Museum volunteers tell story of Fleming's historic medical discovery

Museum volunteers tell story of Fleming's historic medical discovery

16 January 2023

Museum volunteers tell story of Fleming's historic medical discovery
Almost 100 years ago, St Mary's Hospital was home to one of the most important medical discoveries of the 20th century - and today our volunteers are helping to share this incredible story.

The Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum opened at St Mary's back in 1993, documenting Fleming's revolutionary discovery of penicillin.

After closing temporarily during the Covid-19 pandemic, the museum finally reopened its doors to visitors in 2022. It houses Fleming's historic laboratory, restored to its original condition, with a film and exhibition about the discovery of the drug.

And our Museum Guide Volunteers are now playing an important role helping Museum Curator and Archivist Kevin Brown share Fleming's ground-breaking work with the world.

"Penicillin has followed me throughout my life. I was given it when I was three - without it I'm sure I would have died."

Patricia, Museum Guide Volunteer

Patricia, one of our regular Museum Guide Volunteers, has a special connection to Fleming's historic discovery back in 1928. 

"Penicillin has actually followed me throughout my life," she said. "I was given penicillin when I was three years old for double pneumonia and measles. Without it, I'm sure I would have died."

When Patricia left school she went on to work for the pharmaceutical company Beecham as part of the legal team responsible for patenting the drug.

"I had been there for about three months when I suddenly collapsed - I couldn't hear or see," she explained. "My doctor feared it could have been a contagious disease but as I spent time away from work I soon recovered, and they discovered I was in fact allergic to penicillin."


After going on to enjoy a successful 30-year career at the BBC, Patricia later joined the corporation's volunteer visitor scheme, providing companionship to retired BBC staff.

Apart from an enforced break while the museum was closed during the pandemic, Patricia has volunteered at the hospital for the last 10 years. And she was delighted to return last year when the museum finally reopened its doors, once again guiding visitors around Fleming's historic laboratory.

Feeling inspired? You can find out more about volunteering opportunities at our hospitals here.