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

joseph98 joseph98
103 reviews
Europe's Oldest Surviving Operating Theatre Mar 06, 2016
Tucked away in the attic of the 18th century St Thomas’ Church at the foot of the Shard, The Old Operating Theatre and Museum is a curious throwback to the earliest days of surgery, when anaesthetics and antiseptics were still some decades in to the future. This place was lost to the public until 1956, when it was discovered by chance by builders carrying out repairs in the church.

Small – but not too cramped – the exhibits are essentially in two parts, and the only way in and out is through a narrow, 32-step spiral staircase. Be careful when exiting in particular, as the sudden drop from the entrance/gift shop area on to the steps could mean a misstep resulting in you ending up on the operating table itself!

The operating table that takes centre stage in the theatre area of this exhibit is lovingly authentic-looking, and the theatre itself – with its tiered, standing room only viewing platforms – gives you some idea of how surgery worked in those days. It wasn’t quite a spectator sport, but with would-be surgeon students cramming the viewing platforms, it sure must have felt that way if you were on the operating table and all too aware of your surroundings (not to mention the pain!).

Whilst the theatre area itself is probably the singular highlight, there is plenty to enjoy in the Herb Garret area too. There are plenty of cabinets stuffed with terrifying-looking instruments of surgery from the day – to our 21st century eye, a surgeon’s kit bag looks more like a butcher’s tool set. The cabinet of ‘medical curiosities’ is also worth a look, and elsewhere you get to see pathological samples, skeletons and samples of herbs with accompanying explanations as to what they were used for.

The Hospital, it should be noted, was where Florence Nightingale set up her nursing school. Whilst nothing of the ‘lady with the lamp’ herself remains within the museum, there are some written records, including Doctor’s observations of the condition of patients (the one of a little girl who died overnight may bring a lump to your throat) and a diary entry from one of the patients recollecting his own experiences from the operating table. Fascinating, if slightly grisly, stuff!
Bottom of the winding staircase...
10 / 10 TravBuddies found this review helpful/trustworthy
monkeymia79 says:
It probably would. I know even a few years ago medical advice seems weird now.

Its always good to have these sorts of museums so we can learn and appreciate.
Posted on: Mar 08, 2016
joseph98 says:
Medicine is always progressing Melanie :-) Who knows, our practices may well appear barbaric to many folk in a hundred or so years from now...
Posted on: Mar 08, 2016
monkeymia79 says:
Thanks for the review and congratulations on your feature.

I am so grateful that hospitals have come a long way from that. Scary stuff.
Posted on: Mar 07, 2016
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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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