Schools & Groups

The history of medicine is a fascinating subject for everyone to learn about, not least because we all have our own medical history.

Learning at the Old Operating Theatre Museum

Introduction

Like a square picture frame, medical practice is made up of four sides: patient, diagnosis, disease and therapy. The frame holds the painted canvas and shows how these four points of reference invent illness. There has never been a time when men and women have not experienced sickness: healing and the body will always dominate human experience and culture. Illness is an elusive entity, it is at once a biological event, but in a way it does not exist until we agree it does, by naming, by experiencing, and by responding to it. Our learning programme's objective is to shed light into societies' changing attitudes towards illness, the patients’ experience of suffering, the medical practitioners’ knowledge and the methods of diagnosis and treatment. 

Our Education Programme

Our education programme has something for everyone. We have a range of activities designed for students age 8 and above. Our interactive talks and walks will enthuse learners and provide new and exciting perspectives for students following a prescribed syllabus. We also offer an extensive provision for anyone with a general interest in the social history of medicine.

Please, read our booking information booklet before making a reservation and download our booking form


The dance of death: the apothecary. Coloured aquatint by Thomas Rowlandson, 1816. London, Wellcome Library.

Primary Schools

The Victorian A & E Hospital

The workshop explores what it was like to have been a medical practitioner and a patient in St Thomas’ Hospital during the 19th century. This is an interactive session where participants will explore the role of an apothecary and make their own herbal remedies to treat a range of illnesses. The group will also look into the ‘bloody’ world of surgery before the arrival of antiseptics and anaesthetics, as Museum staff perform a mock amputation on an elected candidate in the unique atmosphere of the Operating Theatre. The session lasts approximately 90 minutes and it is designed for Y4-Y6. Maximum group size: 30 students.


The Male Operating Theatre of St Thomas' Hospital, 1751. Anonymous. Museum's Collection.

Secondary Schools

Victorian Surgery Brought to Life

This session is held in Europe’s oldest surviving operating theatre, where hundreds of surgeons would have once gathered and learnt their trade by watching the various surgical procedures that took place. A group will experience the atmosphere of this uniquely evocative space, as Museum staff reconstruct an operation before the arrival of anaesthesia and antiseptics.  This stimulating session is specifically designed for KS4/5 students studying GCSE History, covering Edexcel: Medicine through time, c12 50-present. AQA: Health and the People and OCR: The People’s Health c. 1250-present.The sessions last approximately 50 minutes. Maximum group size: 45* students.

*A package of talk and walk is advised for groups of over 40 people. See our range of complementary walks below. 


Pain by Charles Bell.

Further Education

The Foundations of Contemporary Attitudes Towards Health, Illness, and the Body

This session stimulates discussion around the extent to which categories such as ‘pain’ change over time. Medicine and surgery prior to the revolutionary discoveries of anaesthetics and antiseptics will be explored using a range of learning activities. The programme is particularly beneficial for learners studying BTEC Diplomas in Health and Social Care and Access to Higher Education Diplomas in Health, Nursing and Midwifery. The session last approximately 60 minutes. Maximum group size: 45 students.


General Interest

Apothecary counter in the Herb Garret. Photo: M. Delazey.

Herbal Sanctuary

Without the provision of modern synthesised drugs, painkillers or anaesthetics, what type of medication could the hospitals of the past provide to help a patient recover their health?

The Herbal Sanctuary talk allows an interactive hands-on investigation of Materia Medica, the herbs, resins and minerals that were used to make patients’ medicines at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals.  How powerful were herbal treatments and did the use of Leeches, Oysters, Earthworms and Garden snails more likely frighten a patient over curing them?

The presentation takes place in the oak beamed Herb Garret attic of St Thomas' Church, Southwark (built in 1703). The talk is undertaken by the Museum’s Herb Archivist Karen Howell and can be booked for adult groups of maximum group size 25. Duration time 1 hour.

In addition to this hands on experience of herbs, poultices and pill making, the group will also have opportunity to visit the Old Operating Theatre of 1822 and look at the museum's fascinating medical object collection.

During the summer months a Garden to Garret Walk can be booked to take a tour of the local herb garden and end with a herbal demonstration within the Herb Garret. Duration 2 hours.


The talks below talk can be booked for up to 50 people to take place within Old Operating Theatre of 1822. Duration time 1 hour. The group will also have opportunity also to visit the Herb Garret and to look at the museum's fascinating medical object collection:

Tales of the Body Snatcher

The Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital surgeons that operated within the Old Operating Theatre gained prior knowledge and experience of human anatomy by dissection of the dead human body.

