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  • Vanessa

The Old Operating Theatre Museum (beware spiral staircase) A Yearful of London Week 4

Toing and froing from Guys Hospital with my broken leg over the past couple of months has introduced me to a weird and wonderful museum that has been on my doorstep for the last two years, without my knowledge of course!

Old Operating Theatre Museum

The Old Operating Theatre describes itself as 'one of the most unusual museums in London', and a visit from my brother and his wife - both doctors - seemed the perfect opportunity to put this to the test. To get up to the Theatre, and its neighbour 'The Herb Garrett', this plucky peg-leg needed to negotiate a windy, wooden, spiral staircase at the base of the building. Crutches tossed aside, I huffed, puffed, and I received a free sticker and concessions entry for my troubles - wahey! We entered through the Herb Garrett, an eerily atmospheric reminder of how miserable life must have been hundreds of years ago! Dimly lit, and authentically maintained, it is packed with examples of olde times medicine, and darkly amusing anecdotes from years gone by.

There is plenty of information to get your teeth into, and we easily whiled away the best part of an hour there.

For those still missing Christmas, there is also a golden (ha!) opportunity to catch a glimpse of Frankincense and Myrrh in the flesh - yes they do really exist outside the Nativity!

Chocolate Worm Cakes

Anyone for a chocolate worm cake? Located through an adjoining corridoor is the main event, the Old Operating Theatre itself. A small, but cavernous seeming room, it is the oldest surviving operating theatre in the UK and was used by St Thomas' hospital to operate on women until 1862 when the hospital moved to Lambeth. The Old Operating Theatre was forgotten about until rediscovered in 1956 while investigating the attic of St. Thomas' Hospital. Painstakingly restored, the Operating Theatre is a stark and powerful piece of medical history.

Old Operating Theatre London Bridge

The doctors were particularly captivated by the book of medical notes next to the operating table from the early 1800s. Among the fascinating pieces of text littered within and just outside the theatre, I found the tale of James (Miranda) Barry particularly fascinating, a 19th century woman who overcame the sexism of the era by simply dressing as a man and becoming a celebrated doctor and surgeon.


Visiting to the Old Operating Theatre Museum - priced at just £6.50 (£5 for us concessions) and located within a stones throw of London Bridge station, the Old Operating Theatre is a dense, interesting and slightly macabre way to spend an afternoon in the capital. Open 10-5 daily.


A Yearful of London of London is my new year's resolution: to uncover one of London's treasures every week. Leave comments below if you'd like to suggest anything for the next few weeks!

#AYearfulofLondon #TheOldOperatingTheatreMuseum #HerbGarret #ThingstodoinLondon

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