The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret

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9a St. Thomas Street, London, United Kingdom - Tel: 020 7188 2679

The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret London Reviews

sarahsan sarahsan
403 reviews
An unusual medical collection Jun 29, 2011
The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret is a small museum located in the attic of a bell tower in a church in St Thomas Hospital. The museum displays a 300 year old herb garret and Britain´s oldest operating theatre. St Thomas Hospital moved and the female operating theatre lay forgotten in the roof of the church for nearly 100 years. It was eventually rediscovery in 1956.

The entrance is up winding stairs, through a strange shop and into the apothecary. Entrance is paid in the little shop. There you also borrow a paper with the explanation of the herb garret and the operating theatre. This information is also in French, German, Spanish, Italian and Japanese.

The museum displays the history of herbal medicine, surgery and nursing at Old St. Thomas's Hospital (build in the 12th century) and Guy's Hospital and the Evelina Children's Hospital. The Old St Thmoas´s Hospital was the original home of Florence Nightingale's Nursing School. The first room in the museum, the apothecary, has an extensive collection of instruments and apparatus illustrating medical history as well as all kinds of herbs.

A curious story is the story of aspirin. In 1758 reverend Edward Stone in Oxfordshire chewed on a twig from a Willow tree. Despite the extraordinary bitterness of its taste he noticed a pain relieving quality. He dried and crushed the bark and presented his draught to friends. Over 5 years it never failed in the cure. In 1783 he wrote of his findings, but no importance was attached to them. In 1826 Italian chemists found “ salicin” to be the active ingredient of the bark and by 1839 found it could be extracted from both Willow and Meadowsweet.

The Operating Theatre was in use between 1821 and 1862, long before the introduction of anaesthetic and antiseptic surgery. The majority of cases were for amputations, removal of bladder stones and operations on the skull. Without antiseptic conditions, it was too dangerous to carry out internal operations. A drawing in the Operating Theatre shows how several people held the patient (victim) down when the surgeon cut off the leg.

The museum has guided tours, which I unfortunately missed. On Saturdays and Sundays there are lectures and other events. One special lecture was about “the body snatcher”. Due to lack of corpses available for dissection, some men worked in this gruesome and secretive trade.

I can recommend a visit to The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret. Whether you like something a little quirky, or have a particular interest in the medical aspect, it´s absolutely worth a visit. Check out their informative website:

Opening hours are: 10:30 am – 5 pm daily

Admission is:

Full price ₤5,90

Concession: ₤4,90

Children (under 16): ₤3,40

Family (up to 2 adults and 4 children) ₤ 13,80

Admission is free with the London Pass

Nearest station is London Bridge.
The Old Operating Theatre Museum a…
The entrance up winding stairs
The apothecary
13 / 13 TravBuddies found this review helpful/trustworthy
nyprne says:
Congratulations on your feature, Sarah!
Posted on: Jul 02, 2011
reikunboy says:
congrats Sarah
Posted on: Jul 02, 2011
vulindlela says:
Posted on: Jul 02, 2011
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