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I never imagined, when I was asked to speak at the Royal College of Surgeons in London, what myriad of delights awaited me...

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Originally published in Surrey Life magazine December 2011


Elmbridge resident Max Clifford's monthly Surrey Life columngives us an insight into his busy life in the county and beyond...


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I never imagined, when I was asked to speak at the Royal College of Surgeons in London, what myriad of delights awaited me including coming face-to-face with Winston Churchills dentures.


I was there to give a talk at the presidents dinner for the Prostate Cancer Charity of which I am an ambassador and during my visit I was lucky enough to have a tour of the Hunterian Museum, which houses tens of thousands of weird and wonderful human and animal specimens. The shelves are full of fascinating artefacts, some of which may be considered controversial.


Whilst on our tour, among the exhibits we saw were the cranium and teeth of a megatherium, or extinct giant sloth. This specimen was presented to the college by Charles Darwin back in 1837. He collected the fossil during the voyage to South America. Megatherium weighed as much as elephants and became extinct about 10,000 years ago.


Just a few feet away from that was half of Charles Babbages brain. He was an eminent mathematician and computer pioneer who designed complex mechanical calculating machines. The other half is kept at the Science Museum. Babbages brain was preserved by Sir James Paget at Babbages own request. He gave his permission to use it in any way necessary to the advancement of human knowledge.


During the late 19th century, this specimen was included in research studying the brains of the eminent men. Sadly, the curators attempts to prove a link between brain anatomy and genius were not successful.


The museum also houses Sir Winston Churchills dentures; these have a gold base, platinum clasps and mineral teeth. Normally made to fit as closely as possible to the palate, Churchills dentures were different. To compensate for his natural lisp, his were designed to leave a gap between the palate and the roof of his mouth, thereby enabling him to maintain his distinctive speaking style.


A painted silver prosthetic nose from the mid-19th century can also be seen. This false nose was worn by a woman who had lost her own as a result of syphilis. She later presented it to her physician, stating that she had remarried and that her new husband preferred her without it.


We also saw the cast of the cranial cavity of Jonathan Swift. Swift was an author and Dean of St Patricks Cathedral. He is best known for his satirical book Gullivers Travels. Such casts of the inside of skulls were used to calculate the volume of the brain. This cast was made by Edward Perceval Wright in 1864.


The museum curator, Sarah Pearson, explained: The purpose is not to sensationalise these remains but celebrate the history and development of medical science, mistakes and all.


If you do visit the Royal College of Surgeons, which I recommend, be warned: it is not for the faint-hearted. With displays of primitive surgical instruments, animal and human remains, tumours, reconstruction work, misshapen skeletons and all, you may need a strong stomach.





(All photos The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, London)


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