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The Unsung Heroes of UCL Museums and Collections

ucwehlc6 July 2021

During 2020 and 2021 while UCL was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, UCL Culture’s curatorial team worked with students from the Institute of Archaeology’s MA Museum Studies on our first-ever virtual work placements. These projects, which included archive transcription, documentation and object label writing, provided opportunities for the students to gain practical curatorial skills to prepare them for their future careers while undertaking valuable work towards better understanding the collections.

This blog was written by Nicky Stitchman, UCL MA Museum Studies

As part of my MA in Museum Studies, I undertook a work placement with Hannah Cornish, Science Curator at UCL. My brief was to discover the different locations of UCL’s museums and teaching collections from the university’s origins in 1828. Ferreting out information from primary and secondary sources and finding maps that showed the movement of the various museums as the university expanded was fascinating, but I found myself drawn to people behind the museums. I am not talking here about the headliners – the Flinders Petries or Robert Grants of this world – but rather the curators, assistant curators and demonstrators who would have done most of the day-to-day tasks such as cataloguing, labelling, teaching, and physically moving the artefacts and objects within the collections. 

James Cossar Ewart at the Grant Museum 

J Cossar Ewart was the first professional, rather than professorial, curator of both the Anatomical Museum and Comparative Anatomy/Zoology Museum between 1875-1878. He was appointed after the retirement of William Sharpey (curator of the Anatomical Museum) and the death of Robert Grant (professor of comparative anatomy). In the official records, it was Professor Lankester, Grant’s successor, who refitted and rearranged the Museum of Zoology over this period but Ewart was instrumental in making the zoological preparations and was also known to have helped organise and take the subsequent practical classes that Lankester introduced to UCL. 

Black and white image of the head and shoulders of James Cossar Ewart

James Cossar Ewart worked at the Grant Museum 1875-1878. Image in public domain

After Ewart, there was a change in the running of the two largest museums at UCL at that time, with a separate curator appointed for the Museum of Anatomy, while the Zoological Museum (now the Grant Museum of Zoology) was titularly run by the Head of Department with a curatorial assistant.

Shattock and Stonham: Anatomy and Pathology

Mr Samuel Shattock succeeded Ewart as the Curator of the Anatomical and Pathological Museum. He had originally shown up in the records as a Mr Betty which caused me some confusion at the time, until I discovered that he had decided to change his name to prevent the extinction of the Shattock family name!  Shattock never qualified as a physician but dedicated his life to pathological medicine. He was responsible, alongside Dr Marcus Beck, for a descriptive catalogue of the surgical pathology preparations at UCL. His successor Charles Stonham also worked with Marcus Beck on Part II of this catalogue and then in 1890 produced another medical pathology catalogue, which can be found online at the Wellcome Collection. In the preface to this catalogue, Dr Barlow and Dr Money acknowledge the work of Charles Stonham, and state that it is ‘to him the preparation of this work is almost entirely due’.

Black and white image of Charles Stoneham in military uniform sitting on a wooden chair holding a riding crop

Charles Stonham Curator of the UCL Anatomical and Pathological Museum (copyright UCL CC By 3.0)

Stonham was also responsible for the division of the pathology from the anatomy collection and its rehousing within the museum. He is also remembered on the UCL Roll of Honour as not only was he an instrumental figure in the London Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance, but he volunteered as a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps during WWI and died on service in January 1916 aged 58. 

Margaret Murray and the Petrie Museum

The dedication of many assistant curators at UCL is very clear. The redoubtable Margaret Murray (pictured here), who worked alongside Flinders Petrie for many years, was effectively in charge of the museum’s collections during Petrie’s many excavations in Egypt and the Levant. It should also be remembered that the Petrie Museum of Egyptology and the Department itself was founded on the collection and endowment of Mrs Amelia Edwards, who favoured UCL due to the early admission of women into the College.

Black and white image of Margret Murray wearing a lace shawl, seated and holding a book

Egyptologist Margaret Murray (Image in public domain)

 

Edith Goodyear and the Geology Museum

One of the first women to be involved in UCL’s museums was Edith Goodyear who was appointed as the Assistant in the Geology Museum in 1904 and subsequently remained in the department until the Second World War. Edith worked alongside Professor Edmund Garwood, reorganising the museum, teaching, and researching papers. A room in the Lewis Building was named for her, along with the First Year Student prize within Earth Sciences. It is also worth noting that in an age of inequality, the 1916/17 council minutes show Edith was paid £150, the same as her male colleague Dr J Elsden. 

Keeping it in the family: Mary and Geoffrey Hett

1917 also saw the appointment of Mary L Hett as Assistant in the Zoology Dept on the same salary of £150, where she remained until she took up the post as Professor of Biology at the Hardinge Medical College, Delhi.  She had followed her brother Geoffrey S Hett to UCL where he held the post of Curator of the Anatomical Museum from 1907-1910. Like his sister, he had a great interest in the natural world and was an authority on both British birds and on bats. Geoffrey became an ENT Specialist and during his time at UCL completed valuable research on the anatomy of the tonsils. Like his predecessor, Charles Stonham, he also served in World War I and used the skills learnt at UCL to treat head, and in particular, nasal injuries during this period. 

