In 2013 the Thackray was creating a new touring exhibition “Putting the Magic Back into Medicine” which was given temporary space on the ground floor of the museum. Visitors were already familiar with the story of Hannah Dyson’s amputation on the first floor, but often bypassed the Wilkinson Gallery next door, which houses a unique collection of apothecary jars.  Initial research revealed that some families associated the gallery with death and thought that the jars contained ashes.

The aim therefore was to create a more family friendly interpretation of the Wilkinson gallery as well as informal family learning activities which would support the touring exhibition “Putting the Magic Back into Medicine.”  The museum was also keen to bring local native Leeds residents and ethnic communities together to share folk remedies from different cultures.


The brief brought with it a small budget for resources, and access to the Wilkinson archives which were full of interesting remedies and objects relating to cures for all kinds of ailments.

I contacted a local school and Asian women’s centre and carried out informal sessions where we talked about family cures – a silk scarf knotted into a ball and placed on the stomach for period pains, a butter and onion s andwich for a sore throat. Discussions led to the idea of medicine as magic, and how the first apothecaries must have seemed like magicians to the uninitiated. Spells, potions and Harry Potter entered the conversation and families told me that their children loved mixing up “medicine” and potions from all kinds of substances found in the home.

This led to the development of remedy cards which families could use on a self-guided trail from the ground floor exhibition to the Wilkinson Gallery, collecting ingredients from an old apothecary’s chest which took centre stage in the gallery.  Remedy cards were created which visitors could use to collect herbs and spices to make up their own remedies.  A giant puzzle of one of the apothecary jars was also commissioned and this was placed in the gallery, which acted as a draw for families with younger children.

There were opportunities to dress as a Plague Doctor and fall victim to the plague, thanks to face paints, rice krispies and Vaseline!  I also created 3 sessions for museum staff to deliver: Tastes Like Magic, A Visit to the Apothecary and The Royal Touch.  These included scripted role play with roles taken by museum staff and could be delivered whenever families dropped in, or adapted to be run as school workshops.


Consultation sessions with local families

Research using the Wilkinson Archives

Liaise with touring exhibition developer, schools, families and archivist

Creation of remedy cards and related activities

Creation of scripts for family and school workshops

Commissioning giant floor puzzle

Creation of dress up activities and ordering resources


Controlling budget


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