The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret in London houses one of Europe's oldest surviving operating theatres. You'll find it up a narrow 52-step spiral staircase in the early 18th century garret of St Thomas's Church, between the Shard and Borough Market, on the original site of St Thomas' Hospital. The original timber framed Herb Garret was once used to dry and store herbs for patients’ medicines and in 1822 an operating theatre was included.
I have wanted to visit the museum for such a long time and finally booked tickets. You can currently book timeslots for groups of six people. The museum is a very short walk from London Bridge Station. When you arrive you will wait at the bottom of the spiral staircase for the traffic light to turn green. The staircase is narrow and steep but there is a rope to help you pull your way up. You'll arrive in the entrance where there is a little quirky gift shop and you can sign in. We'd booked a family ticket online for a 3.45pm time slot (family of four) and added two extra children.
The museum itself is in a loft style room and very atmospheric with smells of herbs and spices. It is full of curios, old glass medicine bottles, herbs that were used in medicines and surgical tools that were used in Victorian times. There are also specimens such as a half section of a brain, a heart and lung and a teaching skeleton.
There are interactive areas and on the day we went there were activities set up where you could "suture" a heart, well basically make a heart shaped pomander full of aromatic herbs. There are also activity sheets for kids to do.
The old operating theatre is attached to the garret, you can download a surgeon from the early 19th century in a free Augmented Reality app for your smart phone. Mr Benjamin Travers was a renowned British surgeon who was appointed as lead demonstrator at Old St Thomas’ Hospital. There are some props like a bloody apron and an amputation saw if you want to mock up some pictures.
We spent around an hour inside, we had kids aged 10 to 15 with us and all of them really enjoyed it. Please note there are no toilets onsite and that due to the spiral stairs access would be difficult for anyone with mobility issues.
Open Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from 10.30am until 5pm, last entry at 4.15pm, with staggered entry at 15 minute intervals.
Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret
9a St Thomas Street,
London, SE1 9RY