Linda Fenlon from Sale, Manchester, has good reason to be thankful that last month the new museum at Norton Priory opened its doors to the public. Linda suffers from Paget’s Disease of Bone and evidence of the condition has been discovered in an unusually high number of the medieval skeletons found at the Priory. They date back to the 13th century and are now on display as never before.

The excessive breakdown and formation of bone in Paget’s Disease results in weakened bones, which can lead to severe pain, deformity, deafness, fractures and in rare cases, bone cancer. Linda tells her story as part of one of the new interactive museum displays. Linda said:

"In 1993, I was diagnosed with Paget's Disease in my skull, spine, and right femur. So few people were aware of it, I was extremely lucky to obtain a diagnosis and treatment to relieve the pain. Even now, many don’t get the specialist referral and treatment they need. I found tremendous support though the Paget’s Association, a national charity, who help me to deal with the effects of the disease and when they asked me to help the museum, I didn’t hesitate. If the information from Norton Priory relating to Paget’s Disease raises awareness and helps even just one person to obtain a diagnosis and appropriate care, I’ll be delighted”.

In an attempt to unlock their ‘chemical memory’ scientists at the universities of Nottingham, Leicester, East Anglia and Liverpool John Moores are coordinating new research projects related to the human remains. Researcher and new Trustee of the Paget’s Association Dr Rob Layfield explains, “A grant from the Wellcome Trust is supporting protein and DNA analyses. This will determine if the individuals were related and if they carried specific genetic defects, enabling us to understand more about Paget’s Disease in the modern day”.
The Northwest is a known hotspot for Paget’s disease. Could Norton Priory be the epicentre? A bursary from the Paget’s Association is enabling Carla Burrell, a PhD student from Liverpool John Moores University, to use new x-ray analysis, to explore development and progression of the disease across the collection of skeletons at Norton Priory. So far, Carla’s work has uncovered an unusually high number of individuals who suffered from Paget’s Disease, thus opening up new research avenues for further exploration. Carla aims to review the whole collection and acquire radiocarbon dates to help identify why the disease was so prevalent within this area of Northwest England.

Specialist Nurse for the Paget’s Association, Diana Wilkinson said, “We have worked closely with Norton Priory Museum Trust and those living with Paget’s Disease, to bring the “remains to life” by providing insights into what life may have been like for those affected by the condition. The new displays are relevant to modern audiences and our contributions will help raise awareness of Paget’s Disease. In addition, the new analyses will aid today's clinicians caring for patients like Linda. Information and support for those concerned about the disease is available by contacting our Helpline on 0161 799 4646".