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So you’ve never been to The Old Operating Theatre Museum?

James FitzGerald

Here’s our guide to one of world's oldest operating theatres: The Old Operating Theatre Museum.  

So what's this secret museum all about then?
Just around the corner from London Bridge station you’ll find Europe’s oldest surviving operating theatre. It was built in 1822 before the days of anaesthetic and back then surgical procedures needed a bit more – shall we say – soundproofing. Hidden up in the attic of St Thomas’s Church, it was far enough away from the St Thomas’s Hospital wards below, and free of rats. Perfect for storing medicinal herbs and muffling screams.

What can I see there?
As well as the theatre itself, a small museum displays weird medical curiosities and tinctures. Look out for vintage prosthetic limbs, Victorian cocaine adverts and an antique vagina spray-cleaner that looks like a sex toy. Oh, and then there are the surgeons’ tools: terrifying knives, saws and hooks. The staff do ‘demonstrations’ – bring a strong stomach.

Sounds bloody fascinating, but why should I go now?
This atmospheric space gets used for talks, horror-film screenings, and from this Saturday until October 7, it’s being used as a theatre once again. Not for amputations, fortunately, but for a new play, ‘Rebel Angel’ (tickets are £13), about John Keats and his journey from medical student to poet. 

Like what we did here? Why not check out some of the other weird but great museums in London?


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