London’s Old Operating Theatre Museum, the oldest surviving surgical theatre in Europe, has been on the must-visit list for a while—even appearing on my 18 things to do before 2018 list.
So as the end of the year approached I strolled round the corner from my flat to the museum.
Visiting the Old Operating Theatre Museum
The Old Operating Theatre Museum is right by the Shard, in an 18th Century church belonging to the old St Thomas’ Hospital.
The entrance is just inside the church doorway and once you’ve climbed the wooden spiral staircase you’ll find the museum in the attic.
After paying admission, the first room you visit is the Herb Garret, once used to store herbs for medicines. In 1822 an operating theatre was added and the Herb Garret was then also used as a post-surgery recovery space.
Victorian Surgery Talks at The Old Operating Theatre Museum
Victorian surgery lacked anaesthetic and basic hygiene, even hand-washing, so the chance of infection and/or death was high.
On Saturdays there’s a mock demonstration of an operation, a Victorian Surgery Talk, which you can observe from the gallery where medical students sat in the 19th Century.
The talks don’t cost extra but booking is advised and I’d definitely recommend timing your visit for a Saturday afternoon if you can. It really brought the history of the museum, and London at that time, to life—from grave-robbers to hospital breweries and the use of leeches in medicine.
You’ll note a lack of photos to accompany this post; the museum is small so I didn’t want to ruin anything and it’s best observed in-person, to pass a rainy hour before/after a visit to nearby Borough Market, the Shard or HMS Belfast.
Old Operating Theatre Museum, 9a St Thomas Street, London SE1 9RY
Entry costs £6.50 for adults, Victorian Surgery Talks are free