London Sights

The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret

  • 9A St. Thomas St. Map It
  • Lambeth
  • Hospital–Sight

Published 08/30/2016

Fodor's Review

This rare example of a 19th-century operating theater, the oldest in Europe, dates back to 1822, when part of the large herb garret in the roof of the 17th-century St. Thomas's church was converted for surgical use. The English baroque church was part of St. Thomas's Hospital, which was founded in the 12th century as a monastery that looked after the sick. In 1862, the hospital moved to its present Lambeth location and the operating theater was closed. It remained abandoned until 1956, when it was restored and turned into a medical museum. Today you can see the artifacts of early-19th-century medical practice: the wooden operating table under a skylight; the box of sawdust underneath used for absorbing blood; and the surrounding banks of seats where students crowded in to observe operations. Every Saturday at 2 there are demonstrations of pre-anesthetic surgical practices incorporating the knives, pliers, and handsaws that were the surgeons' tools back in the day (not for the faint-hearted).

Next door is a re-creation of the Herb Garret, with displays of the medicinal herbs St. Thomas's apothecary would have used, and there are Sunday afternoon talks on herbal medicine at 2. There are also frequent free one-off events, like a post-mortem of the recently unearthed body of Richard III or a lecture about the "bodysnatchers" who supplied corpses for medical research.

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Sight Information

Address:

9A St. Thomas St., London, SE1 9RY, England

Map It

Phone:

020-7188–2679

Sight Details:

  • £6.20

Published 08/30/2016

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