03.04.2015
11:55

Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret

Address:

9a St Thomas’ Street, SE1 9RY

Phone:

020-7188 2679

Website:

www.thegarret.org.uk

Opening times:

Daily 10:30–17:00

How to get there:

Tube/Station: London Bridge

Entry fee:

Admission charge

Additional information:

No disabled access. Shop

The operating theatre for the women’s ward of the original St Thomas’s Hospital was constructed in 1822 in the roof space of the church of St Thomas the Apostle adjoining the hospital ward. It was designed to satisfy the new legal requirement that surgeons and their apprentices-in-training observe live operations. Partly dismantled and forgotten when the hospital moved west 40 years later, the operating theatre was only rediscovered in 1956. Following careful restoration, it opened as a museum in 1962, and is now the only surviving example of its type in the country. With its plaster ceiling, bare wooden floor, matchboard walls, and plain operating table of deal, with sawdust box below to catch the blood, the small theatre with its five tiers of standings serves as a salutary and atmospheric reminder of 19th-century surgical practice.

Access is via a steep winding stair to the church belfry, where the discovery was made through a hole in the wall 15ft above floor level. The church and bell tower, on the site of a 13th-century foundation, were rebuilt in 1703 by Thomas Cartwright, master mason to hospital governor Sir Christopher Wren. By the early 19th century, the timbered roof space of the church was already in use as a herb garret for the storage and preparation of medicinal compounds. The museum now exhibits examples of the type of herb that might have been found here: liquorice, comfrey, rosemary, hops, elderflowers, couchgrass, dill (used for gripe water), and marigold (a little less effective against smallpox and measles than saffron). Displays also illustrate the history of surgery, complete with instruments used for bloodletting, scarification and cupping, alongside the revolutionary discovery of antisepsis by Joseph Lister at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary in 1865.

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MUSEUMS & GALLERIES OF LONDON

Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

FULL LISTING of CURRENT EXHIBITIONS in London from Apollo Magazine »

Emily Barber recommends five major London museums »

Please do share your comments and updates with us via the form below the entry for each museum.

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