Visiting the World’s Most Famous Vet

Last summer I went on holiday to Harrogate in North Yorkshire which meant that I finally got to visit the James Herriot Museum in Thirsk.

Alf Wright, AKA James Herriot, was a vet who practiced in and around the Thirsk area from 1940 until his retirement in 1989. His years practicing as Vet in Yorkshire have been immortalised in his books bringing the characters and animals of Yorkshire to life and inspiring generations of young school children to becoming Veterinary Surgeons (myself among them).

Veterinary medicine has changed greatly since the days of James Herriot. There are now a lot more women vets in the profession than men and small animal medicine has advanced greatly over the years and employs more vets than any other area. Veterinary nursing was only starting to establish itself and veterinary physiotherapy was a long way off. However the people which you meet whilst working in the veterinary profession and the antics that their animals get up too are still the same which is why James Herriot books continue to be so popular.

If you have not heard of the James Herriot then you may have come across All Creatures Great and Small, the BBC adaptation of the James Herriot books or The Yorkshire Vet which is based in the Thirsk practice which Donal Sinclair (Siegfried Farnon) established and James joined as an assistant after graduating Veterinary School and later became a partner.

The practice has outgrown it’s original building and moved to a purpose-built practice on the outskirts of Thirsk but the old practice remains and has been kept as a museum to Veterinary Medicine and James Herriot’s life and work.

Apart from animal and Veterinary Medicine, history was my other love so being able to combine the two was an amazing experience. If you are ever visiting Yorkshire or the surrounding counties I would highly recommend visiting. Anyone with a love for all creatures great and small will enjoy the trip back in time and learning about veterinary medicine. Below is only a small selection of what you can experience through the doors at The World of James Herriot.

Skeldale House

For me the most interesting part was seeing how veterinary surgery had changed throughout the years. Pictured below is the dispensary, when James Herriot started working medicine was very different with vets having to mix there own tablets from different chemicals. This was before antibiotics where commonly used so most of these medications were fairly useless. As veterinary medicine progressed more equipment was needed and squeezed into this tiny space. The last picture is the consult room with tables and an x-ray machine. Here would have been where they saw their patients, operated on them and everything in-between.

Veterinary Dispensary
Consulting room

As you investigate the house you can see the cellars which have been converted into air raid shelters for WW2, the kitchen displayed as a typical farmhouse kitchen and memorabilia from the TV program “All Creatures Great and Small.” Outside is a statue of the great vet himself with further exhibitions on farrier and farming. You can then visit the sets of all Creatures Great and Small which have been rebuilt inside the house so that you can see what it was like for the actors working on these sets. Those who have seen this program are also probably much more familiar with these sets as Skeldae house.

After a tour of the sets you reach the veterinary museum which is full of historical veterinary instruments, documenting the change in veterinary medicine over the past 50 years. Here you can see how injections where given, anaesthetic administered and surgery performed in the not so distant past. I also recognised a lot of the interments which are still in use in vet practices today.

If you are interested in veterinary medicine or simply enjoyed the James Herriot books or TV program then I would highly recommend a visit. You can find out all the visiting information on their website. Unfortunately dogs are not allowed at the property but as it was a cloudy, cool day we took ours for a short walk and left them snuggled in the car whilst we went for a visit. Once we had seen everything we picked them up to explore the town and stopped for a quick drink at the Black Bull where we could sit in the window watching the world pass by with the dogs.

Looking for more places to visit. Check out my posts on Cotswolds Lavender Farm and Allan Bank in the Lake District which are both dog friendly.

Alf Wright


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