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Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret (London)

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9a St. Thomas's Street, Southwark, London, SE1 9RY. Tel: +44 (0)20 7955 4791.

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      08.02.2013 02:17
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      great atmosphere and extremely fascinating!

      I visited this museum just the other day as I have a new project and I was told this would be a good place for some research! The museum is next to the St Thomas Hospital but very hidden away in the Herb Garret of St Thomas Church. You enter the museum through a small door that leads to a very narrow, wooden spiral staircase and at the top of these stairs is another door. I think this creates a really good atmosphere for the museum as it was quite creepy!

      In here is a tiny room where you pay to enter and full of little nick nacks and books to buy too. You then go up another few stairs to a large wooden attic room which is the museum basically. The actual operating theatre is in the back which I will talk about in a moment. The main room is full of all sorts including an operating chair, old medical instruments from the 18th and 19th century, packaging of pills, herbs, skeletons and even some organs in formaldehyde! Most items are labelled but aren't all explained what they are used for, although a lot of them you probably don't want to. There were a lot of scary looking tools used for midwifery! Almost everything you see in the museum is authentic from the 18th and 19th century, other things like the objects in the 'cabinet of curiosities' display were for decoration but even so these really add to the feel of the place. Some people may view the place as a little bit naff but it's so fascinating you look past it.

      The museum is definitely not for anyone squeamish but whilst we were there the only other people in the museum were a class of year fives on a school trip (I think you pay and book these in advance) and we were told when entering we were welcome to listen to the presentations being given by the staff there. So obviously there is no age limit and everyone is welcome to the museum and a lot of the presentation is actually aimed at KS1/KS2 ages. In this room the presentation was about all the herbs and the children were told about what they were used for and how they are still used today and then got a chance to grind herbs with a mortar and pestle. After they were done we had a look up close at the herbs and you can touch and smell them.

      In the operating theatre which is up another set of stairs the presentation was a lot more intense and extremely interesting! Again, definitely not for the squeamish, my friend had to leave part way through when the woman started talking about the blood and one or two of the kids left too. What interesting about this room is it where real operations and medical classes took place in the early 1800s. The presentation in here is a recreation of a story from the 1820s, when there was no anesthetic , about a woman who got her leg broken by being run over by a cart and it needed to be amputated. The woman giving the presentation got some kids to come down to the front for the demonstration, one to lie on the table who was the patient, two to hold her down and one to be the surgeon 'performing' the operation. There was a lot of explanation about infection and how unhygienic the procedures used to be, the Theatre had closed down before antiseptic surgery was invented and the main form of pain relief used was alcohol or chloroform and most operations performed were amputations. The presentation was very informative and fascinating. The woman then got out an authentic box full of real knives and saws and explained which were used, in fairly graphic detail. The presentation lasted for about 15-20 minutes and was very enjoyable, the kids definitely loved it as they were all desperate to answer and ask questions.
      There is also a small area in between the two rooms which has more operating instruments and some information about the hospital through the years and how things were managed back then, which is basically very sanitary and would definitely not be allowed now! These information books were also available in the gift shop for £4.

      Overall I would have to say The Old Operating Theatre is one of my favourite museums I have ever visited even though it is the smallest. There is absolutely nothing boring in the museum and I think it is well worth the price. The admission fee is £5 for a student like me, £6 for an adult and £3.50 for a child. You may think £5/£6 entry to just 2 rooms is a bit much however there is so much stuff to look at me and my friend were there for almost two hours. Plus the presentations are included in the price. I really recommend this museum for anyone interested in the Victorian era or medicine and operations but it still an interesting place for everyone.

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      • More +
        05.07.2000 20:09
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        The Old Operating Theatre is not for the squeamish. In fact people are fainting regularly at its recreations of 19th cent. operations. And yet it is strangely compelling. Situated in the attic of a derelict 17th cent. church, it maintains an ambience of blood curling bygone practices sealed in a time capsule. OOT combines two independent exhibits: a 19th cent. operating theatre (the oldest in the country) and 17th cent, apothecary herb garret. Both there part of St. Thomas?s hospital before it moved to its current riverside location in the late 19th cent. The place was sealed off since, and forgotten for decades, until rediscovered by a local historian in 1950s. A group of surgeons form the next door St. Guy?s hospital have undertaken to restore it to its original condition and now you can see it exactly as it used to look 150 years ago. The herb garret, which used to be the premises of the hospital?s apothecary is converted into an exhibition space filled with an unlikely combination of fragrant dried herbs and old operating instruments, looking like something dug up from the dungeons of the inquisition. Panels on the walls tell you about the history of the place and give graphic descriptions of 19th cent. operations, however if you want to get a really blood curling experience, call in and check about the next operation presentation (included in the price of the ticket). The operations are recreated in the operating theatre, using authentic Victorian operating table and real old surgeon?s knifes. The victim for the operation is chosen from the audience, so be prepared for lying tied up on a narrow wooden plank with your hands held tightly by ?assistants? and your leg almost cut off by the still-razor-sharp knifes. There are usually no casualties, unless someone from the audience decides to flop over in a near proximity of the surgical equipment? The stories accompanying the presentation are fascinating by their own right, all too v
        ividly recreating the grisly world of 19th cent. surgeons, with no anaesthesia, no disinfectants and crowds flocking in to gape at the patients? agony.To add it all OOT sports a nice little shop with constantly changing choice of truly weird stuff. In addition, OOT is only 2 minutes walk from the London Bridge (the entrance can be seen from the pedestrian bridge adjacent to the bus station), and can be easily combined with other, rapidly developing, Southwark attractions. Address: 9a, St. Thomas?s St. Tel.: 020 7955 4791

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