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Review: The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret in London

Tucked away in an old church near London Bridge station is one of London’s more unusual museums which tells the story of the long history of hospitals in this area and the sometimes gruesome story of surgical history.

The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret in St Thomas Street is one of the oldest surviving operating theatres. It is located in the garret of St Thomas’s Church, Southwark, on the original site of St Thomas’ Hospital.

St Thomas’ is one of London’s oldest hospitals, operating in one form and another since the twelfth century. Originally part of the Priory of St Mary Overie, it was renamed The Hospital of St Thomas the Martyr following the canonisation of Thomas a Becket in 1173. Southwark at this time was the location for many brothels and theatres and developed a reputation for vice. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, St Thomas’ was closed by Henry VIII and Beckett was decanonised. However the hospital was soon reopened but renamed the Hospital of St Thomas the Apostle.

Between 1693 and 1709 the hospital was rebuilt on a more permanent basis covering a wide area constructed around three courtyards. The rebuilt St Thomas’s could accommodate more than 400 patients and had nineteen wards, four of which were for venereal patients. The rebuilding also replaced the medieval church with the church which now houses the museum. At this time, Thomas Guy founded the nearby hospital, Guy’s, which still stands on the site.

An important medical advance in the eighteenth century was the introduction of operating theatres. These were often located on the top floor to ensure they received the benefit of daylight. In St Thomas’s, the male theatre was built in 1751 and the female theatre in 1821. Operations had to be carried out quickly, anaesthetics weren’t used until 1847 and antiseptic surgery was not introduced until the 1860s.

Florence Nightingale opened up her school for nurses at St Thomas’ in 1859, but in the same year the site of the Hospital was acquired by the Charing Cross Railway following Parliament’s decision to extend the London Bridge railway line from Greenwich across the River Thames. St Thomas’s left Southwark in 1862 and moved to Lambeth opposite the Houses of Parliament, most of its buildings in Southwark were demolished.

The church that contains the Old Operating Theatre Museum was built at the end of the 17th century, the new church was fitted out with a large garret constructed in the ‘aisled-barn’ tradition. The garret was fitted with wooden storage racks, and described as “the herb garret” in 1821. It is suggested that the garret was used by the hospital’s apothecary to store and cure medicinal herbs.

In 1822, part of the herb garret was converted into a purpose-built operating theatre. This is not as strange as it sounds because the female surgical ward was situated next to the garret. A skylight was put in and other windows added and other spaces may have been used as a recovery ward.

In 1862, when St Thomas’ Hospital moved, the Operating Theatre was partly dismantled and the entrances from the Hospital into the Garret were blocked up. It was then mainly forgotten, except for references in medical academic publications. In 1956, Raymond Russell was researching the history of St Thomas’ Hospital and decided to investigate the garret. He was amazed to find that although part of the operating theatre had been demolished, most of the structure had survived. Raymond Russell’s find was considered unique, no other 19th century operating theatre in Europe had survived. In 1962, after 100 years of disuse, the garret and operating theatre were opened to the public as a museum.

The collection was originally donated by various representatives of the London NHS Hospitals and by private donors to Lord Russell Brock, founder of the Old Operating Theatre Museum & Herb Garret. The original collection comprised of around three hundred items, over the years of the Museum’s existence, acquisitions to the collection have been acquired from private individuals and staff of St Thomas’ and Guy’s Hospitals.

The modern visitor goes from the bustle of the modern world in Thomas Street and walks up a series of narrow wooden stairs to be transported into a different world where the collection of artefacts revealing the horrors of medicine before the age of modern science

There is a large section on herbs and their use in medicine for centuries.

The medical displays includes: surgical and pharmaceutical objects, hospital furniture, a small collection of human pathology specimens and a small image collection.

A collection of artefacts revealing the horrors of medicine before the age of science. Includes instruments for cupping, bleeding, trepanning, and childbirth.

Displays on medieval monastic health care, the history of St Thomas’s, Guy’s Hospital and Evelina Children’s Hospital, Florence Nightingale and nursing, medical and herbal medicine.

The Apothecary was the equivalent of the modern chemist shop and hospitals used to employ people who had particular skills for mixing and understanding herbal and chemical ingredients. They often specially-shaped containers for potentially poisonous substances.

