We regularly offer a variety of educational workshops, seminars and lectures in order to make the history of medicine in Bath available to all, and to promote education, health and well-being as part of our mission.
Our content covers a wide range of topics, from the history of spa water treatments to the wider medical practices of the Georgian, Victorian and early 20th century periods, and is available at all levels, from Primary and Secondary, through GCSE (History of Medicine) and A Level, to college and university. We also offer talks and lectures to a variety of community groups and often incorporate the opportunity to see and examine objects from our collections at close quarters.
So, whatever your level or interest, email us today to experience the thrill of our medical history Learning Programme. Take a look at the following list of macabre topics, from blood-letting and amputations, dissections and diseases, to the history of the NHS and the development of pharmacy. We guarantee you’ll find something to whet your appetite!
Lectures, Demonstration, Tours and Special Exhibitions
Listed below are some possible subjects which can link either with objects held in the collection or other artefacts or buildings in the Bath area. The topics may be of interest to schools offering studies in GCSE History of Medicine modules or to those interested in health care who would like to know more about how modern medical practice developed.
Do keep an eye on this page as we will be uploading new content and topics relating to Bath’s Medical Heritage on a regular basis.
Pandemics in Bath
Two centuries ago, most deaths were caused by infectious diseases like measles, smallpox, diphtheria and polio (infantile paralysis). Children were lucky to survive until the age of five. Find out more about these infections and how Bath built an Infectious diseases hospital at Claverton Down. What led to the decline in these infections in the 20th century?
Learn about the effects of world “pandemics” in history. The Black Death, Bubonic Plague, Cholera and Influenza all had significant impact on civilisation. What implications do they have for us today?
Smallpox and vaccination
Why was smallpox so feared by our ancestors? What causes it. Discover what first attempts to prevent it were performed in the 18th century and how that was changed by Edward Jenner.
Dissections and autopsies
What was the church’s attitude to dissection? Learn about some examples of autopsies carried out in Bath in the 17th and 18th centuries. How and when were coroners involved? Look at a case of 19th century autopsy instruments.
Did the Bath Waters really cure patients?
Just why are we here in Bath? From the mythical King Bladud to modern day Hydrotherapy, find out how the legendary waters have been used for treatment of patients for millennia; and just how effective they really are.
Dr William Oliver
Most people have heard of Oliver Biscuits but don’t know much about the physician who invented them. Find out more about his life and why he was an important person in Georgian Bath.
It has been deemed “one of the most successful operations of the 20th century”, but just when were artificial joints invented and how have they developed over the years? Have a look at a couple of prosthetic joints from our own collection, find out what materials they have been made from, and whether they are just as good as a person’s own joints.
'The Yankee Dodge'
How did the use of anaesthesia revolutionise the practice of surgery? When were the first anaesthetics given in Bath? What effects did nitrous oxide, ether and chloroform have? Why were they popular at parties? Did everyone welcome their discovery?
Looking inside the body
Who was Wilhelm Röntgen and why is he important to understanding how we see into the body? What risks did the first doctors taking X-ray photographs face?. When was the first CT scanner invented and what are its advantages over ordinary X-ray photography. What other imaging technologies are used in modern medicine, and just when were they first used in Bath?
Radioactivity in Medicine; The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
When radioactive elements were first discovered in the Bath springs, people believed they had found an explanation for the water’s curative effect. Radiation was first perceived as benefitting health. Then some disastrous consequences were uncovered. Radioactivity still has a place in medical treatment and diagnosis, but not as originally perceived.
Past Perils of Childbirth
What are forceps? When were they invented? Who were the Chamberlen brothers and why did they keep it a secret? Childbirth has long been full of danger and peril but one family helped to make it safer…
Microscopes and medicine
In which century were microscopes invented. Why did doctors take so long to start using microscopes in their work? What development in the last century made it possible to increase the enlarging power of the microscope?
Lifestyle, health regimens and the “non-naturals”
What were the 6 non-naturals which mediaeval doctors considered important for preserving good health? Do they still have a relevance today? Why were they largely forgotten in the 20th century?
Sounds of the body
The stethoscope. Why was it invented. How has the design changed. Compare using a cardboard roll with a modern stethoscope? What does sounds does your heart make? Are there any sounds in your tummy?
Measuring blood pressure
Why does blood spurt from arteries when they are cut and not from veins? Who measured the blood pressure of a horse in the 18th century. Examine three instruments used for taking blood pressure at different periods of history. Try taking your own blood pressure with a modern instrument. What is systolic and diastolic pressure?
Forgotten skills in practical pharmacy
Learn how to roll pills, prepare tinctures and use apothecaries weights. When did dispensing chemists first separate themselves from apothecaries. There are still some pharmacies in Bath which date from this time which you can visit. How do modern pharmacists differ from their predecessors 100 years ago?
How would you reduce a wrist fracture? How would a Roman surgeon deal with such a fracture? When was Plaster of Paris used to immobilise a limb? What other ways are used? Hear the story of an extraordinary fracture sustained by a motor cyclist sixty years ago. Examine some instruments used in fracture clinics from the last century.
