THE OLD OPERATING THEATRE MUSEUM
9A St Thomas Street
Parts of this museum are not for the squeamish and access at present is limited to those who can climb a rather steep 52 steps up a spiral staircase, but the insight offered into the worlds of medicine and surgery during the Regency and Victorian eras by this unique and little known place is not to be missed. In addition to an extensive collection of medical accoutrements it houses what is considered Europe’s oldest surviving operating theatre.
St. Thomas is one of the oldest hospitals in London. It was established in Southwark, a part of London considered a den of immorality and criminal elements at the time. Thomas Cromwell pronounced it the bawdy hospital of Southwark when he visited it in 1535. It was originally set up as a hospital for unwed mothers and by the time Cromwell visited it was known for its treatment of those who suffered with venereal diseases. The hospital’s manager, Richard Mabbott is said to have kept a concubine and to have sold the church plate. At least they picked a manager who would fit in.
The hospital was moved a number of times over the years, but the clientele changed very little. St. Thomas’s Hospital was dedicated to serving the poor, those with venereal diseases, and a fair share of lunatics. Between 1693 and 1709 the hospital was rebuilt through the efforts of the hospital board president, Robert Clayton, and his friend, Thomas Guy, who founded Guy’s Hospital next door. The medieval church around which the original hospital was built was demolished and replaced with the church which now houses the museum.
In 1751 the male operating theatre was added to the hospital. It was housed in the top floor to give it better access to daylight. The female operating theatre, the one which is the centerpiece of today’s museum, was installed in 1821. Eventually the hospital moved on to better quarters, after a period of time using the buildings of the zoological gardens in Lambeth, but the original operating theatre and the herb garret were rediscovered during renovations of the church building in 1962.
The operating theatre is as it would have appeared in the early to mid-nineteenth century, complete with the viewing areas used to teach medical students. The rest of the museum is an amazing exhibit of medical instruments, medical specimens as they would have been housed during this era, and the contents of the herb garret and pharmacy where the medicines of the day were dried and prepared.
The museum features period mock surgeries and surgical lectures on Saturdays at 2:00 PM and weekly lectures on the preparation of medicines and the Regency and Victorian era pharmacy. Their educational programs, lectures, and walks are listed on the website and frankly if I had endless time I would attend each and every one. Check out the list here :
The museum has a blog which is a treasure trove of information on the history of medicine as it was practiced at St. Thomas and other hospitals of the Georgian and Victorian eras.
Anyone with an interest in the earliest surgeries of the “modern” era, the creation of medicines from herbs, and some of the odd and frankly frightening ways medicine was practiced prior to the twentieth century should avail themselves of the incredible resource that is The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret.
Check out their website, but be prepared to spend some time pouring over this brilliant online presence of a real gem of a museum! Definitely adding this one to the UK bucket list!
THE FAN MUSEUM
12 Crooms Hill
If one is fortunate enough to take a little jaunt out to Greenwich when visiting London, it is assumed one will visit the National Maritime Museum and, of course, the Royal Observatory. There is, however, another museum located between these two must-see destinations definitely worth a visit.
Located in two grade II listed houses built in 1721, the Fan Museum was the first museum dedicated solely to fans. It opened in 1991 and is now home to over 4000 fans and extended fan leaves. The oldest fan in the permanent collection is from the tenth century and the majority of the fans are from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It does have an extensive nineteenth century collection as well. My Georgian-era-loving heart leaps to hear it!
For reasons of conservation, as is done in many museums, the entire permanent collection is not on display all the time. The permanent display is changed out three times a year. So if one is interested in viewing a specific fan in the permanent collection, it is recommended one phone or e mail first to make certain it will be on display during one’s visit. What could be so specific about a fan? How about a fan with an ear trumpet built into the design? Or another with a repair kit built into the design? I, for one, would not want to miss either of those.
The museum does conservation and restoration work for other museums and for individuals who might want those antique fans they found in the attic restored correctly. The museum houses a reference library and also conducts fan-making classes. What fun!
The Green Room is primarily an educational display with information on the history of the fan, how fans were and are made, materials used in fans, and the various forms a fan might take.
The Reception Room contains unmounted and extended fan leaves from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Temporary exhibits are usually arranged around a theme or sometimes feature the collections of private citizens on loan to the museum for a period of time. Check the website for a list of future temporary exhibits and there is also a list of past exhibits, but beware. Reading some of the ones on the list made me weep with envy I was not able to see them. Can you imagine any of us here at Number One London missing an exhibit of fans based on the theme of Waterloo? SOB!
Here are just a few of the fans in the museum’s collection!
In addition to the other amenities the museum has a lovely tea shop in the orangery and a delicate Japanese garden with a pond and stream. And for those of us who cannot resist there is a museum shop which promises to be quite injurious to one’s purse!
This lovely museum is going on my list of things to see when I return to my beloved England. Perhaps you will add it to yours. And if all else fails the website is definitely worth a visit!