Secret Concert @ The Old Operating Theatre: Introducing Russell Swallow

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Victorian Surgery Talk

Talk | Saturdays at 2:00 PM and Sundays at Noon

A surgical demonstration presented within the original architecture of the old operating theatre of St. Thomas’s Hospital of 1822.

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Staff Profiles: Q&A with Karen Howell

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The front of house staff who welcome you; the people that tell you all about the history of the museum, Victorian surgery and herbal medicine on the weekend talks; the people that take you on walking tours about public health and history of crime in Southwark; the people that catalogue and care for the collection; the people that organize after-hours events...

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The Resurrection Men

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Anatomy and physiology are most important disciplines to a surgeon. By the middle of the 18th century, dissection of the dead had become central to surgical education...

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William Lowder: A Male Midwife in 18th-Century England

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​Midwifery was a developing science in the 18th century. New discoveries were being made in anatomy and physiology; new instruments were developed, and midwifery schools began to open, with courses running in the hospitals and partnerships created with lying in institutions.

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Staff Profiles: Q&A with Kirsty Chilton

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The front of house staff who welcome you; the people that tell you all about the history of the museum, Victorian surgery and herbal medicine on the weekend talks; the people that take you on walking tours about public health and history of crime in Southwark; the people that catalogue and care for the collection...

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Ether, Anaesthesia and the Old Operating Theatre

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​In August 2008, as part of the building works at the museum, samples of sawdust from under the operating theatre were taken by conservator Jonna Holt. Apart from other things, she found ether residue in the area of the head end of the operating table. This ether was an old fashion form, slightly different to the purified medical ether that was soon to be introduced. This shows that this new advance was made available for St. Thomas’ Hospital’s patients very soon after its introduction.

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Staff Profiles: Q&A with Denise Leon

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​The front of house staff who welcome you; the people that tell you all about the history of the museum, Victorian surgery and herbal medicine on the weekend talks; the people that take you on walking tours about public health and history of crime in Southwark; the people that catalogue and care for the collection...

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Staff Profiles: Q&A with Juliana Wakefield

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​The front of house staff who welcome you; the people that tell you all about the history of the museum, Victorian surgery and herbal medicine on the weekend talks; the people that take you on walking tours about public health and history of crime in Southwark; the people that catalogue and care for the collection...

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Staff Profiles: Q&A with Julie Mathias

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The front of house staff who welcome you; the people that tell you all about the history of the museum, Victorian surgery and herbal medicine on the weekend talks; the people that take you on walking tours about public health and history of crime in Southwark; the people that catalogue and care for the collection...

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Staff Profiles: Q&A with Iris Millis

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The front of house staff who welcome you; the people that tell you all about the history of the museum, Victorian surgery and herbal medicine on the weekend talks; the people that take you on walking tours about public health and history of crime in Southwark; the people that catalogue and care for the collection...

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Staff Profiles: Q&A with Monica A. Walker

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The front of house staff who welcome you; the people that tell you all about the history of the museum, Victorian surgery and herbal medicine on the weekend talks; the people that take you on walking tours about public health and history of crime in Southwark; the people that catalogue and care for the collection...

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Staff Profiles: Q&A with Gareth Miles

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The front of house staff who welcome you; the people that tell you all about the history of the museum, Victorian surgery and herbal medicine on the weekend talks; the people that take you on walking tours about public health and history of crime in Southwark; the people that catalogue and care for the collection...

Surrey Gardens

An Englishman’s Paradise

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In 1862, while the new buildings of St Thomas’ were under construction near Westminster Bridge, the hospital temporarily moved to Surrey Gardens. Now a populous area between the Kennington and Walworth Roads, the Gardens were once, according to Punch Magazine, ‘the most charming place of amusement in London’.

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The Christmas Rose as a Medicinal Plant

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​Today we know Black Hellebore (botanical name Helliborus Officinalis) as the Christmas Rose, but it also had a much older name, Christe Herb. The reason for both of these alternative names is that, in a mild winter, this plant will flower at Christmas. In past centuries it was said that it bloomed in joy at Christ’s birth.

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Gum Arabic: History and Uses

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Gum Arabic is a gummy exudation from the branches of the Acacia Senegal (L.) Willd and other species of the Leguminosae Family. It is also known as Gum Acacia, Kordofan Gum, Gum Senegal, Acacia Vera, Gummi Africanum, Gummae Mimosae, kher, Sudan Gum Arabic, Somali Gum, Yellow Thorn, Mogadore Gum, Indian Gum and Australian Gum.

