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Old Operating Theatre Museum & Herb Garret

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by Sandra Lawson (subscribe)
To paraphrase Dorothy: 'There is no place like London.' I hope I can convince you of that here. Also check out my blog at and my theatre reviews at
Published January 20th 2013
Herbs and Hacksaws, Surgeons and Apprentice Apothecaries
A visit to the Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garret will both enlighten and frighten you, and will also clarify why an operating room is called a theatre.

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
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
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.

The Operating Theatre
The Operating Theatre

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Why? To get an idea of what medicine and surgery were once like
When: 10.30 - 17.00 daily
Where: 9a Saint Thomas Street, London SE1 9RY, United Kingdom
Cost: 6 plus concessions
Your Comment
interesting article and congratulations on the 250 milestone. I've been enjoying your London reviews.
by Oxford Explorer (score: 2|655) 3410 days ago
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