the 1918-19 influenza pandemic, known as the Spanish ‘flu, wreaked havoc across the globe, affecting the health of about one-fifth of the world’s population. It caused the deaths of approximately 50–100 million people worldwide; more than the estimated 16 million lives claimed by the First World War. To commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of history’s deadliest pandemic the Florence Nightingale Museum are holding the exhibition “Spanish Flu” between 21 September 2018 to 16 June 2019. The George Marshall Medical Museum (GMMM) are hosting a touring exhibition from the Florence Nightingale Museum in early 2019.

I am grateful to have received support from the British Society for the History of Science (BSHS), which has allowed me to carry out research about the 1918-19 influenza pandemic and bring local content to the upcoming touring exhibition at the GMMM. I uncovered the local response to the pandemic by delving into the collections held at the GMMM and the public archives held at the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service at The Hive. I spent most of my research time at The Hive, looking through health committee minutes, school log books, hospital reports, and local newspaper reports.

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The local government response was in-line with the many localities across the country, with the restriction of cinema opening times and the closure of schools. Looking through the school log books highlighted the scale of the outbreak, but reading the local newspapers bought home the extent of suffering for the local population, with the publishing of high-mortality figures and obituaries. The pages were also littered with stories of soldiers surviving the War but who sadly succumbed to the outbreak. The Kidderminster Shuttle reported in November 1918 that Gunner S. Powell spent the last two weeks of the War on leave from France, visiting his parents in Kidderminster. Whilst he was home he contracted influenza, which was followed by pneumonia, and this proved fatal. Powell died on the 24th November 1918, just thirteen days after the War ended.


Gunner S. Powell survived the War but contracted influenza whilst home on leave, which proved fatal. Source: Kidderminster Shuttle, November 1918

The medical nature of the project and the fact that the records were just inside a 100-year closure period, albeit by a few months, meant that I was faced with data protection obstacles. In order to gain access to the hospital records held at The Hive I had to receive permission from the Caldicott Guardian at the Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust. As a result of this project, I now have more of an understanding of data protection and how to gain access to archives that contain personal sensitive data. I have also gained experience in turning archival research into engagement outputs. I created a research booklet on the impact of the Spanish ‘flu on the Worcestershire area, bringing together newspaper reports, advertisements, archival material, and collections from the George Marshall Medical Museum. This booklet will be available for visitors to the exhibition, as well as future researchers. I also had the opportunity to create a school workshop, using my research to inform the themes and activities.

I have enjoyed collaborating with the curator at the GMMM, Louise Price, who has given me support and guidance throughout the project. I look forward to speaking about my research at a seminar, held in conjunction with the University of Worcestershire, to be held at the GMMM on 5th April 2019.


The Marconi M.M.E.5 Audiometer & TF444A & TF895 Acuity Meter

by Nigel Adams

In our first blog we covered the background history of Marconi Instruments and how the company came into being. This time we begin our journey through the various pieces of instrumentation aimed at the field of medical science. 

Some of the initial work into the medical electronics sector was undertaken before WW2, when the company was still known as Marconi – Ekco Instruments. It was known as the ‘Audiometer’ and produced for use in hospitals or larger doctors’ practices/institutions (probably prior to the establishment of the modern ‘clinic’ as we know it now). 

Initially this unit was marketed as the M.M.E 5 (Marconi Medical Equipment), it was a cream painted rectangular metal casing approximately the size of a large shoebox, with a top mounted carry handle and suited for AC and DC Mains operation. Remembering this was before the national grid was established and a number of locations away from towns had DC mains supplies – possibly generated locally or even on-site, using a stationary engine as a power plant to drive a generator. 

The unit contained a headset to be worn by the patient, a patient signalling switch and a handheld microphone used by the Otologist conducting the test.   A ’normal’ range of audible hearing is regarded as being from below 20Hz (Hertz, formerly cycles per second) up to around 20KHz (20,000 Hertz) for a typical person – of course it is known that most peoples’ hearing capability decreases as we age. So this unit would cover the range suitable for children as well as adults. 

In operation, the Audiologist (Otologist) would set up the equipment such that the patient placed the headset over one ear and the sound level adjusted so that the user could hear a tone. The frequency and levels were then adjusted over the range of the test and the patient could indicate when they were no longer able to hear the tone by pressing the signalling switch. The Otologist would then record the results and form a diagnosis. The process would then be repeated for the patient’s other ear. For patients with profoundly hard of hearing there was a bone conduction unit, and a Masking unit (for additional tuning) was offered as optional accessories. 

It was clear that this type of examination became much more important during and after WW2 due to the debilitating effects of loud explosions and gunfire etc. that the armed services and general public would experience during those years. Hearing loss/damage and acute deafness became a major issue in these post war years. 

The first recorded use of this equipment is shown in a company advertisement for a demonstration stand in 1937 at the Physical Society Exhibition (Stand 16).

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improved audiometer TF444A advert .jpg

During the war years Marconi Instruments name succeeded the Ekco branding and the later model of Acuity Meter replaced the MME5 , becoming the TF444 and TF444A. An advertisement for this appeared in the December 1943 issue of ‘Nature’ magazine – costing the princely sum of £12-0-0d  (for placement of the advert!).

Interestingly, mention is made of ‘subject to approval of the appropriate authority’ in the text. Such items being restricted in their use to certain facilities (wartime restrictions still being in force). 

The later TF444 /TF444A and subsequent TF895 models were similar in operational principle to their earlier counterparts, although there were new features and a restyled casing. This equipment marked one of the first aids to modern diagnosis and treatment of debilitating hearing conditions that benefitted the wider public. 

For further reading about Marconi’s early life and his business developments, please see other reference material in the archive at George Marshall Medical Museum.