Thackray will see you now!

Thackray Museum of Medicine in Leeds has one of the UK’s most significant medical collections and this spring it will open its doors to showcase an extensive £4.1million redevelopment to engage people in the story of healthcare.

Thackray is located on Beckett Street, in the Harehills area of Leeds next to St James’s University Hospital, in an area known as the medical mile.

The building was purpose built for the Leeds Union workhouse in 1861. It went on to become a hospital and was used by the NHS until 1990. In 1997 the museum opened, founded by Thackray Medical Research Trust.

In 2015, architects Simpson & Brown were appointed to develop proposals to improve the visitor experience at the existing Grade II listed museum building, looking in particular at improving accessibility, visitor flow and circulation routes by creating a more fluid space.

The redevelopment has been made possible thanks to £1.5m awarded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund. Other funding has come from, Wellcome Trust, Thackray Medical Research Trust, Arts Council England, Garfield Weston Foundation, The Wolfson Foundation and Foyle Foundation.

Simpson & Brown designed a new atrium within the heart of the existing building: improving the visitor reception areas, rationalising public circulation spaces and unlocking the previously unused rear wing of the building for community use. The design has created a fully accessible one-way visitor flow around the two floors of the exhibition space.

The new atrium walls rise up to the first floor exhibition framing an illuminated suspended installation within the new double height space.

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The atrium walls are newly tiled and carefully colour matched with the existing teal Burmantofts tiles, creating a contemporary companion to the adjacent Victorian stairwell.

The colourful, welcoming space leads visitors up to the start of the exhibition.
With 11 new galleries visitors can explore the medical innovations that have changed our lives. The galleries offer a playful, shocking and sometimes, macabre visitor experience, at a time when healthcare couldn’t be more relevant.

Andy Davey, Partner at Simpson & Brown, says: “The substantial remodelling of the Victorian Workhouse has been a challenging but very rewarding task. The introduction of a new central stair and atrium to create a proper sense of arrival has effectively acted as a heart-transplant for the building - endowing it with a new lease of life and a secure future.”   

The Creative Core worked with the museum team and Interpretation Consultant Mary Stones, to develop a fresh and inclusive exhibition design capable of supporting the incredible collections and stories that Thackray has to offer. The new interpretation aims to engage modern audiences through an open and honest exploration of contemporary healthcare issues.

Harriet Whitehead, lead Designer at Core, says: “The Thackray is a medical museum like no other. The new galleries offer so much variety, each with their own curious objects and intriguing stories to tell. What we enjoyed most was being able to communicate different feelings and emotions through the design of each space, plus the challenge of bringing together all these different experiences into a coherent visitor journey across the museum.”

Nat Edwards, CEO of Thackray Museum of Medicine, says: “The redevelopment is fantastic and has brought together our collections and tells the story of healthcare in a truly engaging way. We’ve got some amazing history, incredible science and a lot of fun that will ignite the imaginations of a new generation of medics, researchers, decision-makers, activists and informed citizens to help shape the medicine we need in the future.”

The museum is totally compliant with COVID-19 safety measures and has been approved by Visit England. Details of how you can visit will be on the website. To see the film visit

Redevelopment Partners
Architects: Simpson & Brown
Exhibition Design: The Creative Core
Lighting Design: Nick Smith
Structural Engineers: Elliott Wood Partnership
Services Engineers: Silcock Leedham Consulting Engineers
Main Contractor: Bermar Building
Project Management: Appleyard &Trew
Quantity Surveyor: NPS  
Interpretation Consultant: Mary Stones
Brand Consultant: Creative Concern

 

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