Volunteer View: September

Hi everyone, it’s Ross Horsley here with a look back at what our brilliant volunteers have accomplished at the Thackray recently.

As the museum’s volunteer coordinator, I’m particularly proud that our team is as good at adapting to visitor needs as it is at supporting the longer-term aims of staff behind the scenes. Over the last month, it’s been wonderful to see our volunteers spring into action to welcome back returning school classes.

Here are Yvonne, Charlotte and Preeti showing off our live leeches to school groups from Wakefield, Middleton and York, who came along to find out more about Tudor medicine:

Along with another volunteer, Helen, the team were ready with all kinds of leech facts to wow our guests, from the medical (are leeches still used in treatment today?) to the morbid (how many leeches would it take to drain a human body of blood?). Answers at the end!

One school wrote: “Please pass on our thanks to everyone involved in our visit yesterday; it was fantastic. The workshop was one of the best we have ever taken part in, and the girls were buzzing about the visit – everything from Disease Street to the leeches.”

In other news, I recently had to give one of the other volunteers the sack… to mend! Here’s Tracy applying some much-needed stitchery to a couple of hessian props from the mill on Disease Street:

Tracy is no stranger to sorting out sacks, as when she’s not volunteering, she works as a Royal Mail handler. Thanks to her handiwork, our own dusty, smelly old bags of shoddy have never looked better – or at least more authentic!

Our genuine historical objects need more careful conservation and cataloguing, for which we have a collections project involving a small number of dedicated volunteers. Back in August, Pauline, Diane, Holly and Cat began researching descriptions for our catalogue, under the supervision of Collections Access Assistant, Natascha Allen-Smith. They’ll continue until the end of the year, when we’ll open up an opportunity to new volunteers.

Researching objects comes naturally to team-member Cat (above), who’s been fascinated by scientific advances ever since they studied the history of medicine at GCSE level. Since then, they’ve completed an MA in Arts Management and Heritage Studies, and contributed to exhibitions at the Leeds University Library Galleries.

Here at the Thackray, one of the interesting objects they’ve investigated recently is a set of pure alcohol ampules. You may be surprised by some of the medical uses of absolute alcohol so, if you want to know more, read the newly-updated label on our online catalogue and thank Cat      for their hard work!

I’ll be back next month with more volunteer news. Until then, you’ll be relieved to know we estimate it would take over 400 leeches to drain a human’s blood supply, and we have only seven of the little suckers here at the museum. As for their use in modern medicine, it all relates to microsurgery and encouraging blood flow – something leeches are very good at, thanks to the anti-coagulant properties of their saliva and the steady rate at which they feed. Find out more at the Royal College of Surgeons.