The stories of the men and women who studied and worked at UCL museums over the years are many and various, and these are just a sample of those whom I have met in my research for the Mapping UCL Museums Project. We may never be able to give the Curators and Assistant Curators the recognition that their work and dedication deserve but in introducing these few to you, I hope to have redressed the balance very slightly in their favour!  

Specimen of the Week 385: UCL skulls

ucwehlc12 July 2019

This blog was written by Lily Garnett, volunteer at the UCL Pathology Museum

UCL.16.009 and UCL.16.018 are skulls. Like any human face, although they have the same features, they look different. They have both been processed for medical teaching, with cuts and hooks to reveal the inner workings of the cranium.

In terms of provenance, the history of these two individuals remains a mystery. The UCL prefix to their number indicates that they were found within the collection and their history prior to this is unknown. Before accurate plastic models became available in the 1990s, real human bones were used for teaching.

But where do you get a skeleton from?

Skulls UCL.16.009 and UCL.16.018

Skulls UCL.16.009 and UCL.16.018

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Specimen of the Week 383: Fracture of the odontoid process

ucwehlc14 June 2019

This blog was written by Lily Garnett, volunteer at the UCL Pathology Museum

These human remains tell a true story of murder, attempted suicide and the understanding of mental health in 1855.

It is rare for human remains within pathology collections to bear the name of the individual they were once a part of in life. In historic collecting this is most probably due to a collector’s medical interest in a pathology as a ‘specimen’, disassociating it from the reality that it was once part of a person with feelings, thoughts and family. Moreover, in the past the maintaining of deceased individuals often went unmonitored. Until as late as a public enquiry in 1999, with a focus being on the Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool, the vast majority were unaware that hospitals were retaining patients’ organs without consent. This ultimately led to the Human Tissue Act 2004, which is monitored by the Human Tissue Authority. Now, any institution holding human remains that are less than 100 years old since the death of an individual legally require a license.

D.15 Fracture of the odontoid process caused by a bullet

D.15 Fracture of the odontoid process caused by a bullet (bullet visible top left)

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Specimen of the Week 366: Acute Lobar Collapse

Subhadra Das9 November 2018

Today’s specimen of the week comes from UCL Pathology Collections. The Collections are displayed at the UCL Pathology Museum at the Royal Free Campus of the UCL Medical School in Hampstead. The museum includes a medical teaching collection of nearly 3,000 specimens of human remains illustrating the history of disease. To open up these specialist medical displays to a wider audience, we’ve developed a trail of 10 specimens of well known diseases. As the museum only opens to the public for special events, we’re sharing the trail as part of the Specimen of the Week series.

All of the entries for the UCL Pathology Collections Top 10 Medical Trail have been written by Nazli Pulatmen, who worked with us for her MA Museum Studies placement in the summer of 2018.

This week’s specimen is the collapsed lung of a small child. As with all our specimens from children, this blog comes with a warning that its content relates to child death.

A child's lungs and windpipe, obstructed by a kernel of corn.

RESP.C.8: Acute lobar collapse caused by obstruction by a foreign body.

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Specimen of the Week 358: Sternum and ribs in rickets

Subhadra Das14 September 2018

Today’s specimen of the week comes from UCL Pathology Collections. The Collections are displayed at the UCL Pathology Museum at the Royal Free Campus of the UCL Medical School in Hampstead. The museum includes a medical teaching collection of nearly 3,000 specimens of human remains illustrating the history of disease. To open up these specialist medical displays to a wider audience, we’ve developed a trail of 10 specimens of well known diseases. As the museum only opens to the public for special events, we’re sharing the trail as part of the Specimen of the Week series.

Sternum and ribs in rickets

The sternum and ribs of a 2-year-old showing advanced rickets.

All of the entries for the UCL Pathology Collections Top 10 Medical Trail have been written by Nazli Pulatmen, who worked with us for her MA Museum Studies placement in the summer of 2018. Today’s specimen of the week post comes with a content warning for child death as a result of neglect. We’ve done our best to handle this topic with sensitivity and respect.

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The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits

Jack Ashby18 October 2017

Our current exhibition – The Museum of Ordinary Animals: The Boring Beasts that Changed the World ­­- explores the mundane creatures in our everyday lives. Here on the blog, we will be delving into some of the stories featured in the exhibition with the UCL researchers who helped put it together.

Guest post by Dr Alan Bates (UCL Pathology)

How did Mary Toft – a peasant from Godalming in Surrey – convince some of the eighteenth century’s leading medical men that she was giving birth to rabbits?

Mary Toft, a copy of a portrait made in 1727 as Mary languished in Bridewell prison, while lawyers considered whether rabbit breeding was actually a crime. (C) Wellcome Library, London

Mary Toft, a copy of a portrait made in 1727 as Mary languished in Bridewell prison, while lawyers considered whether rabbit breeding was actually a crime.
(C) Wellcome Library, London

Fake news out of Surrey

The story first appeared in 1726, when a London journal reported that Mary had given birth to a creature ‘resembling’ a rabbit, but with its heart and lungs outside its body. In the following days, four more dead rabbits appeared. They were blamed on the theory of maternal impressions – that a child resembled whatever the mother was thinking of at the time of conception. Obviously, a good woman should be thinking about her partner at this key moment, but a child’s resemblance to some other man of her acquaintance might (perhaps conveniently for all concerned) be accounted for by a wandering imagination. Mary had supposedly seen rabbits hunted while she was pregnant, miscarried, and since then had had bunnies on the brain. (more…)