Inside the Gordon Museum

Bill Edwards

A little known King's gem, The Gordon Museum of Pathology based on Guy’s Campus might seem somewhat macabre at first. The collection of diseased human body parts, squeezed together in Victorian display cases is large and growing, with a collection of approximately 8,000 pathological specimens.

But as curator Bill Edwards explains, 'this is not a temple of death, it’s about the business of life. Many people have been cured because of the teaching and training that goes on in the Museum.'

Educating though evidence

The Gordon Museum

The Museum is a teaching collection, helping to train generations of medics, and providing evidence on which changes in medical practice are based.

'We have some precious things, but we use all our items for teaching. The Museum exists to teach. Nothing is useless. And this usefulness is the criterion for specimens being added to the collection and for us keeping them', says Bill.

Some fascinating objects at the museum include the first stethoscope ever used in Britain, and the Joseph Towne collection of impeccably accurate wax and wooden models of parts of the body. It also contains collections that formerly belonged to famous Guy’s alumni who have given their name to medical conditions, including Thomas Hodgkin, Thomas Addison and Richard Bright. Bill adds 'We have surgeons who come from all over the globe, who almost cry when they see what we have'.

The Museum is open only to the ‘medical public’ – doctors, dentists, surgeons, nurses and physiotherapists who need to see the collections. Sometimes the police and fire brigade use them for training in forensics. Occasionally medical historians and medical artists are allowed in, as are alumni with a medical or biomedical background. 

Outside the Museum

A landmark collection

The Gordon Museum collection is one of the largest of its kind in the world, with specimens going back to 1608, mostly from Guy’s and St. Thomas’s Hospitals. Inevitably though, it is incomplete. Does Bill have a wish-list of specimens he needs to fill gaps in the collection?

‘Degenerative diseases are a growth area as the population gets older – we need more specimens,’ he says, ‘then there’s infectious diseases like bird flu, Ebola, and examples of certain prosthetics’. 

A brush with stardom

Guy's, King's and St Thomas' surgeon and alumnus Mr Pankaj Chandak was seen in a dramatic role in the Netflix TV drama 'The Crown', performing an operation on King George VI.

An unexpected benefit of working on the Netflix show was the acquisition of a new medical ‘tool’ for King’s. The production company donated the prosthetic body used for King George VI to the Museum. This new education tool, says Mr Chandak, could be used for future demonstrations and to ‘show how far we’ve come with surgery since the time King George VI was operated on.’

How To Be Innovative

The Gordon Museum of Pathology is open for visits from GKT medical alumni. Get in touch with Bill Edwards to arrange a special appointment.