London Travel

Old Operating Theatre

Old Operating Theatre is a small but well known museum in London. It is a couple of minutes away from the Shard. The museum is in the attic of an 18th century church of the old St Thomas’ Hospital. One of the features is the original Herb Garret where herbs were made into medicines. Of course, the most important feature of the museum is the 1822 operating theatre, the oldest surviving in Europe.


Access to the museum is through a narrow 52-step spiral staircase. The steps are very narrow. There is a small shop with lots and funny and interesting things. I was tempted by a few books, of course, although there are many more fun things to buy.

museum entrance

The items on display are fascinating, but the building is beautiful to see. I picked up a few highlights to show, but there are so many more things to see and very informative panels. For its small size, it is impressive that the museum needs an hour or more to see properly.




herbs and medicine

The museum looks so wonderful, the old architecture is just stunning.

willow bark

Willow bark and agar agar stood out for me. Of course, there are many more things to see, from roses to spices, including sage.

blood letting

Luckily for us blood letting is not as wide spread as before, although leeches are still used in modern-day medical treatments. There were a few other things that looked rather unpleasant, especially for treating women.


I loved seeing this pills making things. After I read how pills were made in A History of the Medicines We Take by Anthony Armstrong, Anthony Cartwright it is nice to see more closely how these looked. I highly recommend the book too, very interesting.


This late Victorian prosthetic leg shows the ingenuity they had. It dates back to the 1890s, although the metal hinge for the knee is a later addition.


Lung looking rather horrible due to London’s smog. Lungs are pink, obviously. The black bits are particles of carbon.

Old Operating Theatre

This is the Old Operating Theatre, where people could stand and watch, learning medicine. It must have been such a fascinating place to be in, and exciting.

features of the theatre

part of the operating theatre

I found the museum very interesting and this is only a very short review, I could write much more about it and share dozens more pictures. Make sure you are checking it out if you are visiting London. This is well worth the visit, with its blend of history and science, as it was in the 19th century, it is a fascinating place to see.

Old Operating Theatre is open every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from 10.30am until 5pm. The address is 9a St Thomas Street, London, SE1 9RY. Prices for adults are £7.50.

4 Comment

  1. Very interesting visiting this museum with you. I found the herbs used for medicine a fascinating topic. I shuddered a bit seeing some of the devices, you are right- they don’t look inviting. I remember seeing a blood letting device in a museum as a kid and I was spooked (especially as I read stories about women dying because the doctors let their blood when they were not supposed to, for example while they were recovering from childbirth- really they had no sense in those days). Fortunately, those things are not employed anymore. We are fortunate to live in a time when medicine is a lot more knowledgeable about female bodies- Although, this doesn’t apply to all of the world. Many women still have to live without proper medical care.

  2. Thanks for introducing me to this, Anca. It’s very intriguing — that period was so important in moving things forward. I’d love to see the building itself as well.

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