Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The Old Operating Theatre, Museum & Herb Garret (13/1000 & 14/1000)

(#788 & #841 in the book)

My main intention on Saturday (25th Feb) was to visit The Old Operating Theatre & Herb Garrat. This is the oldest operating theatre in Europe, and as I am a lover of gory history, this place is perfect!

The museum is situated in the attic in an old church that was part of the old St Thomas Hospital. When the hospital moved in the 1860's, most of the buildings got torn down to make way for London Bridge Station, but this church remained. It wasn't rediscovered until the 1950s, and from memory that was by chance.

As you walk into the church, you are greeted by a very cool giant skull...
Then you have to walk up a spiral staircase with 36 steps, not that many steps, but awkward when someone is trying to go in the opposite direction!

Once at the top, you get to a landing where you pay to get in, then you have to go up a few more steps to get into the Herb Garret. 

This part of the museum is full of old herbal remedies, human organ specimens and what I went there for... tourture, erm I mean, operating instruments.

The first thing you see when you get into the Herb Garret is an old operating chair for children from the early 1900's. Not overly sure I'd have wanted an operation on that...

On the right side of the museum is the herbal bit of the Garrat Herb.
The Apothecary
Specimens of human lungs
Model of the various human organs/muscles
Gotta love a skeleton :-)
As the Herb Garrat is approx 300 years old (the church was rebuilt in 1703 with the Herb Garrat), I kinda expected it to just smell old and musty - it is afterall timber framed. But, I really enjoyed the smell. It really reminded me of the Souks in Marrakech. No I'm not mad, but all the mixtures of the different herbs on display together smelt like the spice stalls in the souks. Please don't judge me.

Once I'd done the right side of the museum, I went to have a look at the torture medical/surgical instruments, which funnily enough were on the left side (I know, amazing).

Please see below an example of some of the items on display... not sure I want any of these things near me.

Yeah... you can totally keep those things behind the cabinets where they belong.

Now, the worst thing I found amongst this lots was this beauty...

Now ladies... any idea what this is? Yup... a Cervical Dilator. Put's a whole new meaning on a smear now eh?!? Sorry to the dudes reading this...

Once I'd gotten over the shock of that particular item, I made my way to the room in the very top of the church for the main attraction...
...the Old Operation Theatre!

Imagine having an operation here full of people watching? Nah, me neither. Don't even get me started on the lack aesthetics! Blurgh.

The Theatre consists of the "operating table", some sturdy chairs for in case you need to amputate an arm rather than a leg, a cupboard for the "drugs" and then a hook or two for the surgeons coat (which would have had blood and pus all over it). Under the operating table is a box of sawdust which would have soaked up the blood from the victim, sorry, I mean patient.

At 2pm on a Saturday and Sunday, one of the members of the museum staff does a talk/demonstration within the Operating Theatre.


And I'm glad to say that there was quite a few people there with me to listen to what the nice museum lady had to say.

She talked for just under an hour about the history of the church and the theatre, the types of patients the hospital would house - namely the poor and destitute (the rich had surgeons come to their houses) - how they would come to the hospital in the first place, the famous doctors of the time, a typical box filled with the instruments used by the surgeons and a couple of demonstrations too! Not real ones obviously!

a close up of the surgeons box
If you do go to this museum, I would highly recommend staying for the talk - I found it really informative. Once the talk was over, I had another quick look round the operating theatre and had a cheeky picture with my new mate Bones...

On the way out, one of the cabinets caught my eye. I'd seen this cabinet earlier on, but hadn't totally taken notice of what's in my next photo;

No, they're not condoms even though they a) look like condoms and b) are made by durex. They are infact fingecots which were used (and probably still are) when a full glove wasn't necessary. But it made the childish person with the awful toilet humour in me giggle! All the way back down those tight winding stairs...

Ok... so now onto the important information; the museum is based a short walk from London Bridge station on St Thomas Street, London SE1 9RY, costs £6 to enter and their website is www.thegarret.org.uk.

If you are interested in history at all, I would highly recommend this place!


  1. Hi! I just went to 'like' this museum on facebook and saw your link, and noticed we visited the same day.... and then, looking at your photos, me and my friend are in one, in the talk! My friend is the one in the centre with the blue coat on her lap, and i'm the one sitting on the right of her above the chair! Small world :D
    What museums do you have lined up next? we try to visit 2 a month in London as we love them so! xxx

  2. Hi Kate,
    I remember both you and your friend - you asked a few questions didn't you?
    Can I ask how you found this blog? I'd be interested to know. You mentioned facebook...?
    Museum wise there are loads that I want to do - the Hunterian, Bank of England, Horniman, Ragged School, Tyburn Convent, Charles Dickens, V&A - and more! As you might have read on my blog, I'm trying to do 1000 things in this beautiful city and museums are a lot of them! I have no idea what order I'm gonna be doing them in though.
    Sarah :)