Must-Visit Museums this Halloween (Part 2) – The Old Operating Theatre & Herb Garret

Located next to London Bridge station, The Old Operating Theatre is Europe’s oldest surviving operating theatre. You might remember from movie scenes when medical students gather around an autopsy table in a horseshoe-shaped room to witness an autopsy or an operation on a human body to learn about the organs and anatomy.

Well, let’s step into that movie scene…

Watch mini video tour here (coming soon).


Access Through a Spooky Narrow Spiral Staircase


Old Operating Theatre Entrance

Photo: Urban Adventurer



The Old Operating Theatre is an extraordinary museum in many ways, but it’s really not for everyone. Here’s why.

The museum is housed in the attic of an 18-century church. This church once belonged to St Thomas’ Hospital.

In order to get access to the museum, you have to climb a 52-steps narrow spiral staircase. This experience is spooky enough by itself for some of us to decide to quit the whole thing. It also means, that currently there is no wheelchair access to the museum.



Original Herb Garret


Apothecary at The Old Operating Theatre

Photo: Urban Adventurer



The original Herb Garret used to dry and store herbs in this attic in 1822 where the operating theatre was included.

This original timber framed Herb Garret is where your theatre journey starts. Here you’ll learn more about herbs and for what and how they were used back in the 19th century and how apothecaries used those herbs to make medicines.



 Horrifying Facts


Surgical Equipment - The Old Operating Theatre

Photo: Urban Adventurer



Leaving the Herb Garret your journey gets more thrilling.

You’ll learn about (the lack of) hygiene, pain relief methods and equipment used in the 19th century.

During the period the operating theatre was in use – between 1822 and 1862 – surgical equipment was rarely washed before the operation. Bandages were often reused, and surgeons washed their hands and the medical equipment after the operation rather than before. This practice caused serious infection and later the death of many patients even if the operation itself was successful. This became known as ‘ward fever’.

In the 19th century, forms of pain relief were most often alcohol or opium. Sometimes, however, surgeons administered too much or too little pain relief that resulted the patient not waking up at all after the operation or waking up throughout the operation.



Amputation Saws at The Old Operating Theatre

Photo: Urban Adventurer


Despite of the high mortality rate, which was 30% in the 19th century, amputation was regularly performed for cases of disease, accident, or trauma. But even if the patient survived, they had to face the high risk of infection caused by that fact that surgical equipment at that time was not cleaned properly.

Before 1846, amputations were performed using a knife or saw. Many of that hair rising equipment is on display in the theatre. (I am so glad I am living in the 21st century…)



The Operating Theatre


The Old Operating Theatre

Photo: Urban Adventurer


The next room to visit is the operating theatre itself. It’s a small horseshoe-shaped room with high glass ceiling to let as much light as possible for clearer view.

Despite of the theatre’s relatively small size, it allowed 140 people in total to witness an operation or autopsy.


The Old Operating Theatre Mobile App

Photo: Urban Adventurer


Here the exhibition gets even more interactive. If you download The Old Operating Theatre mobile app and follow the instructions, you’ll get access to an Augmented Reality experience: you’ll step into the shoes of a 19th century medical student and get fist-hand information of the latest procedures. (Don’t worry, nothing disturbing will happen during the AR experience)


Preserved Organs and Women’s Health


Preserved Organs at The Old Operating Theatre London

Photo: Urban Adventurer



Continuing your journey within the museum, you’ll get the opportunity to see some human organs floating in formaldehyde and learn more about anatomy and dissection.

You’ll learn for instance, that by the middle of the 18th century dissection of the dead had become a central to surgical education. It means that fresh human corpses had become extremely valuable in surgery to rehearse operations and educate anatomy.

Due to the extreme high demand, the number of available human bodies became limited, and this was the point when body snatchers started stealing recently buried bodies and sold them to anatomy schools.

The next section is dedicated to women’s health, focusing on birth giving. Here you’ll see a number of absolutely blood-curdling forceps, scissors, crochet hooks, and other equipment you would never want to be used on you. (Again, glad to live in the 21st century…)


Events at The Operating Theatre


There are a number of events The Old Operating Theatre hosts throughout the year.

Upcoming events for example: Surgery & the Victorian Operating Theatre Live Event, Mummies and Medicine, A Victorian Mummy Unrolling Demonstration, Victorian Gothic Tales, and there are so much more down the line.

Discover all upcoming events here.


The Spooky Theatre Shop


Before you leave, don’t forget to support this extraordinary museum by purchasing some souvenir from their shop.


OK, but what can I buy in the shop of an operating theatre?


Blinking Doll Eye Necklace - The Old Operating Theatre

Blinking doll eye necklace

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Nothing but the most extreme.

Unique accessories that go perfectly well with your Halloween costume, such as brain stud earrings, heart stud earrings, apothecary poison bottle earrings & necklace, bone saw pedant and brooch, scull brooch, blinking doll eye necklace, keychain & hair grips, and the list goes on.


Cool! What else?

How about a graduation brain cell keyring, Coronavirus plushie, DNA plushie or uterus plushie?


I have sweet tooth.


Hoxton Monstar Supplies - The Old Operating Theatre

Sweets from Hoxton Monster Supplies

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Hmmm, would you try some cubed earwax, organ marmalade or olde fashioned brain jam? If you’re craving for something crunchy, I would recommend the toasted bone chunks to try. All those yummy treats from Hoxton Monster Supplies.

Apart from all of these, the shop offers lots of books, original artworks inspired by the museum, board games and more.


Practical Info 

Please note: There are no public toilets onsite at the Museum.



9a St Thomas St, London SE1 9RY


Ticket Price

Adult: £7.50

Concessions (Students aged 17 and above, Seniors aged 60+, and Disabled Visitors): £6.00

Child 6-16 years: £4.50

Children under 6 years: Free

Carers (with a full paying adult, concession or child ticket): Free

Family (2 adults, 2 children): £18.00, additional child, £1 each


Opening Times

Thursday-Sunday | 10.30am-5pm




Ready for your next adventure? Our ‘must visit museums this Halloween’ continues. Have you read our first blog about Jack the Ripper Museum?