Old Operating Theatre Museum & Herb Garret
Good for: Having a weird story to tell
Lonely Planet review for Old Operating Theatre Museum & Herb Garret
This unique museum, 32 steps up the spiral stairway through the poorly marked door on the left leading into the tower of St Thomas Church (1703), focuses on the nastiness of 19th-century hospital treatment. Rediscovered in 1956 the garret was used by the apothecary of St Thomas’s Hospital to store medicinal herbs and now houses a medical museum. Browse the natural remedies, including snail water for venereal disease and bladderwrack for goitre and tuberculosis. A fiendish array of amputation knives and blades is a presage to the 19th-century operating theatres and their rough-and-ready (pre-ether, pre-chloroform, pre-antiseptic) conditions. Surgeons had to be snappy; one minute for an amputation was judged about right. A box of sawdust beneath the table caught the blood, and contemporary accounts record the surgeons wearing frock coats ‘stiff and stinking with pus and blood’. There’s a demonstration on Victorian speed surgery at 2pm Saturday and one on how drugs were made at 2pm Sunday. Contact the museum for details of its spooky Surgery by Gaslight evenings. If you’re wondering how they forced patients up the constricted spiral staircase, the original entrance was upstairs.