The Old Operating Theatre Museum, London Bridge: something for the weekend (but not the squeamish)
There’s nothing better than seeking out the most hidden of hidden corners in London. And way up in the roof space of St Thomas’s Church in Southwark lies a “secret” place that has mystery and history at its old, beating heart: the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret.
The site was once home to St Thomas’ Hospital, the wards of which were built around the church that still stands, and the main attraction to today’s museum is the operating theatre that once connected to the wards.
Why the mystery? Well, while the story that the operating theatre was discovered by accident is untrue, it was “lost” after being partially dismantled and blocked up in 1862, when the hospital was moved.
The space wasn’t opened up again until 1956, when it was investigated by a gentleman called Raymond Russell. Using a ladder to get up to the only opening left, Russell entered a dark, hazardous attic with a century’s worth of grime on the windows, and parts of the floor removed.
After a hefty renovation project spanning eight years, this tiny part of British history was restored and opened as a museum in 1962.
It’s not one for the squeamish, I’ll grant you. In its heyday this space would have been full of medical students, packed in to watch operations performed without anaesthetic or antiseptic.
Couple that with a spiral staircase and entrance that made my knees quiver, and you’ve got a feast for the nerves, as well as the brain.
Get down there this weekend (it’s open both days) and find out how surgery was conducted before anaesthetics and antiseptics. Then take yourself off for a nice cup of tea, safe in the knowledge that you live in a century with pain relief.
Opening times: Daily, 10.30am to 5pm
Nearest Tube: London Bridge
More information: thegarret.org.uk
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