There are many fascinating museums in London which are dedicated to the history of medicine. My favourite has always been the ‘Old operating theatre and herb garret museum’ which is located near the south side of London Bridge. It displays historic surgical instruments and hosts live re-enactments of grisly pre-anaesthetic surgery.
The museum website says:
Concealed in the roof space of an old baroque church in Southwark lies an unexpectedly macabre site – a 19th-century surgical operating theatre. A church attic may seem a bizarre choice of location for such a grisly purpose, but St Thomas’ Church once stood at the centre of the ancient St Thomas’ Hospital, surrounded by the female wards of the hospital’s south wing. Its attic was in fact well suited to the job: a skylight flooded the chamber with natural light, while the distance from the wards soundproofed other patients from the screams.
Built in 1822, the operating theatre is the oldest surviving in Europe. In order to learn their trade, crowds of medical students and apprentice apothecaries would cram into the attic to watch live operations. It was sure to be a gruesome spectacle, as the theatre was in use before the invention of antiseptics, or even anaesthetics. When St Thomas’ Hospital moved site in 1862, the old operating theatres entrances were concealed and were only accessible only by ladder. Its location was lost until 1956, after which a major restoration project got underway.
Poppies, which were used to prepare medicinal opium, were found in the rafters, revealing that the roof space was also used as a ‘herb garret’. The attic was large, dry and inaccessible to rats, making it the perfect location for St Thomas’ apothecary to prepare and store medicinal herbs and ingredients.
Saint Thomas’s hospital was founded in about 1106, it was named after of Thomas Becket was made a saint in 1173. Becket was extremely popular, who people believed had miraculous healing powers. He was born in Londoner in 1118. Becket was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.
The early medieval hospital was staffed by Augustinian monks and nuns. St Thomas’s hospital performed three important functions. Hospitality was given to poor travellers and pilgrims, a home was provided for the destitute and aged, and the sick were nursed. Catholics believe that when they treat those who are despised by society they are in reality showing God their love for him. This is based on the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 35-40: