Year 9 Historians visit the Thackray Museum in Leeds

Year 9 Historians visit the Thackray Museum in Leeds

On a bright sunny morning at the start of the week, Year 9 GCSE historians travelled by coach, across the Pennines to explore much darker times on the streets of Leeds in 1842 and to follow a trail suitably entitled ‘Pain, Pus and Blood’.

Experiencing the strong smells, dark areas and loud noises of the ‘1842 Street, Health Choices and Diseases’ exhibition opened our eyes to the shocking realities of Victorian living conditions that were so dirty and unhygienic that they led to regular outbreaks of lethal diseases, such as cholera, typhoid and tuberculosis as well as other nasty infections. This rather grim experience was lifted somewhat, by the discovery that after 1854, through the pioneering work of John Snow, Louis Pasteur and other scientists and doctors, our understanding of the causes of disease developed significantly and subsequent changes to public health after the Public Health Act of 1875 improved life expectancy. 

The ‘Pain, Pus and Blood’ talk provoked rather reluctant responses from the pupils when they were invited to experience various smells of the 19th century, including barbecue (to represent wounds being cauterised), cigar smoke (often smoked by the surgeons or members of the audience watching operation) carbolic soap, (used by Joseph Lister to disinfect his hands) and other human smells! The day finished by exploring the ways in which medicine has improved and surgery has become more safe, accurate and hygienic with the use of anaesthetics, antiseptics and new technology such as x-rays, blood transfusions and modern keyhole surgery techniques amongst others.