The Old Operating Theatre Museum – Review for families

Pretend you're a 19th century patient at London's Old Operating Theatre Museum

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What is it?

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It’s a museum of an old operating theatre and herb garret found in a church over 200 years ago. Find it in Southwark, 2 minutes from London Bridge tube station and close to the Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast and London Bridge Experience & London Tombs.

Best for

9 – 12 / 12 +

OK for

5 – 8

Cost

£. The museum costs just £5 for adults and £3.50 for children.

What’s on offer

This tiny museum takes a look at something rather unusual – an ‘ancient’ operating room found in the roof of an English baroque church.  The operating room was part of St Thomas’ hospital, built in the 1100’s, of which some was built around St Thomas’ church. 

Surgeons used the theatre to perform surgeries, without anesthetic (as it had not been invented) in front of students and interested members of the public. Upon the discovery of this room, an apothecary was also discovered, where herbs were stored and cured. The discoveries were stored and now open to the public.

In addition to exploring these unique locations, weekend events exploring the history of medicine and a collection of objects, instruments and texts illustrating the history of the theatre and the herb garret, which range from midwifery tools to herbal medicine. Information sheets are provided, but there are no guided tours in numerous languages.

If you’ve got even the slightest interest in medicine or history, this is a worthwhile visit.

Given the age of the building, the museum’s facilities are limited. The building is virtually inaccessible via wheelchair or for mums with buggies, as the only entrance and exit is a tight, winding, spiral staircase of 32 steps. One helpful mum on TripAdvisor noted that there are no toilets available in the building, either. They do manage to pack in a small gift shop on the first floor.

Highlights

Lying on the operating table and getting a patients view is both exciting and scary at the same time – you’ll definitely be grateful for modern medicine once you’ve arrived home. Museum staff members are friendly and helpful.

What to watch out for

– Watch your little one on the tight winding staircase, especially if they have health problems, claustrophobia or difficulty walking AND when you’re on the way down.

– Younger children (especially babies and toddlers) will find themselves with little to do unless you’ve brought along something to keep them entertained.

MFM tips

– The London Pass is accepted here. It might be worth researching if you’re planning on visiting several attractions over a short period of time.

– National Trust members will get in to this museum for half price.

– Similar attractions include the Hunterian Museum and the Florence Nightingale Museum.

What the owners say

“The Old Operating Theatre Museum is one of the most unusual museums in London. The Operating Theatre is the oldest in Europe and found in a unique space in the Herb Garret of St Thomas Church, and was part of old St Thomas Hospital.”

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Visit the official Old Operating Theatre website

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