One of my photos

The old operating theatre

March 26th, 2007 · Posted by Skuds in Life · 1 Comment · Life

After our meeting on Saturday we headed across to London Bridge. The intention was to visit the London Dungeon, which Jayne has never been to and really wants to see. When we got there we found a queue which went on for ever. One of the assistants estimated that it would take about 2 hours for the end of the queue to reach the door, and we decided that would be a waste of two hours.

I thought I would show Jayne the sights of Borough Market, which must be one of the best places to buy food in the whole country. It would have been a bit silly for us to buy sacks of old fashioned potatoes, specialised cheeses and piles of wild boar sausages to cart around for the rest of the day and then have to take home on the train, so it was really just to go window shopping.

Instead of the normal route I led us by the more direct short-cuts and we passed a sign for the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret which was just too much for Jayne to resist. I had heard about the place, but not in any great detail, and had not known exactly where it was.

To be honest it didn’t really appeal to me, but I am so glad Jayne insisted that we go in because it really is one of the hidden gems of London. It is an old-style operating theatre which was forgotten about until it was rediscovered in the 1950s.

Now it has been turned into a museum of the sort of medicine that went on before anaesthetics were invented and is very quirky. The attitude of the place is summed up by the “please touch” sign – a refreshing change.

Access to the museum is by a steep and narrow spiral staircase – it would be impossible to manage if the museum was a lot more popular – leading to a small shop and ticket booth. Then it is up some more stairs into the loft space of a church full of examples of medicinal herbs, old medical instruments and samples.

Some of the medical instruments are truly scary, even if they do not all have such brilliant names as the scarifiers (rotating blades for blood-letting). There were vicious-looking fleams there (non-rotating blades for blood-letting) and some horrific gynaecological items. Perhaps the nastiest instrument was a surgical decapitating hook. The description just said “for cases when the only way to save the mother’s life was to sacrifice the baby” – leaving you to work out the details yourself.

At the moment the museum is host to an exhibition of wax sculptures called “joint Account”. The various pieces of the exhibition are scattered around the place and all represent aspects of conjoined twins. The way the sculptures are made from lots of short lengths of wax makes them disturbing already, but when two disturbing figures are joined together in grotesque ways it can be very unsettling. One figure of a man with a vestigial conjoined twin stuck to his head is on the operating table in the theatre, as if ready for a separation operation which would be risky nowadays, let alone then.

The place is not large, and the entry fee (nearly 6 quid) might seem a lot for such a small place, but it really is an amazing place. its worth having a look at the website, but even better to get round there if you are ever near London Bridge with an hour or so to spare.

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