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  • Writer's pictureGregg Maflin

Hidden London [13]: Discover one of the great developments by mankind in the C20th - The Penicillin

Updated: Oct 21, 2020

The Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum.

Today pricking your finger on a rose thorn or a getting a splinter might be irritating but in the 1920's the commonest ailment might cause you trouble, even a slight chest infection might spell your doom, before the introduction of the wonder drug known as Penicillin.

At this fascinating little museum hidden away in St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington is the original laboratory where Alexander Fleming happened by chance on what he at first called "The Inhibitor".

Working on inoculation at St Mary's in a small laboratory, he had already made some amazing discoveries in the 1920's such as Lysozyme [a natural enzyme present in tears and saliva which has a natural healing effect] , one day after returning from holiday in Norfolk he noticed that one of his Petri dishes contaminated with mould from a lab down stairs killed off the staphylococci on part of the dish and in the process realised the powerful properties of fungus and its abilities to destroy bacteria. The discovery of penicillin, and it's abilities changed medicine throughout the world, and saved many lives. On making the first batch of what was also known as” Mould Juice” his assistant Stuart Craddock declared it tasted like Stilton Cheese when asked to try it, leading to headlines around England that blue cheeses were a cure for almost everything!

Though many would argue today, their overuse of has gone too far, and antibiotics used in food production, has caused many problems. His initial discoveries are seen as one of the great developments by mankind in the C20th.

His laboratory was perfectly recreated in its original location in all its messy detail though the original petri dish is now in the possession of the British Library and he is buried in St Paul’s Cathedral. I grant you the museum is not the most glamorous place, but perhaps an interesting and timely place to visit during these strange times.

Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum

St Mary's Hospital, Praed Street, London W2 1NY

Open Mon-Thurs 10-1pm £2 entrance for students

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