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Old Operating Theatre Museum

Museums, History Borough and London Bridge
4 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(10user reviews)

Britain's oldest surviving purpose-built operating theatre, the Old Operating Theatre Museum is situated in a herb garret in the roof of St Thomas's Church. Built in 1822 for poor women, the theatre has been restored with original furniture and equipment, including a nineteenth-century operating table, surgical instruments and pathological specimens. Visitors enter via a vertiginous wooden staircase to view a pre-anaesthetic operating theatre with tiered viewing seats for students; sanitised reenactments are sometimes held – just as gruesome as the operating tools that look like torture implements. Temporary exhibitions also take place, which often combine art with explorations of pathology.

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Old Operating Theatre Museum says
Housed in the attic of the early eighteenth-century church of old St Thomas' Hospital, this atmospheric museum offers a unique insight into the history of medicine and surgery. The original timber framed Herb Garret was once used to dry and store herbs for patients' medicines and in 1822 an operating theatre for women was included. Predating anaesthetics and antiseptics, it is the oldest surviving surgical theatre in Europe. Access to the attic is through a narrow 52-step spiral staircase. The museum offers weekly talks on the weekends on Victorian Surgery (mock-up demo) and The Gore Tour (how surgical instruments were used in the past). The museum also has an active events programme featuring talks, workshops, walks and film nights.
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Venue name: Old Operating Theatre Museum
Address: St Thomas Church
9a St Thomas St
Opening hours: Open Mon-bank holidays, Tues-Sun 10.30am-5pm
Transport: Tube: London Bridge
Price: £6.50, £5 concs, £3.50 under-18s, £15 family (up to 2 adults and 2 children from same family)
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Average User Rating

4.2 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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  • 4 star:6
  • 3 star:1
  • 2 star:0
  • 1 star:0
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Tucked away down a side street and with the old operating theatre itself located in the roof of a church, as museums go, you don't get much more unconventional than this. 

We attended a talk on Victorian speed surgery in the old operating theatre - equally gruesome and engaging, we left feeling thankful at the progress modern medicine has brought! The herb garret comprises various medicinal herbs and is also well worth exploring. A great find.

The only museum in London with a shop where you can get a furry ebola virus cuddly toy. I'm right, aren't I?


This was a great hour or so spent after a visit to borough market and hays galleria.

Compared with other museums and exhibitions which charge this is relatively cheap (granted quite small) at £6 entry and also with discount if you are a national trust member
One room in the ceiling full of old instrument, medicines and interesting facts as well as the old operating theatre where they also do talks and 'demonstrations' which was very interesting!
Highly recommend!

Nice little museum. Worth a look if you’re into medicine and/or history.

Reaching the museum is a bit tricky (especially if you have any disabilities), as you need to go up a small spiral wooden staircase. Be careful as it is also the exit and you might bump into the people coming down.

Once you reach the top floor, you’re actually standing directly above St Thomas’ Church, as the museum is in the attic (kinda cool). The attic is separated into two attractions. The first one is the Old Operating Theatre. This wooden amphitheatre was both a learning place for students and a surgery for patients. It’s thought-provoking to see how far we’ve come since those times (and probably how far we’ll go from here on). The second bit is called the Herb Garret. Small, but filled with interesting exhibits, it teaches you about the history of medicine and surgery. Some items date back from the 10th century! Some herbs and ‘elixirs’ can be touched – always great for the kids. With its colourful vials and dried flowers and plants, it looks weirdly pretty too and gives a nice atmosphere when you wander around.

All in all a very interesting visit.


This a very small museum, even though it is quite interesting I would not recommend it to anyone. So much better museums out there!


Been meaning to come here for a while now-- and armed with our National Trust membership (50% off!) we finally made it on a Saturday. They have a lot of interesting exhibits harking back to both its use as a Herb Garrett and an Operating Theatre. You learn about the medicinal qualities of herbs and how pills used to be made. They also had a children's section and a 'trail' that kids can follow and caters to them.

The Theatre is a very impressive space-- made even cooler by the fact that it was boarded up and forgotten about for quite a long time. Heck was found by accident. Amazing. Also makes you quite pleased to not be living in the Victorian times as surgery was.... hmmm a bit hit and miss back then :)

Great way to spend a few hours in the LBG area.