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Introduction to English Witches in the Early Modern Period

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​Between 1450 and 1750 ecclesiastical and secular courts tried and executed tens of thousand of people throughout Europe for the crime of witchcraft. Witchcraft may be defined as supernatural activity, believed to be the result of power given by the Devil to cause harm to something or someone~ for instance death~ via non-physical means.

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‘Pain has an element of blank’

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​We assume that our ancestors felt pain in much the same way as we do today. But perhaps this ‘common-sense’ assumption is incorrect. The way individuals relate to the world, including their own bodies, is interpreted through culture, there is no such thing as an unmediated experience. The only way to make sense of the potentially overwhelming and chaotic nature of experiential reality is via reference to learnt, culturally specific narratives and metaphoric tropes.

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There Together Be Suspended

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​On November 13th 1849, the felonious couple Frederick and Maria Manning were publicly executed at the Horsemonger Lane Gaol, Southwark, for the murder of Patrick O’Connor – an affair that became known as the “Bermondsey Horror.”

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Victorian Attitudes Towards Self-Murder

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The corpses of those who commit suicide had long been excluded from interment in consecrated ground, rather they were buried at busy junctions in an effort to prevent malign spirits rising from the grave: it was thought that the traffic would keep any hostile force ‘down’. It was also believed that if a supernatural entity did manage to flee the burial pit it would be bewildered by the choice of potential paths offered at the crossroad. The stakes through the heart were a further prophylactic against the escape of evil, they were thought to ‘pin’ corrupt spectres to the spot.

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The Natural Ordure of Things

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It’s a fair assumption that not many of us contemplate the complex journey taken, from mouth to anus, of the food we eat. Once swallowed, the entire digestive process is involuntary and occurs without any conscious thought from the individual.

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A Museum Story

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It was Sunday morning. For the first time in a while, the sun was shining in London. As I came around the corner from London Bridge Station I looked up at the scaffolding that by now covered the tower of St. Thomas’ church. I climbed the spiral staircase and went into the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret.

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Seeing is Believing: Spiritualism in the Victorian Era-Part 1

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Spiritualism has been perceived as a new religion that arrived in England from America in the mid-nineteenth century. The central principles of the Spiritualist movement can be broadly characterized by a belief in the continuity of a life after death, coupled with the conviction that the deceased can communicate with the living through a spiritual medium.

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Seeing is Believing: Spiritualism in the Victorian Era-Part 2

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​In mid-Victorian London the early spiritualist movement was relatively small and mainly dominated by the upper circles of society. A varied grouping of middle-class intellectuals and professionals became the early advocates of spiritualism, which included physicians, professors, lawyers and writers of the day.

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Seeing is Believing: Spiritualism in the Victorian Era-Part 3

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In the dawn of modern spiritualism the general means of communication employed by the spirits were made by “raps” or “alphabet rapping”, where a medium could relay messages from the deceased by writing letters on a slate. Under more favourable conditions, the spirits were able to speak in a direct voice using of the lungs of the medium, or materialise all vocal organs for their own use

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Seeing is Believing: Spiritualism in the Victorian Era-Part 4

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The Society of Psychical Research was one of a number of organisations established in Britain in the latter part of the nineteenth century. It was founded in 1882 by a group of Cambridge philosophers and scientists after a meeting of the British National Association of Spiritualists. Their aim was to investigate scientifically, without prejudice, those capabilities of man that appear to be inexplicable.

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The Humoral Management of Blood: Cupping, Bloodletting and Staunching- PART 1

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​Blood and heart health is a central aspect of the normal monitoring and maintenance of our body function. Via medical analysis we know that a unit of blood is taken to be approximately one pint; that an average adult male can be estimated to have within their body about twelve pints of blood, a female nine pints; a healthy donor's blood has been analysed to replenish in about 24 hours, that red blood cells that are lost take longer and are totally replaced in a few weeks. Whole blood can be donated every eight weeks and we are aware that blood types must be matched in order to safely transfuse blood. Our blood is accepted as the body’s replenishing life force.

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The Humoral Management of Blood: Cupping, Bloodletting and Staunching- PART 3

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In 1853 within the Lancet* St Thomas’ trained surgeon Thomas Wakley (1795-1862) wrote a substantial obituary of Monson Hills Senior (1792-1853) the long serving Cupper to Guy’s Hospital: “In March, 1823, he was appointed surgery-man in Guy's Hospital, and after six months, having in this interval qualified himself by assiduity and dexterity, he was advanced to the situation of cupper...

