The Old Operating Theatre

The last couple of days have been filled to the absolute brim. I will try to combine them in one post. So yesterday being Monday, not a lot of museums were open in London. I was so lucky to get the chance to meet the curator of the Americas and Oceania objects for the British Museum! She was lovely and answered every question I could possibly have on Mexican pottery. I saw a few of the examples they had in their collection which meant going behind the scenes and checking out how they store the items and what cataloguing system they have developed. Needless to say I was in my own little museum heaven. I don’t want to publish the photographs I took due to copyright etc but I did sketch the ones I saw. Brace yourselves for the next Van Gogh…

3. British Museum Objects 13


Some of the Mexican heads I got to see!
Some of the Mexican heads I got to see!

Now, moving onto the museum we visited today, the Old Operating Theatre. Medical history is yet another area of history that fascinates me to no end. I love hearing about early surgeries and how diseases were diagnosed. This museum chilled me to my bones for all the right reasons.

Skull at the Entrance to the Old Operating Theatre
Skulls in the Foyer of the Old Operating Theatre

The atmosphere it sets is fantastic. You access the museum after climbing this narrow spiral staircase. Once you’ve purchased your ticket (6 pounds 50 pence) you walk up some more stairs and into the surgery quarters of what was once St Thomas Hospital. The actual surgery room they have there was for female patients only. Before I come to that I’ll start with what first hits you when you walk in. Don’t expect a museum in its modern sense. Basically there is a large room filled with cabinets of curiosities. Everything from saws to preserved heart tissue. There are the occasional explanation cards but you pretty much just sit back and enjoy. This is a real old-school style that I think suits this style of museum.

Example of a Display Case

The highlight is the surgery room. A room once filled with aspiring surgeons watching over their superiors to learn the craft. Surgery was really a last ditch effort to save someone’s life. Without anaesthetic I don’t imagine it to be a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Nevertheless massive developments were made in the field during the Victorian era and this little room would have some amazing stories to tell. In the middle of the room itself is an operating table. Surrounding it are original preparation tables, wash basins and, my personal favourite, instructions on where you should be standing depending on your seniority. This kind of stuff fascinates me. Similar to the Wellcome exhibits though, if you have a weak stomach probably best to give it a miss.

In the Operating Theatre!
In the Operating Theatre!

My only piece of advice is to check if a school group is there when you visit. From my volunteering I’ve learnt it’s important to let people know just out of courtesy. We were not informed and this meant waiting a little longer than we would have liked to see everything in peace. This is not really a criticism of the museum itself but I have a soapbox and I’m going to use it!

Overall, if you love your medical history then get yourself to this awesome, unique and often over-looked gem. If you need any more motivation the Borough Markets are right next door where you can buy a macaron as big as your hand. So once you’ve seen the doctor you can get your sweets!

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