The Operating Theatre itself is a bit of surprise, being quite small and intimate. When you remember operations were often watched by up to one hundred medical students and with various people working in the theatre, it was no surprise that patients were often blindfolded. The museum staff often give entertaining talks about the horrors of surgery in the early 19th century, but as they often remark, many patients consented because it was a chance to survive a situation where the alternative was death.

The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret is a unique attraction and one of London’s hidden gems. It is a must see for anyone medically minded but is a reminder for everyone the way that medicine has moved forward in the last two hundred years. Although we might recoil in horror at the operations and instruments, at the time they were state of the art and saved many lives. The setting of the museum is well worth a visit, the ‘aisled-barn’ roof of the church provides a wonderful backdrop to a fascinating museum.

Visitor Information

Address: Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret, 9a St Thomas Street, London, SE1 9RY.

Opening hours: Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, 10.30am – 5.00pm.

Access is limited as the Museum is in the attic space of a 320-year-old church. The entrance is via a 52-step narrow spiral staircase.

Admission: Adult: £7.50; Concessions: £6.00; Child 6-16 years: £4.50; Children under 6
years: Free; Family (2 adults, 2 children): £18.00.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information and tickets, visit the Museum website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in January 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website

Christmas in Borough Market

One of the delights of the pre Christmas period in London is to take a trip to Borough Market and sample some of the festive fare to get into that real Christmas spirit.

Borough Market is a wholesale and retail food market in Southwark on the South Bank of the Thames, It is one of the largest and oldest food markets in London and over the last few years has gained a reputation as one of the finest markets in London.

Part of that reputation is due to the quality of food and drink available and many of the market’s most famous traders have become brands in their own right.

The market generally consists of around 70 stalls at which fresh produce is sold this includes fish, meats, vegetables, ciders, cheeses, breads, coffees, cakes and patisseries. As well as produce grown in the UK, other stalls specialise in quality produce imported from abroad.

A Borough Market has existed in one form or another since 1014, although has moved to various sites around the Borough and London Bridge area. The present buildings are mostly from the 19th century when the market was one of the most important in London for fresh produce.

The Market is run by a charitable trust who maintain a commitment to quality and high standards, only stall holders that reach these standards are allowed to sell at the market.

In recent years the Market has become the haunt of celebrity chefs and a trendy place to buy food, it also features in a number of TV and films.

One of the joys of visiting the Borough Market is to wander around the various stalls and tasting the often delicious produce and take in the wonderful fragrances of the street food. Some of the food is expensive but the quality is usually excellent and the stall holders are very knowledgeable about their products and are happy to impart that knowledge if you are interested.


Monday 22 November: 10am – 5pm

Tuesday 23 November: 10am – 5pm

Wednesday 24 November: 10am – 5pm

Thursday 25 November: 10am – 5pm

Friday 26 November: 10am – 6pm

Saturday 27 November: 8am – 5pm

Sunday 28 November: 10am – 4pm

Monday 29 November: 10am – 5pm

Tuesday 30 November: 10am – 5pm

Wednesday 1 December: 10am – 5pm

Thursday 2 December: 10am – 5pm

Friday 3 December: 10am – 6pm

Saturday 4 December: 8am – 5pm

Sunday 5 December: 10am – 4pm

Monday 6 December: 10am – 5pm

Tuesday 7 December: 10am – 5pm

Wednesday 8 December: 10am – 5pm

Thursday 9 December: 10am – 5pm

Friday 10 December: 10am – 6pm

Saturday 11 December: 8am – 5pm

Sunday 12 December: 10am – 4pm

Monday 13 December: 10am – 5pm

Tuesday 14 December: 10am – 5pm

Wednesday 15 December: 10am – 5pm

Thursday 16 December: 10am – 5pm

Friday 17 December: 10am – 6pm

Saturday 18 December: 8am – 5pm

Sunday 19 December: 10am – 4pm

Monday 20 December: 10am – 5pm

Tuesday 21 December: 10am – 5pm

Wednesday 22 December: 10am – 6pm

Thursday 23 December: 8am – 6pm

Friday 24 December: 8am – 3pm

Saturday 25 December: Closed

Sunday 26 December: Closed

Monday 27 December: Closed

Tuesday 28 December: 10am – 5pm

Wednesday 29 December: 10am – 5pm

Thursday 30 December: 10am – 5pm

Friday 31 December: 10am – 5pm

Saturday 1 January: Closed

Sunday 2 January: Closed

Monday 3 January: Closed

Tuesday 4 January: 10am – 5pm

Wednesday 5 January: 10am – 5pm

Thursday 6 January: 10am – 5pm

Friday 7 January: 10am – 6pm

Saturday 8 January: 8am – 5pm

Sunday 9 January: 10am – 2pm

For more information, visit the Borough Market website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in  2014 , we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

