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By Selina Hurley on

The 12 Days Of Christmas (well Sort Of)…Part 3

Here’s the third installment of our festive 4-parter – the 12 days of Christmas re-worked with items from our collections. Check out part 1 and part 2 as well.

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

7 Swans a-Swimming

Protected by the queen, swans hold a special place in British hearts. In the history of medicine, swan-necked retorts helped one man, Louis Pasteur, develop his germ theory.

Copy of Pasteur's swan-necked flask, (A63395, Science Museum, London)

Pasteur used swan-necked flasks during his experiments on fermentation. The flask was open to the air but the S-shape of the neck prevented any micro-organisms coming into contact with the broth inside, leaving the yeast water inside clear. This series of experiments proved that fermentation was not caused by spontaneous generation but micro-organisms in the air.

8 Maids a-Milking

From terra sigillata to help mothers’ express milk to feeding cups and breast pumps and more recently, genetically modified milk, milk has a rich history in our collections. For an alternative look at milk in the Wellcome collection try the book The Phantom Museum.

Proteins from genetically modified milk, (1999-22 Pt1, Science Museum, London)

Equally milkmaids have their own place in medical history. Edward Jenner noticed that milkmaids who had cowpox seemed never to contract smallpox. In a risky experiment he took pus from Sarah Nelmes, a milkmaid with cowpox and introduced it into James Phipps’ body. When James was later exposed to smallpox, he did not contract the disease.

Sarah Nelmes' hand from Jenner's book on vaccination (Wellcome Images)

 9 Ladies Dancing

Over the Christmas period, every lady knows that a comfortable pair of shoes are essential, especially for dancing. Famous ladies’ shoes can be found in the Wellcome collection including Florence Nightingale’s moccasins and Queen Victoria’s slippers.

Queen Victoria's slippers (A135559, Science Museum, London)

Crafted in white satin, these shoes are the equivalent to a UK size 3. Showing the feet was considered inappropriate, so women squeezed into shoes to make their feet appear more elegant. Shoes like this could have been worn for dancing, so maybe Queen Victoria elegantly waltzed around the ballroom in this pair.