Located down a back corridor and up a small stairwell of St. Mary's Hospital in Paddington, the Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum is a slightly lesser-known attraction than London's customary museums. Indicated only by a historical plaque marker on the exterior of the building and a small sign, the museum allows the great significance of the room to speak for itself. Despite its understated appearance, the restored laboratory is the site of arguably one of the most important events of the twentieth century: Fleming's discovery of penicillin from some accidental mould in a petri dish in 1928.
Having since served as a dormitory and store room, the laboratory has been accurately restored to its original condition and is filled with instruments, equipment, and plenty of petri dishes. Microbiologists and medics will enjoy taking in the atmosphere of the room, where such a revolutionary break through in modern medicine took place. Situated as it is in the still fully operational St. Mary's hospital, the museum has particular poignance placed so close to a site where Fleming's discovery of penicillin affects the lives of so many everyday - the maternity unit next door even allegedly allowing the cries of new born infants to be heard through the walls. Fountains Abbey public house is also just across the road, where Fleming was apparently a regular, and which was a jokingly reputed source of the mould spores that infected his petri dish.
Highly knowledgeable staff, including the curator of the restored laboratory and an authority on Fleming Kevin Brown, provide a particularly strong asset to the museum, answering any questions. The small nature of the space made the tour very personalised and informative, whether you are an immunologist or know nothing about Fleming. The room is brought to life by the tour guide's relaying of the story of the important discovery in an interesting and animated way. Although the original petri dish is not on display here, remaining with the Science Museum, a replica is available along with an easily-understandable explanation of the science behind the discovery.
The upper floors contain a short, though slightly dated, film and visual gallery to provide additional relevant context and background to the discovery of penicillin. Shown are illustrations of particular medical cases that would previously have quickly deteriorated before the discovery of penicillin, proving just how easy it was to die from infection before Fleming's discovery. The great significance of the find is brought home with this evidence of the struggle to treat patients less than a hundred years ago without something that is now so essential and basic to modern day medicine.
Though modest, the museum is effective and proves to be hugely informative about such an important historical event. Extremely educational and entertaining.
St Mary's Hospital is home to the Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum. Fleming discovered the antibiotic penicillin at St Mary's Hospital in 1928, a breakthrough that revolutionised medicine and earned him a Nobel Prize.
Visitors to the Museum can see Fleming's laboratory, restored to its 1928 condition, and explore the story of Fleming and the discovery and development of penicillin through displays and video.
In 1999, the Museum was declared an International Historic Chemical Landmark by the American Chemical Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry, and received a San Marino Idea Award for penicillin as one of the five greatest advances of the 20th century. In 2000 it received an award from The Times for penicillin as a national millenium treasure.
Children, students, senior citizens, UB40 holders: £2.00
Staff and students of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Imperial College School of Medicine: Free on production of valid identification badge.
Alexander Fleming Laboratory MuseumSt Mary's Hospital, Praed Street
London Greater London United Kingdom W2 1NY
Tel. 020 3312 6528