The Old Operating Theatre Museum

Episode 12: The Old Operating Theatre Museum

Housed in the attic of the early eighteenth-century church of the old St Thomas' Hospital, The Old Operating Theatre Museum offers a unique insight into the history of medicine and surgery. 

Listen to London Tour Guide Hazel Baker and Marketing and Events Manager Monica Walker discuss its history including the use of the herb garret and the types of operations which were performed there.

The Old Operating Theatre are wanting to her from you about re-opening:

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Hazel Baker: Hello, and welcome to our London history podcast, where we share our love of London. It's people, places in history in 20 minute espresso shot episodes served with a dash of personality.

I am Hazel Baker CEO of London Guided Walks, providing private tours, treasure hunts, and live London quizzes to Londoners and visitors alike to accompany this podcast. We also have hundreds of London history related blog posts for you to enjoy at

And now on with the show!

Many of you would have sampled the delights of borough market. And whilst walking back to London Bridge station, perhaps you've walked down St. Thomas's Street, we'll pass the lovely old pub and seeing the blue plaque to poet John Keats. But did you notice St. Thomas's Church there? If you enter the church, there's a door on the left, narrow but inviting. Step through and you'll enter a very small narrow spiral staircase. Up you go, 52 steps, holding onto the rope. When you get to the top, you'll be in a shop. And that shop is to the old operating theatre museum and herb garret. It is one of the oldest surviving operating theatres, and it's in central London!

Joining me today is Monica Walker, Marketing and Events Manager from the Old Operating Theatre Museum who's here to tell us a little bit more.

What we discussed:

  • What's special in The Old Operating Museum?
  • The garret in the main exhibition and its use
  • Spices and herbs
  • Medical equipment from the Georgian and Victorian period
  • What is an operating theatre doing in the attic of a church? 
  • How a surgery was taught in the middle of the 18th century.
  • Before the operating theatre, where were women operated on?
  • What happens to the women?
  • Women's jobs in the early 19th century

Monica Walker: And I always say this, you know, every single one of my talks, you know, never, ever, ever underestimate hope because that space, as horrendous as it sounds, it's a space of hope. People didn't go to the operating theatre because they wanted to die. They went there because they wanted to live.

Hazel Baker: I think that's a very good message to end on given today's current situation. Thanks Monica.

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