Last year I had an opportunity to spend a day in London town catching up with treasured friends who were visiting from Australia ever-so briefly. In a moment of serendipity, I read something somewhere the week prior that made mention of a venue in the big smoke that sounded intriguing. What I do remember is that the article was in an Interior design publication, speaking of a recent classy renovation of a library that is accessible to the public. My curiosity was piqued.The institution was The Wellcome Collection, found just opposite Euston station and Euston Square gardens. On doing a little research, I was instantly drawn in by the tagline:
“the free destination for the incurably curious”
… being curious, I wanted to find out more. Their website states that “The Wellcome Collection is a free museum and library exploring health, life and our place in the world…(which) creates opportunities for people to think deeply about the connections between science, medicine, life and art.” Given that one of the visiting friends is employed in a medical field and all three of us are insatiable, travelling souls with artistic sensibilities who love to explore the world and how it works, it sounded like a fab place to seek out!
After a stunning lunch at the incredible Ottolenghi Nopi, we walked across the city and had a look. With an imposing classical frontage of Ionic columns and a portico adorned with medical symbols, the Wellcome building is hard to miss – sitting on the southern side of Euston Rd on the corner of Gordon St. Inside, the foyer is full of sculpture and classy architecture & interior design. It contains that fantastic (recently beautifully decorated!) “Reading Room” of 750,000 items from books to articles and films, fundamentally covering information that allows one to explore the role of medicine in arts & society. Alongside this public library there are exhibition spaces & galleries, a funky foyer cafe, an upstairs restaurant and a fantastic shop full of all manner of science/medicine and curiosity themed items. And it’s FREE to spend time there.
Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853 – 1936) was half of the partnership that founded Burroughs Wellcome & Co. – amongst the first pharmaceutical companies to produce medicines in tablet form. He was a collector & philanthropist alongside his pharmacy skills so, as his life evolved, he amassed one of the best collections of objects that relate to the fields of health & medicine. This is what you find on Euston Rd, in a building custom built by Wellcome in the 1930’s to house his passions, alongside the modern building to the west that houses the Wellcome Trust – a philanthropic legacy, now a charitable foundation, left by him to encourage people to research & explore the fascinating world of medicine.
This is a fascinating place.
At the time of our visit there was a wonderful exhibition entitled ” A Museum of Modern Nature” which had called upon the public to contribute items that showed a physical representation of their relationship with nature. In turn the objects to be exhibited were chosen by a team of people who themselves worked with nature – a park manager, a dairy farmer, a plant medicine shaman amongst them. In the end they divided the pieces into 4 themes: Change, Imagine, Sustain & Ritual. Beautifully curated, each of the items was shown with a brief description from the contributor and the hall of wonders gave an intriguing insight into our modern connection to nature. Alongside of all this are regular events to encourage discussion and exploration. There are youth events, book events, pop-up events even an ‘Open Platform’ series where people meet in the Reading Room and are urged to propose their own events that open new avenues for conversation & ideas.
As I departed, having paused for a very good coffee and piece of cake in the lobby cafe, I wandered into the shop. Here is another treasure trove of fabulous things, interesting books, quirky gifts, science based humour, toys, jewellery, kids books… I could spend a full afternoon just perusing this!
So, if you find yourself with a few hours to spare in the ‘big smoke’ of Londinium, here is my gift to you. Venture into this exciting building full of wonder. I can’t imagine anyone not finding something to pique their curiosity.
Oh, and you’re Wellcome!!