This cabinet of curiosities can be found under the roof of St Thomas' Church in Southwark. Built in 1703 as part of the old St Thomas' hospital, and closed in 1862, it remained hidden until 1956. It originally housed the herb garret, where the hospital's apothecary dried flowers and plants under the eaves to create remedies and medicines used to treat the patients. In 1822 the operating theatre, the oldest surviving one of its kind in Europe, was constructed. The garret and theatre can both be viewed, along with a huge collection of surgical instruments, body parts and apothecary displays.
The Herb Garret
I promise you that the sight of some of the surgical equipment, including obstetric and gynaecological instruments, will make you wince. The latter are sufficient to make all women take a pledge of chastity.
Surgical Case and Instruments
When standing in the operating theatre you can imagine the apprentice apothecaries cramming the benches and peering down to watch the surgeon demonstrating how to amputate limbs, perform trephinations on skulls and remove bladder stones. The wooden operating table would have been incredibly uncomfortable, and the box of sawdust underneath was strategically placed to collect blood. All of this would have been carried out with the patient fully conscious as ether and chloroform didn't come into use until 1846. The theatre was closed before Lister introduced antiseptics in 1865.