Bone saws, surgeon chairs and scalpels: See the 19th century exhibits once used at Worcester's Infirmary

By Culture24 Reporter | 14 May 2015

From bone saws to poisonous recipes, here are 11 surgical objects from two Museums at Night venues: The Infirmary Museum and the Elgar Birthplace Museum

Elgar's hand

A photo of a plastic white hand on a black cushion on top of a wooden floorboard
A plaster-cast of Elgar’s hand which he brought back from a holiday to Italy in 1907. Elgar was well travelled, making over 30 separate journeys to around 10 different countries throughout his life. "This extraordinary souvenir from Rome is a favourite object amongst our younger visitors," says Mark Macleod, the Head of The Infirmary.

Cypher notebook

One of Elgar's notebooks from the 1890s containing some of his experiments in cyphers. Elgar was a great lover of secret cyphers, wordplay and puzzles. They appear in his letters to family and friends, are pencilled on concert programmes and carefully pasted into scrapbooks. They require great skill and hint at the genius behind Elgar’s music. Elgar was particularly fascinated by cryptography - the study of making and solving codes and cyphers. He loved to challenge himself with ‘unsolvable’ cyphers and took great satisfaction in discovering their solutions.


From a 19th century surgeon, necessary for many different procedures and still sharp today.

Portable surgeon's chair

Useful in the Victorian era when making house calls and to prevent damage to the householders' furniture. This handy item will fold to a board which is very portable. Note the slatted back to allow the use of restraints should the sitter be required to stay still.

Nanty Ewart

Elgar once dressed up as the pirate, Nanty Ewart, from Sir Walter Scott's 'Redgauntlet, to entertain the children while staying with friends at Hasfield Court in 1901 for the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival.

Elgar casket

The ornate Freedom Casket containing the Freedom of the City of Worcester, which was presented to Elgar in September 1905. The casket contains an elaborate illuminated scroll honouring the composer’s contributions to the City.

Trephine tool

A 19th century example of a tool which can be traced to use during the Neolithic period. Used to relieve the pressure on the brain - but what would happen if the user didn’t stop at the skull?

Bone saw

An important instrument during the 19th century, this piece of surgeon's equipment enabled the quick removal of damaged or diseased extremities. Having a bow saw enables adjusting the tension of blade to the job.

Pestle and mortar

From the late 18th century and used by apothecaries and their apprentices in the daily work of mixing and perfecting treatments of the ailments presented.

Enigma montage

A montage of the characters depicted within Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Elgar is probably most famous for his piece of music Variations on an Original Theme, better known as the Enigma Variations, which he composed in 1899. It is a musical portrait gallery of himself, his wife and 12 friends. The ‘enigma’ or puzzle is believed to either be a hidden tune which can be heard in the background, or which could be played in harmony. No-one has yet successfully solved this great Elgar puzzle.

Primitive Physick

A photo of an old medical book with black ink across it about blood and being poorly
A book written by Methodist leader John Wesley offering remedies to the population from 1747. Could this book contain a poisonous recipe?

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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The hidden melody to Elgar’s Enigma Variations is 'Ein feste Burg’ (A Mighty Fortress) by Martin Luther. Multiple music ciphers in the work confirm this remarkable discovery. To learn more, read my free eBook at
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