The Golden Hinde II at St Mary Overie Dock , Southwark

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Golden Hinde II

Location – 1 Pickfords Wharf,Clink Street, London, SE1 9DG

It is one of the joys of London to come across the unexpected, however the full size authentic replica of the Golden Hinde at St Mary Overie Dock is not just a tourist attraction but is a fully functional ship built by traditional methods at Appledore in North Devon and launched in 1973. Like the original Golden Hinde, the replica has circumnavigated the globe and altogether has travelled more than 140,000 miles.

The replica was the brainchild of two American businessmen, Albert Elledge and Art Blum, who, in 1968, wanted to commemorate the upcoming 400th anniversary of Sir Francis Drake’s landing on the west coast of North America in 1579.They commissioned Loring Christian Norgaard, a Californian naval architect to undertake the task of designing the ship. This was no simple task as there were no plans for the original ship, therefore Norgaard had to search records and journals and study Tudor shipbuilding techniques to come up with an authentic replica.

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When the design was ready the task of building the ship was undertaken by J Hinks and Son who had more than 100 years experience of traditional craftsmanship. Original materials and tools were used to create the ship and all aspects of the ship interior and exterior were produced after meticulous research.

On her maiden journey she sailed to San Francisco and in the next 20 years sailed all over the world. In this time she became a familiar sight in Films and Television series.

Since 1996 she has been berthed in St Mary Overie Dock and is used to illustrate Elizabethan maritime history to the many schools and children who visit her.

In a strange way history is repeating itself, for after Drake returned to England in the Golden Hind after sailing around the world, the ship was moored in Deptford on public display for over 100 years before she was finally broken up.

Tours and Fun days are available where children can dress up as Tudor sailors or Pirates and explore the ship.

Tickets Prices are usually around £ 7 for Adults and £ 5 for Children.

For more information click here

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Local rights for local folk

For practical advice and special offers for your London visit go to visitinglondonguide.com

The Clink Prison Museum

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The Clink Museum

Location – 1 Clink St, London , SE1 9DG

The Clink Prison Museum is located on the site of one of the famous prison’s in London. In its various forms it served as a prison from the 12th century to 1780.

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The prison was owned by the Bishop of Winchester and built next to his Winchester Palace, it had separate Men’s and Women’s Prisons built in around 1144 which rank amongst some of the oldest in England.

The South Bank at this time was notorious site of Brothels, Taverns and other types of entertainment many which was owned or rented from the Bishop of Winchester himself.

At various times different types of prisoners were held here from general lawbreakers up to 16th century when it was then used for heretics and finally in the 18th century was used as a debtors prison.

In 1450 the Winchester Palace and the prison was attacked by rioters who released the prisoners before burning both buildings to the ground. They were rebuilt soon afterwards. By 1760 the Prison was almost a ruin but was still burnt down by Gordon rioters and was never rebuilt.

Although it did not exist after 1760, the name survived in the English Language as slang for ‘Prison’

The Clink Museum gives visitors ” the opportunity to view archaeological artefacts, handle torture devices, and to view and hear all about the tales of torment and many misfortunes of the inmates of the infamous Clink Prison.”

Ticket Prices

Adults £7.50

Children ( under 16 )  £5.50

Concession£5.50 Students,OAP,Disabled

Family £18.00 2 adults & 2 children under 16

Opening Times   Open all year around, 7 days a week ( Closed on Christmas Day )

Summer (July – September ) 10.00 – 21.00

Winter ( October – June )

Monday to Friday 10.00 – 18.00  Weekend10.00 – 19.30

( last admission 30 minutes before closing )

To find out more about the Museum click here

For practical advice and special offers for your London visit go to visitinglondonguide.com