The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret is one such London museum offering a fascinating insight into the medical profession of the past. Hidden in the roof of St Thomas’ Church near London Bridge Underground and rail services, this 300-year old herb garret houses Britain’s only surviving operating theatre, complete with wooden operating table and observation stands, from which spectators witnessed surgery performed without anaesthesia or antiseptics.
Thankfully medicine today is less barbaric but the site is still used as a location for such film and TV shows as From Hell; the operating museum also has an incredible – and sometimes gory! – collection of surgical apparatus and pathological specimens as well as exhibitions covering the history of herbal physic.
The oldest operating theatre in England.
Hidden away in the roof space of the old St Thomas Baroque church, this restored 1821 women's operating theatre is the oldest operating theatre in England. Located on the original site of St Thomas's Hospital, the theatre - together with the Herb Garrett that also shares roof space - provides a fascinating glimpse into the past using exhibits to tell the story of surgery and herbal medicine. Functioning before antiseptic and anaesthetic surgery was invented, the theatre’s ominous collection of sawing, cupping, bleeding, trepanning and childbirth instruments appear more implements of torture than healing. The wooden spectator galleries surrounding the operating bed provide a stark reminder of the audiences who would gather, with morbid fixation, in the "theatre" to observe proceedings. In the oak-beamed Herb Garret pharmaceutical jars bursting with excavated plant remains from wormwood to knitbone perch, ready for action, on wooden shelves. Tours, talks, lectures combined with the location, detail and design of this museum make this place one of intrigue and interest - as well extreme squeamishness.
Herbs and hospital beds, operations and medicine.
Did you know?
During restoration of the museum, four poppies – regularly used to prepare opium - were found in the rafters.