University of Chester Riverside Museum

A collection of curiosities from the world of medicine, nursing, midwifery and social work.

The Museum, based at the University’s Riverside Campus on Castle Drive, contains a permanent collection of curiosities from the world of medicine, nursing, midwifery and social work. In addition, the First World War: Returning Home exhibition is commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the conflict and provides an insight into what a soldier invalided back from the Front would have found on his return to Cheshire. Using local examples wherever possible, the exhibition covers aspects such as medical advances, the psychological effects of war, volunteering and volunteer nurses, a doctor’s country practice, home life, food and recipes, rural life and social welfare. This exhibition has been refurbished with the generous help of the Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Heritage and is open on the following dates (together with the programme of associated talks). Admission is free and all are welcome. Please note that our pauper's coffin from the Deva Hospital is currently on loan to the Grosvenor Museum for their 'Dead Normal' exhibition until April 2019.

2019 Programme

Videos of recent talks are available to view via our Historical Society Past Events page

Alternatively, we can take bookings for groups of a minimum of six people outside these times by arrangement only. If you would like to visit the Museum and explore the collection, please contact Roger Whiteley for further details. We also welcome those who are interested in becoming a volunteer or attending the Historical Society bi-monthly lectures and please contact Roger to be added to the mailing list for forthcoming events. Visitors should go to the main Riverside Campus reception (formerly County Hall) opposite the River Dee where they will be directed. There is no car parking available. The address is: University of Chester, Riverside Campus, Castle Drive, Chester CH1 1SL.

Background to the collection by Colin Jones

Chester has provided mental health care services since 1829 in the then named County Lunatic Asylum. The hospital has over the years had a number of names including Deva Hospital and West Cheshire Hospital. Moston Hospital, a former military hospital, was offered for civilian use in 1960 and some services from Deva Hospital moved there.The first collection of items was saved from The County Lunatic Asylum and was housed in Moston Hospital Nurse Training School in the late 1960s and early 1970s.With the impending closure of Moston Hospital, the objects were moved to West Cheshire Hospital and featured in the Chester Chronicle’s review of the 150th Anniversary of West Cheshire Hospital.The collection remained in the hospital for a number of years and was moved from room to room as the hospital developed and changed. It was available for staff to view and became of particular interest to nursing students, who had planned visits to the museum. Inevitably the collection shrank in size as some items were lost over the years.In 2005, with the closure of West Cheshire Hospital and the opening of Bowmere Hospital, the collection was stored in the basement of the 1829 building, the current home of Western Cheshire Primary Care Trust, as there was no suitable room to display the items.The sixtieth anniversary of the National Health Service was celebrated in 2008 and the Faculty of Health and Social Care at the University of Chester appealed for healthcare items to form a display. The ‘West Cheshire Collection’ came out of storage and a number of further items were acquired by the University of Chester.In 2009 the ‘Historical Society’ was founded and the development of a museum became a core feature of the society. The collection was then expanded to include items from Social Work and Social Care.With the move of the Faculty from the Main University Campus to the Riverside Campus in 2011 came an offer of a room in the basement, and this has allowed further development of the museum. It is now open on a regular basis and welcomes visitors to share and enjoy this collection with the enthusiastic volunteers. 


Introduction to the collection (from the launch in December 2011)

‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’ (L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between, 1953).

Yes, they did do things differently in the past, but for all that unfamiliarity, ‘they’ are also resoundingly familiar. Like us, they fell physically and mentally ill; they suffered loss, and delighted in new life; they lived in the framework of institutions (most markedly the National Health Service, which came into being in the summer of 1948). ‘They’ were not only patients, of course, but practitioners, leaders, volunteers and workers, too.Our collection is an invitation to the visitor to ‘time travel’ – to go to that foreign country of the past by looking at, handling and discussing the objects and curiosities which have been lovingly brought together and displayed by a steadfast group of volunteers from the University and local community. The collection is in its early days – there are still items to be displayed and cataloguing to be done. However, the collection allows visitors to visit the old ‘asylum’ (as customs change, so too does language); you can marvel at the domestic – and spiritual – self-sufficiency of ‘the hospital’; you can peep into a doctor’s private study; you can imagine what it must have been like to be a nurse in the 1940s; or how it must have felt to work in the earliest – and, by today’s standards, perilously primitive – days of paediatrics.Memories do not, of course, reside solely in objects. Many of our volunteers are or were healthcare professionals and are delighted to reminisce with you. You can also visit our dedicated Florence Nightingale area to see the jewel in the collection’s crown: an original handwritten letter from the pioneering nurse and statistician herself.The Ancient Greeks coined the word ‘museum’ to describe a building where offerings to the Muses, the nine classical goddesses of inspiration, could safely be stored and admired. Those of us who have ‘unwrapped’ the 101 objects displayed at the launch event truly hope that they will make you feel a little nostalgic, enlightened and, certainly, inspired.

Emma L. E. Rees 1.12.2011