Old Operating Theatre Museum & Herb Garret
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9a St Thomas St · interesting places nearby
Old Operating Theatre Museum & Herb Garret information
This unique museum, 32 steps up the spiral stairway in the tower of St Thomas Church (1703), is the unlikely home of Britain's oldest operating theatre. Rediscovered in 1956, the garret was used by the apothecary of St Thomas’s Hospital to store medicinal herbs. The museum looks back at the horror of 19th-century medicine – all pre-ether, pre-chloroform and pre-antiseptic.
You can 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 operating conditions at the time: 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. If you’re wondering how they forced patients up the constricted spiral staircase, the original entrance was upstairs.