While away on holiday for the Christmas I had an invitation from a friend (Richard Euston – Project Manager at Big Heritage Chester) to see their exhibition on the City Walls in Chester. The Sick to Death exhibit has been in situ since the late summer and covers medicine through time in an interesting and engaging way.
Set in the Water Tower, off the Chester City walls (which would have sat much closer to the river at the time of construction than today) it provides a nice link from the narrative to the city. Plague pits were dug next to the walls and used for disposal of bodies right next to the Water Tower. On the day of the visit the rain was falling and you could almost transport yourself back to the wet miserable folk digging to dispose of their plaguey dead!
Hats off to whoever designed the exhibition in the space at the Water Tower – not an easy space to work in with circular rooms, narrow doors, flights of spiral staircases and a steep set of steps back to road level.
The design fits the rooms perfectly and mixes interpretation panels with simple interactives, including a poor chap, rather loose of bowels who greets you with straining discomfort as you enter the room! This is a real hit with kids (both big and little) and strangely helped focus you as you go from the outside world to the exhibition within.
The ground floor covered plague and typhoid along with a history of early medicine. You could look at the fleas that carried plague bacteria through a microscope while being quarantined in a little plague shed (I am sure it had a proper name!). One of my favourite activities was building a pomander to ward off the illnesses, combining dried herbs in a pretty bag that you could take away with you for a donation, a great touchy, smelly activity. I took one away that is currently keeping my underwear draw fresh!
Those who regularly read this blog will know I love an opportunity to get in a museum dressing up box and there was plenty of chances to dress up and take a selfie here, from the plague doctor, to a soldier’s helmet, to the Tudor doctor in his ruff.
Heading up the spiral staircase to the upstairs room we moved on to leprosy – with a lovely looking leper to get your photograph taken next too! Some more medical history information and then a fascinating skeleton with a bit of information about osteoarchaeology. This triggered much discussion in our group about if you would mind being on display in your skeletal form? I decided I certainly wouldn’t – I’d look very thin!! It was a really interesting piece to have on show.
I would heartily recommend a visit to Sick to Death, a great family day out and engaging for adults too. It provides a great balance between history and science and there are some brilliant items on loan from National collections that enhance the written content.
If you have the time we would also recommend a visit up to the camera obscura in the adjacent tower – despite being a rather dull and overcast day the view was brilliant.
The site is less than a 10 minute walk from the city centre for food and loos, and is close to the large car parks. For more details of their opening time and information find more details here http://sicktodeath.org/
Oh And don’t forget to grab a selfie with the plague doctor!
NB As previously mentioned there are a lot of steps so it may not be suitable for buggies/wheelchairs or those with dodgy knees!