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The Old Operating Theatre Museum

Home > London > Museums | Places of Interest | Unusual Things to do
by Erin (subscribe)
I travel as much as possible at home and abroad. I'm always ready for new experiences
Published September 15th 2013
An unusual look at early surgery and medicine
The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garrett is contained in the attic of St Thomas' Church, Southwark. The museum has a dramatic entrance. First, visitors pass under a large hanging skull composed of early amputation knives and surgical tools and then wind their way up a narrow spiral staircase into an overflowing gift shop.

Entrance to the museum. Photo by Erin Connelly.


Stairway to the museum. Photo by Erin Connelly.


Once admission is paid, the attic museum is accessed via another staircase. The museum includes a herb garrett dating to 1703, the oldest surviving operating theatre in Europe, an unusual collection of surgical tools, early medicines, skeletons, pathology samples, pharmaceutical tools, and other medical objects related to nursing history.

Photo by Erin Connelly.


Photo by Erin Connelly.


Early surgical tools. Photo by Erin Connelly.


The herb garrett contains a fascinating collection of remedies dating back to the beginning of the eighteenth century. Typical prescriptions included opium, rose water, and mercury.

old operating theatre, london
Early medicines. Photo by Erin Connelly.


Early medicines. Photo by Erin Connelly.


The hospital mainly served a population of poor patients and also served to educate medical students. The theatre allowed for students to crowd together in rows to watch an operation 'like herrings in a barrel', as one eye-witness described it. Due to the lack of reliable anaesthesia and the great risk of infection, surgery was a very limited field and often the last resort. Typical surgeries performed in the operating theatre included amputations, removal of bladder stones, and some operations on the skull (trephination).

Old Operating Theatre. Photo by Erin Connelly.


The Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garrett is definitely worth a visit for those with an interest in medicine or for those just seeking a more unusual tourist attraction.
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Why? An unusual look at early surgery and medicine.
When: 10.30am to 5.00pm, every day
Phone: 0207 188 2679
Where: 9a St. Thomas St, London SE1 9RY
Cost: 6.20/5.00 (concessions)
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