Alex Julyan wrote last month about the research that went into Quacks and Cures, our new improved remedy for a night of medical chicanery and enlightenment. When the event took place, it was down to Emily West and our Visitor Services Assistants to make sure things ran smoothly…
It’s very important, as a VSA, to be unflappable. Sometimes, when you lock up on a Friday night people start bringing leeches, brass bands and odd herbs into the gallery…this is a sign that something quite special about to happen.
Quacks and Cures was the fourth all-building evening spectacle that the Wellcome Collection has mounted and the second Quacks and Cures event, owing to the exceptional popularity of the first. Other all-building events have centred on hair and flesh, so really leeches are quite a welcome change.
My first task of the night was putting together huge jigsawed images on the postcard wall to set the scene. We had barely finished assembling giant pustules and drawings of boils being lanced when the first fanfare started blaring from the ground floor and Dr. Gripenerve started drumming up attention for his cure-all tonics and snake oil formulas.
The building was packed. I attended talks about the history of cholera in London, handled leeches and consumed dubious looking magic pills. Visitors could be cured of their ailments, learn about naval medicine and share their own home remedies (most of which seemed to involve marmite). There was a selection of wonderfully anachronistic public health films showing upstairs alongside a collection of contemporary and historical doctors who were doling out advice to the sick.
Actors walking around in Victorian sandwich boards helped to maintain the atmosphere, and the evening was punctuated with fanfares from a small brass band and a surreal duo singing adverts. It’s always great to have so many things that visitors can interact with…having a gallery that’s noisy is always better than a silent one, even if accordions have to be involved!
Emily West is a Visitor Services Assistant at Wellcome Collection.