The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret

Uncovered in 1962, the Operating theatre is found in the roof space of the english baroque church St Thomas’s.


Well odd as it may seem but when you realise that the wards of the South Wing of St. Thomas’s Hospital were built around St. Thomas’s Church.

Dorcas Ward was (and was quite obviously) a surgical ward where women were operated upon which I imagine must of hurt like hell – no anesthetics.

In 1815 the Apothecary’s Act required apprentice apothecaries (we know them as pharmacists) to attend at public hospitals and operations which must’ve been a fairly awful experience for all parties concerned with the lack of anesthetic. Surgeons depended on a rather swift technique because of rampant infections.

Operating table with saw marks

The best of the best surgeons could remove an arm off at the shoulder in 17 seconds whereas trainees (of course they didn’t really have anything to practice on) would often hack away and then use pliers to snap off bones and tweezers to remove splinters and for the final act the stump was then sealed with boiling tar. Sadly the patients usually died.

I visited operating theatre when I was at school and remember just staring in a mixture of horror and fascination at the operating table that was full of saw marks from the various operations. I also recall a shot damaged finger that had been preserved which was rather hairy, moldy but quite amusing to us schoolboys in an odd sort of way.

The operating theatre closed down sometime before antiseptic surgery came into use, invented by Lister in 1867.