Thackray will see you now! UK’s largest independent medical museum in Leeds finally opens its doors following a multi-million-pound redevelopment.

17th May 2021

Thackray Museum of Medicine in Leeds has one of the UK’s most significant medical collections and this spring it will open its doors to showcase an extensive £4.1million redevelopment to enthral and enlighten people about the story of healthcare.



The 11 new galleries reveal the medical innovations that have changed our lives. The museum offers a playful, shocking and sometimes, macabre visitor experience, at a time when healthcare couldn’t be more relevant. Thackray wants to help visitors understand today’s healthcare challenges by presenting the evidence and knowledge of how people have met medical challenges in the past. It portrays both the successes and failures of medicine.

Visitors will be able to understand medicine through artful recreations. They will get a sense of the sights on the grimy streets of Victorian Leeds and be able to chart how medicine has changed through the centuries. From witnessing gruesome operations taking place in the 19th century operating theatre, to visiting a sexual health clinic from the 1970s; each gallery is an opportunity to uncover how we respond to crisis, sparking debate about medical innovations that changed the world.

Thackray continues to play its part in the story of healthcare and was the first museum in the UK to become a vaccine hub during the Covid 19 pandemic. The museum is also collecting evidence about the pandemic from vaccine vials to oral histories, adding to its extensive archive and expanding story of healthcare.

Located on Beckett Street, in the Harehills area of Leeds next to St James’s University Hospital, the museum is housed in a grade II listed building with a long history, first serving as a workhouse and later used by St James’s Hospital before its transformation into a museum.

The design led by architect Simpson & Brown, is sensitive to the building’s medical history and the upstairs galleries are located in the long maternity wards where mothers would spend time recuperating after giving birth.




With more than 47,000 items of historical medical equipment and 9,000 books Thackray’s collection demonstrates the huge contribution that the healthcare industry has made to the practice and development of medicine.

The collection includes Prince Albert’s personal medicine chest, complete with the original labelled bottles and Hitler’s blood transfusion set, which was kept aboard his yacht Grille in case of an emergency.

Alongside the unique and often bizarre range of medical objects dating from the 1600s right up to the present day, the Thackray team will be delivering a programme of talks, tours, family activity, research and learning addressing issues in modern day healthcare.

Nat Edwards, CEO of Thackray Museum of Medicine, says: “People have never been as passionately interested in medicine as they are today – but neither has there ever been the same volume of nonsense, half-baked theories and fake news. This museum is about cutting through to get to the real stories.

“Here at Thackray we don’t just want to inspire people and educate them about how medicine affects their lives – we want people to discover their own power to make a difference. We’ve got amazing history, incredible science and a lot of fun that will ignite the imaginations of a new generation of medics, researchers, decision-makers, activists and informed citizens to help shape the medicine we need in the future.”

The team at Thackray work with NHS professionals and Professor Simon Kay OBE is a leading consultant plastic surgeon and the first-ever Medical Director of the museum.

Professor Kay led a professional team at Leeds Teaching Hospitals to develop Hand Transplantation in the UK and to make surgical history by carrying out the first double hand transplant in a UK female in 2018.

Professor Kay said: “Medical history and healthcare innovation can be interpreted from many different points of view. I hope to bring a broad clinical perspective to the museums activity and am proud to be associated with this unique collection.

“Understanding healthcare in the 21st century is helped greatly by a knowledge of the complex technical, biological, ethical and social background that has formed our modern medicine. Thackray embraces the challenge of making that past available to all.”

The redevelopment has been made possible thanks to £1.5m awarded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund. Other funding has come from, Wellcome Trust, Thackray Medical Research Trust, Arts Council England, Garfield Weston Foundation, The Wolfson Foundation and Foyle Foundation.

David Renwick, Director, England, North at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “It’s fantastic to see the doors to the Thackray Museum of Medicine reopening to the public following its glowing revamp. The Museum is home to an internationally significant collection of wonderful objects where visitors from far and wide can discover the wonders of healthcare and medicine – a subject that has never been so captivating given the current world we live in.

“We’re very proud to have invested in the Museum’s redevelopment, which will allow everyone a chance to engage with this timely and crucial heritage. Thanks to National Lottery players – without whom our support wouldn’t have been possible – the brand new galleries will enable visitors to explore the stories behind the collections and uncover even more about their own heritage.”

Philomena Gibbons, Interim Director of Culture and Society at Wellcome Trust, said: “We are delighted to be one of the funders of the Thackray Museum redevelopment. The new galleries will bring the history and future of medicine and healthcare closer to its visitors, creating a space for learning and exchange of knowledge in one of the UK’s most important medical museums.”

The museum is totally compliant with COVID-19 safety measures and has been approved by Visit England. Details of how you can visit will be on the website.

Redevelopment Partners

Architects: Simpson & Brown

Exhibition Design: Creative Core

Lighting Design: Nick Smith

Structural Engineers: Elliott Wood Partnership

Services Engineers: Silcock Leedham Consulting Engineers

Main Contractor: Bermar Building

Project Management: Appleyard &Trew

Quantity Surveyor: NPS

Interpretation Consultant: Mary Stones

Brand Consultant: Creative Concern