London 2018: Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret


Day 11, Wednesday, July 4, 2018

After Kensington, we ended up back at the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret (remember it was closed on Monday?).  This ended up being one of my absolute favorite visits in London.  The museum is located in the garret of St. Thomas’ Church, which was originally St. Thomas’ Hospital.  The herb garret was there first, and had a long history of use drying and storing herbs for use in the hospital.  When they rediscovered the space, there were opium poppies still hanging to dry in the rafters.

The Stairs up to the Museum

About 1822, the surgical theatre was opened in part of the garret and operations on women in the adjoining women’s ward were conducted (previously the surgeries had been done on the ward).  Imagine surgery during that period.  No anesthesia, no antibiotics, surgeons didn’t wash their hands prior to operating, and germs lived in the lining of the instrument box.  There were up to 150 men watching the surgery (it was a teaching hospital).  Almost all the patients were in poverty, because if you could afford it, you were treated and had your surgery at home.  Most people died after surgery.  Makes you want to sign up right?

When St. Thomas’ Hospital moved to a new location in 1862, the operating theatre and herb garret were sealed off, with items still inside.  It was rediscovered in 1957, and opened to the public in 1962 – a space that had been untouched for 100 years!

When we visited, there was a school group there for a presentation, so we got to sit in, as long as he promised to not try to answer the questions the presenter asked the students.  It was fascinating – I really enjoyed listening and seeing the demonstration of the instruments.  It was hilarious to see the student’s faces when she passed around the tool used for removing bladder stones!  The one drawback was the heat in that space.  Imagine being in an attic with no open windows and no air conditioning on a day in the 80s.  It was roasting hot!  Several people left during the presentation because it was so hot, but I wanted to stick it out because it was so interesting.  The presenter had a couple of fans, which she kept pointed at herself!

After the presentation, we had a chance to poke around the herb garret and see what medicinal herbs they used back in the 1800s.  We also looked around the operating theatre after all the students left and saw the original operating table, surgical instruments from the time, and looked out into the gallery when men watched and learned surgical techniques.  It was really cool to see!

After our visit, we went over to the Thameside Inn for disappointing nachos, but the cider hit the spot and cooled me off!

For dinner we went to the Rock & Sole Plaice in Covent Garden for fish and chips, on the recommendation of our Stonehenge tour guide.  I really wanted the rock fish, but they were out, so I ordered the calamari appetizer.  Taryn loved her meal, but Brandon thought it was just ok.  I am sure I would have loved the rock fish more!

Then we headed back to the room for an early evening.  We had done a lot that day!

Tube Stations:  Notting Hill Gate to London Bridge (Old Operating Theatre), London Bridge to Covent Garden (Rock & Sole Plaice), Covent Garden to Earl’s Court (hotel)
Costs: Old Operating Theatre – 6.50 pounds (free with London Pass), nachos and cider, dinner at Rock & Sole Plaice
Fitbit Steps: 17,000 steps

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