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The oldest document in the hospital archives is Rahere’s grant of 1137, and a facsimile can be seen in the museum. Sealed in the presence of Rahere, the founder of St Bartholomew's, this deed has remained in the hospital ever since, except perhaps during the Fire of London in 1666.
The museum presents objects from the hospital’s unique historical collections, including works of art, and surgical and medical equipment used in the hospital. Visitors can view a case of amputation instruments which belonged to John Abernethy, surgeon to the hospital in 1815-27, and the tools of the apothecary’s trade, including pill-making equipment, scales and drug bottles.
Visitors can learn about William Harvey, physician to St Bartholomew's from 1609-43 and discoverer of the circulation of the blood. The patients’ diet in earlier times is explained, and a volume of 19th century drawings and watercolours illustrates in graphic detail particular diseases and cases, including that of a patient with a large tumour of the tongue.
His case notes are also displayed, and they record that he was ‘so much offended at having to sit with his tongue out’ that he discharged himself from the hospital. Equipment used by nurses in their work is exhibited, such as feeding cups, a hypodermic syringe and items of uniform. The hospital’s role in the training of medical students is also covered.
The museum overlooks the famous 18th century square designed by James Gibbs. Two vast and spectacular paintings by William Hogarth are also visible from the museum.