The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garrett

February 3, 2008 at 10:53 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Random, Tourism, Travel, UK | 1 Comment
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Britain’s only surviving 19th century operating theatre was today’s tourist spot. The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garrett is a relatively small museum hidden in a fairly non-descript building near London Bridge. While on St Thomas street keep an eye out for number 9, a church like building – perhaps quite difficult to differentiate in London – and hopefully you’ll have found the museum. A quick climb up the narrow spiral staircase and you’ll be at the gift shop/ ticket counter. For £5.40 (adult) you can proceed up another staircase to the attic that houses the display cases and operating theatre.

The Herb Garrett is the main section and has cases holding various instruments with helpful and occasionally disturbing descriptions of their medical use during the 1800s. As you walk around you’ll also be exposed to a range of smells as the exhibit includes examples of items in an apothecary because “herb garrett” as the name implies was used to dry, of all things, herbs. The final piece of note about this section is the array of body parts held in jars. Most concerning was definitely the lungs of a Londoner (black not the normal pink).  I hope that’s just a result of heavy industrialisation and not still the same as today.

The Operating Theatre is a picture of a pre-hygienic medicine with wooden benches and an open viewing area for students to watch the surgeons work. One of the staff will give a talk (about 30 minutes) and you should definitely take the time to listen. You will get a synopsis of the building (this is a female operating room housed in a church, specifically above the nave – sounds sacrilegious!), the profession of surgeons and the quality of medicine during the period. Due to infection and blood loss the most common operations were removing gall stones or amputation (in both cases it would have to be a severe case).

The entire museum is fairly interesting and the talk is particularly worthwhile, especially if you have an interest in medicine, the Victorian period or a potentially unhealthy curiosity. When visiting this hidden museum you might be lucky and bump into friends! They also have activities for children although it would be at your discretion how much (if any) of the talk they listen to as it can be graphic.

My major reservation is the cost. The museum is run as a charity and therefore needs the ticket price and donations for its upkeep but I would suggest that an entry fee closer to £4 would be a more appropriate to the floor space and the time spent in the attic. Realistically, the pound difference is a personal price point and won’t be a significant factor for most. There were certainly quite a few people in the museum and seemingly unconcerned by the cost.

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  1. […] price for an adult is £5 and on face value this is definitely too much (although compared to the Operating Theatre it may be about right) on the other hand your ticket is valid for a year so if the Museum has any […]


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