Old Operating Theatre, London Bridge

Here it is: the first proper adventure of the New Year. Excited, aren’t you? I sure am. So, let’s get cracking. One of my resolutions for 2012 is to visit more museums that are off the beaten track, to see those places you only seem to find on those days when you’ve taken a wrong turn.

With this in mind, let’s travel to London Bridge station and go down that interesting looking street, no, not that one, that one…

Hidden behind some road works in the shadow of the shiny new Shard building is the Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garret, the entrance no more than a doorway leading to some winding stairs. Now, I know what you’re thinking – “Herb Garret? Who was he?” From the setting I would guess that he was a prominent surgeon or pioneering doctor. We’ll have to ascend the staircase before we find out, but attached to the door is a notice, just under the admission prices “We don’t accept debit/credit cards.”

Just how old IS the Old Operating Theatre?

A quick trip to the nearest cash point and we’re ready to go.

Climbing the ankle-twisting stairs, you can’t help but think, “Bloody hell, this is a bit of an ordeal. How on earth did they ferry the patients up here?” It seems the museum staff have anticipated this thought, when you reach the entrance to the museum, you’re greeted with this informative notice:

I think I’m going to like this place…

Opening the big wooden door and immediately the smell of herbs and spices envelopes you in a welcoming waft (oh, that’s where Herb Garret comes into it!) Possibly because we’re in the post-Christmas-season the smell struck me as not altogether dissimilar to mince pies.

One of the main things that struck me as I wandered around the almost ancient apothecary was the lack of hi-tech gadgets and gizmos that are ubiquitous in today’s museums. The place really was living up to its moniker, but this is not to its disadvantage –there was enough going on as it is! The layout really is a visual treat in itself, like a sweet shop with a dangerous edge, and the smell! The smell alone is worth the entrance fee.

All over the museum are the dried medicinal herbs and spices used to treat patients, each with their own handwritten note explain what ailment it was good for. Again, the trend to use technology has been bucked. Again, this has worked to the museum’s advantage; it helps add to the atmosphere and, after all, this is the Old Operating Theatre Museum not a new wing at St. Thomas’.

Hang on; I haven’t seen the actual Operating Theatre yet!

For the curious here it is:

By the operating table are some descriptions of some of the procedures and across from that is a visual aid: a picture of a man being held down by six burly gentlemen as he was being operated on.

With all this violence and bloodshed (albeit in the name of medicine and healing) you would think that there would be some kind of supernatural goings on. Oh wait, there is!

Seriously, this museum has it all!

The ghost of the lady of the lamp, Florence Nightingale herself is supposed to be still doing her rounds at her former base of operations (no pun intended, nor did she perform operations, I’m saying she used to work there, ok!?). The ghost hasn’t manifested herself to the staff yet, but lots of groups come in to see if they can make contact. Someone’s already managed to snap a picture of her…

It would appear that the museum’s good points have not gone unnoticed: it boasts at least two awards – for Outstanding Improvements with Limited Resources and one for their Tales from the Crypt project.

Next time you take a wrong turn and find a museum, go in: it might be an award-winning gem.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Sally Fung says:

    Bravo Jack. What a fab museum. Thanks for the photos.

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