Go Inside Europe's Oldest Surviving Operating Theatre

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Go Inside Europe's Oldest Surviving Operating Theatre

This is a sponsored article on behalf of the Old Operating Theatre.

Did you know that Europe's oldest surviving operating theatre is right here in London? What's more, it's open to the public.

We're talking about the freshly-reopened Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret in Southwark. If you're curious about the history of medicine (or you enjoy a cheeky bit of gore), now's the time to check this place out in all its renovated glory.

The Old Operating Theatre takes you back to a time when amputations were performed without anaesthetic, and antiseptic conditions were unheard of. Dating back to 1822, the theatre was located in the attic of an 18th century church belonging to Old St.Thomas' Hospital.

Originally the attic was a herb garret — a place  for the apothecaries of St. Thomas' to dry herbs and store medicines.

After the 1815 Apothecaries Act stipulated that apprentices had to watch live operations as part of their training, many hospitals incorporated theatres  into their premises.

Due to a lack of space on the women's ward, the operating theatre moved to the church's attic in 1822, where you can see it today.  (Be warned — entrance to the attic is via a 50 step spiral staircase — not a venture for claustrophobics or wheelchairs, unfortunately. There will, however, be a new elevator working in September.)

With a huge skylight and none of the dampness of basements, this was the perfect place to perform amputations. The museum will enlighten you as to how surgery was carried out here when hygiene was poor and you were more likely to die from an infection rather than an amputation.

The museum hosts plenty of regular events too; every Saturday there's a talk on Victorian surgery (complete with live demonstration — you've been warned), while on Sundays you can learn all about how herbs were used medicinally.

The talks come with a warning of graphic content and are aimed at adult audiences, so those with a weak stomach may be wise to give these demos a miss.

You'll never curse that alcohol gel at hospitals again after hearing about conditions is the 1800s — give us foul-smelling antiseptic gloop any day of the week.

The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret is open now.

Last Updated 12 June 2017