As techniques advanced more ‘Material’ was required for both anatomical studies and teaching.  Without voluntary body donation shortages arose pushing some surgeons to gain their own materials, with students warned to keep clear of trouble. What was to be done?

In the darkness, over the cemetery wall, came the solution - the professional Body Snatcher.

The Release of Devils

Trepanning, the intervention of drilling into the human skull, is one of the oldest surgical operations to have been recorded. Prehistoric skulls have been discovered all over the world that bear intentionally cut holes. Medical assessment has shown that the skulls often bear signs of healing around the incised area, indicating that the patient had survived the procedure.

Was cranium drilling undertaken as a drastic cure of headache, or was it more of a ritual attempt undertaken to release evil spirits? If so – why would the eighteenth century surgeons of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals undertake this drastic intervention? Learn more about this ancient surgical practice and see up close with hands on some of the Museum’s most fearsome cranium cutting drills and saws, some that were even used within our own NHS history.


Guided Walks

The Museum also offers a range of guided local historical walks that can be booked separately or to complement a talk or visit to the Museum. A package of talk and walk is advised for groups of over 40 people.

On the transmission of cholera.

King Cholera Walk: Public Health in Nineteenth Century Southwark


Nineteenth century industrialisation transformed parts of Southwark into one of the most overcrowded and filthiest areas of London. Raw sewage was everywhere. And so was its stench. These wretched conditions in turn bred epidemic diseases, most notably the scourge of the period: cholera. In an age when the belief was that diseases were caused by miasma, this 60 minute walk explores the lives of the local poor, the arrival, effects and responses to this potentially fatal bacterial infection and the significant figures in public health: Edwin Chadwick, John Snow and Joseph Bazalgette.

This walk is very popular when combined with the Victorian surgery brought to life talk and similarly designed to complement KS4/5 students studying GCSE History, covering Edexcel: Medicine through time, c12 50-present. AQA: Health and the People and OCR: The People’s Health c. 1250-present. It is also recommended for anyone with a general interest into the history of public health in Britain. The walk lasts approximately 60 minutes. 

The Bodysnatchers’ Haunts

This walk covers some of the secretive locations of the ‘Bodysnatchers’ haunts, the men and women who engaged in the trade of the bodies of the recently deceased. Learn about the anatomist’s need for corpses and the ritual of burial in 19th century London. Not recommended for anyone under the age of 18. The walk lasts approximately 60 minutes. 

An Earthly Hell: A Walk Through Southwark’s Criminal Past

Improper amenities and lax law enforcement set Southwark’s reputation as a haunt of criminals and low-life for half a millennium. Prisons, prostitution, murder and debt, the unsavory status of this old suburb south of the river Thames will all be revealed. Of interest to anyone wishing to learn more about the history of crime. It can also be tailored to suite KS4/5 History: Crime and Punishment. The walk lasts approximately 60 minutes. 

Dilapidated housing at Snowfields in Bermondsey. Late 19th-early 20th century.

The Bitter Cry: Booth, Poverty and Housing Reform

In Southwark, demolition of housing, caused by the development of railways, brought chronic overcrowding and homelessness to an area already enduring industrial urban ruin.

One street in 1875 had a population of 8,000 sharing just 194 houses.

Social reformer Charles Booth's innovative poverty surveys 'Life and Labour of People in London' shocked wealthy Victorians, provoking individual efforts to improve dwellings for the poor.

This engaging walk uses historical maps, documents and photographs to illustrate the conditions which penetrated a deep social conscience in people and explores the work and buildings of those committed to municipal improvement: Edward Guinness, Octavia Hill and Sydney Waterlow.

This local walk examines the causes and response to this crisis, taking the housing projects built to alleviate destitution. The walk lasts approximately 60 minutes. 


Price

The talks or the walks are covered with museum admission: £3.50, under 16; £5.00 concs.; £6.50, adults. Combined talk and walk: £8.50, under 18 and concessions; £10.50, adults. The talks and walks are only available to groups and must be paid in advance.

Further considerations:

  • There is no additional charge when booking a lecture.Bookings can be cancelled up to a week prior to the visit. There will be a £50 cancellation fee if the group does not cancel within the allotted time.
  • Due to limited capacity, please respect your time slot as the museum staff may not be able to provide the lecture or walk due to other bookings. 
  • We can only accept a maximum of 55 people into the museum at one time, including teaching staff. This is due to fire safety regulations.
  • Educational lectures are open to all museum visitors; therefore no groups have exclusive access to the Museum. The public are free to quietly join the lecture but asked not to participate in the activity. 
  • At present the museum has no toilets on site. 
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Experts Choice 4