Old Operating Theatre Museum Moves Into Church Crypt

By Richard Moss | 02 December 2005
Shows a photograph of the exterior of The Old Operating Theatre. It is a red brick building with a tower trimmed with white bricks. A red double decker bus is driving into shot on the right.

From the garret to the crypt - the Old Operating Theatre is on the move. © Old Operating Theatre.

The Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret in Southwark is temporarily moving downstairs - from its current home in the attic of St Thomas’ Church to the crypt, to allow essential repairs to be carried out on the roof.

Opening on Monday December 5 2005 for approximately 18 weeks the double vaulted crypt will be open to the public for the first time and will feature the museum’s usual medical exhibitions together with artworks and a full programme of events.

A replica operating theatre has been installed to allow staff to continue with their popular recreations of Victorian surgery whilst the extra space has allowed staff to expand the museum gift shop.

Shows a photograph of the interior of the Old Operating Theatre. There is a table with a couple of pestles and mortars and a skeleton hanging from the ceiling.

The museum's herb garret is one of the most unusual museum spaces in the capital.

“This will be an exciting opportunity for the museum to expand on what is currently being offered to the public,” explained Kevin Flude, the museum’s director. “The additional space means that a new workshop area can be provided so that the museum as a whole will become much more interactive and child- friendly.”

Located at the top of a rickety spiral staircase in the church’s barn-like roof space, the Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret has built up a reputation as one of the capital’s most atmospheric museums and the move downstairs to the crypt promises to uphold this reputation.

The new space was originally used for the storage of coffins and is known as the Coffin Crypt. For a while it was even rumoured to be the original location of the hospital’s operating theatre – until the discovery of the actual theatre in the church attic in 1956.

shows a girl on an old fashioned operating table as two people demonstrate how an amputation would have been performed

The museum's recreations of Victorian surgery have been popular with school groups.

The crypt will also be the venue for the display of part two of the current Suture exhibition - a visceral interactive video art installation by Phillip Warnell and Richard Squires that incorporates the museum's medical displays.

Built by Christopher Wren’s Master Mason, Thomas Cartwright, St Thomas’ Church was completed in 1703 and is the oldest surviving part of the original St Thomas’ Hospital.

The repairs to the roof of this Grade 2* listed building are part of a restoration of the fabric of the entire property and are supported by Southwark Cathedral, Southwark Council and English Heritage.

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