The Roman Way
What instruments did Roman surgeons use? Learn about the medical practices of the Roman Empire and then visit the Roman Baths to see for yourselves.
Humours and Miasmas: ancient theories about disease
Learn about the four Humours, miasmas, contagion, iatrochemistry and iatromechanics. Do any of these theories have relevance today?
Devonshire colic: Lead poisoning in history
Sound the bell: lepers and leprosy
How does the modern use of the word differ from that of the past? Learn about mediaeval leper hospitals and the church’s attitude towards lepers. Was there a leper hospital in Bath? Did bathing cure lepers and was there a special bath for lepers in the city?
Ding-dong-dang: Bladder Stones
Learn why this was common before the 19th century. What did lithotomists do and how is the French song Frère Jacques connected to these operators? Examine some instruments used in bladder procedures.
From Gamps to Nightingales - changes in nursing
What was nursing like in the early days of the Bath General Hospital? Why was Florence Nightingale important in the history of nursing? See how uniforms have changed in the last hundred years.
A bloody business
Blood letting was a standard treatment for centuries . Learn about the techniques and instruments used for taking blood from patients. Why do we take blood from people today? When were the first blood transfusions performed and what are blood groups.
The clap and the French Pox
Going to the dentist
There was no such person called a dentist. If you had tooth ache, you went to a tooth puller. If you ended up with no teeth you would need a jeweller. Find out how dentistry evolved. Why would a dentist have given you cocaine?
Magic bullets - the war on microbes
What is the difference between an antiseptic and an antibiotic? What antiseptics did the surgeon Joseph Lister use when operating? Why is the dye industry important in the history of antibiotics? Although penicillin was discovered by Alexander Fleming it took several years before it was used on patients. It was originally so precious it had to be recovered from the urine passed by a patient who had been given it.
Scurvy - scourge of the British Navy
What causes scurvy and why did it particularly affect sailors. What is Sir James Lind’s connection with the disease? Why were sailors called limeys?
Learn how different forms of electricity were used to treat diseases in the 18th century. Examine some of the equipment used.
In the 18th century patients who were unable to walk were transported in sedan and wheeled chairs, or on litters. What was a Bath chair and where can you see one? How long have people been carried on stretchers? Which wars stimulated the development of ambulances? Learn about the Red Cross and St John’s Ambulance When was the Air Ambulance service started? What would you find in a modern ambulance?
Learn how health care was funded before the NHS. How were voluntary hospitals like the Mineral Water and Royal United Hospitals funded? What health care did the council pay for? Learn about how GPs had private and ‘panel’ patients. Examine some hospital accounts and a patient’s bill sent by a Victorian GP.
A brief history of the NHS
The NHS evolved from Lloyd-George’s National Insurance Act of 1911. Compare and contrast the two systems. Find out why GPs are self employed and hospital doctors are employees of the NHS. How does the NHS differ from health care provision in France, Germany or the USA?
Doctors keep case notes of their patient’s problems. How have these changed over the last 250 years? Examine some examples from the past. Some entries for consultations are very brief whilst others extend over several pages. What were Lloyd-George envelopes? When did GPs stop recording their clinical records on paper? Do all doctors have atrocious hand writing?
The Mental Asylum
Find out how people with mental health problems were treated in previous centuries. Why were they described as “going around the bend”? There were several private “mad houses” in the area. Learn about Bailbrook House (before it became a hotel) and the psychiatrist, Dr Lionel Weatherly, who ran it.
Bath had three which were set up in the mid nineteenth century. They were a type of early health centre and the premises of one, The Eastern Dispensary, still stands in Cleveland Place. Learn what sort of treatments were available and find out what led to their closure.
Learn about homeopathy in Bath. The city once had a homeopathic hospital. Who invented homeopathy and why was it so popular in the early 19th century? What other unorthodox treatments were on offer in Bath and how many are still available today?
Clinical trials and medical research
Comparing the effects of of one treatment against another to see which is more effective is standard practice in modern medicine but Bath can provide some of the earliest examples dating from the 18th century. Learn more about early clinical research carried out in the city and the doctors who were involved.
Dealing with deafness
The first ENT clinic in Bath opened in 1826. Learn about what went on in the building which is now an undertakers office. Possibly the first instrument for looking into ears was invented by a Bath surgeon in the 18th century. Find out more about it and how deafness was managed before digital hearing aids were invented.
Tuberculosis was once a common cause of death known as consumption because it lead to progressive weakness and emaciation. It affected all ages but more often children and young adults. Before the discovery of antibiotics, treatment was carried out in a sanatorium built high up on a hill and with opportunity to get as much sunshine as possible both within and outside the building. Bath patients were sent to Winsley Sanatorium, now a care home for the elderly. Find out more about TB and its importance in history.
Amputation and sepsis
Sepsis is much rarer now than in the past but still sometimes kills people. The term comes from the Greek word meaning “rotten” and amputation was often the only way to prevent spread of infection when a leg or arm was injured. Learn more about amputation, the instruments involved in the operation and what artificial limbs were available in previous times. Why were so many amputations carried out between 1914 and 1918.