You can see the extraordinary collection that comprises the Royal Berkshire Medical Museum two Sundays each month. It can be found in the traditional Bath stone part of Reading’s Royal Berkshire Hospital.
This one-room museum is enthusiastically served by knowledgeable volunteers ready to answer questions. You can also wander freely, taking in the many surgical instruments and displays that can be equally wholesome and gruesome. Some of the cold grey metal items are enough to make you wince when you realise what orifice they were intended for. By far the most emotive exhibit is the iron lung, a sort of all-encasing metal box that helped polio sufferers to breathe. It really is a stark reminder of how far medical science has advanced.
There are two distinct strands of the museum. One is a very dense history of the hospital and the characters who created and developed it, with some great pictures of war patients and other momentous events. The other is the pharmaceutical and medical instruments section, together with their development and progress through the years along with testimony from the staff and patients.
Those of us who have lived in the Berkshire capital may have seen miraculous recoveries, operations, births, death and misery within these walls, and it seems fitting to pay respects by visiting this enlightened corner, close to one of Reading’s most imposing and beautiful buildings.
On hearing the anxious, searing roar of the traffic on Queens Road afterwards, I couldn’t help but be wistfully reminded of the lovely and heartbreaking Betjeman poem A Child Ill.
This museum is well worth a visit even if just to remember how much we should appreciate our good health and the fantastic medical advancement of this sometimes unfairly maligned modern age.
The Royal Berkshire Medical Museum is open from 2pm until 4.30pm on the first and third Sundays of the month. Access can be arranged at other times and for groups if you phone 0118 9549371. Admission is free but donations are welcome.