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Review: Quacks and Anaesthesia

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Set in a time of change for medicine, Quacks also embraces the introduction of pain relief. Quacks is treating anaesthesia for effect, but there are also kernels of historic truth in this comedy.

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Polyps: A Real Life Hydra in Miniature

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Previously, I wrote a blog about the reintroduction of Rhinoplasty to European surgery in the early 19th century by Joseph Constantine Carpue. The idea of transplanting tissue had been neglected for such a long time in Europe, and I wanted to try to explore why that might be in that blog, as well as discuss Carpue’s achievement. However, while I was researching it, I came across many interesting tangents about transplantation and ideas about regeneration in history. Due to space, I didn’t elaborate then, but I wanted to come back to some of the subjects I touched on and give them their own space – the subjects of this blog, polyps, are one of those tangents.

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Precious Objects as Materia Medica

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In the Secrets of Maister Alexis, translated into English by William Warde in 1558 we find on folio 69 (recto) a recipe for a distilled water which "is very good to make white and to beautifie the flesh, and to take away the wrinckles of the face". It concludes with the confident words “A thinge proved”.

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The Black Poppy

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For centuries cottage gardens included Red Poppies. They were undoubtedly grown for their beauty but this meant that they would also be on-hand for the making of domestic remedies. Hill’s Herbal gives one example. A syrup could be made by pouring boiling water onto the plucked flowers, just as much as will wet them.

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Museum Dance Off 5: The Last Dance

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The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret is participating for the second time in the Museum Dance Off Competition. This is the fifth and final annual international dance off competition featuring the upstanding professionals from museums, galleries, libraries and archives around the world showing off their best dance moves. Check our journey and our submissions here. Help us do better than last year. Vote for us!

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Film Night: Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1967)

Film night | 22 November, 2018, 7:00 PM

A creepy, engrossing Hitchcock-like suspense story set in the seedy, seething atmosphere of a loveless Britain. An unscrupulous and mentally unstable professional medium talks her downtrodden husband into kidnapping a child so she can become celebrated in her field and financially rewarded. He knows his troubled wife walks a fine line between sanity and madness, but out of devotion succumbs to her demands. Things take a sinister turn as they become more and more unhinged under the imagined influence of their dead son.

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Film Night: A Matter of Life and Death (1946)

Film night | 13 December, 2018, 7:00 PM

In one of the most beautiful and imaginative films ever made, Peter, a British Air Force pilot, bails out of his damaged plane and shares what he believes to be his last moments with Allied radio operator June. He survives, they meet and fall in love. After a mix-up in the afterlife, a divine messenger arrives to escort him to heaven to rectify his wrongful survival and Peter must argue for his life before a celestial court.

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Nerve, Knowledge, and Normality in Healthcare Serial Killing

Special Event | 31 October, 2018, 7:00 PM

​This talk will focus on how easy it can be for healthcare practitioners to move from saving lives to doing away with them. The focus will be on Dr Harold Shipman (1946-2004) who killed hundreds of his patients over a 28-year period. Wherever he worked in the NHS – casualty, hospital wards and general practice – Shipman could kill people without anyone apparently noticing. Causing death in the course of treatment, with the intention of deliberately killing people, is known as ‘clinicide’. How common is clinicide? Why does it happen? How can it be incorporated into normal healthcare ‘routines’? And how can it be detected? This talk considers what can be learnt from healthcare serial killers from home and abroad, from fiction and fact.

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Raising Dr Dodd: John Hunter’s Daring Attempt at Resurrecting the King’s Curate

Talk | 8 November, 2018, 7:00 PM

​In May 1777 the Reverend Dr William Dodd was sentenced to hang. As honorary chaplain to George III, Dodd had become the most fashionable clergyman of the age before his fall from graceover a silly attempt at forgery. A huge public campaign to save his neck, backed by the writer Samuel Johnson, was in vain and Dodd was taken to the gallows at Tyburn on 27 June. Yet even as he felt the noose around his neck, Dodd had not lost hope of being saved. For if Samuel Johnson’s words had failed him, Dodd fully believed that the talents of his friend John Hunter, the infamous surgeon and anatomist, would bring him back from the dead.

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Tales from the Victorian Dissecting Room

Event | 6 December, 2018, 7:00 PM

Dissection formed a major part of a medical student's preparation for exams throughout the Victorian era. The Anatomy Act might have laid to rest the horrors of bodysnatching, but cultural unease about dissection remained and contributed to stereotypes of an arrogant medical profession. In this talk, Caroline Rance reveals how Victorian medical schools acquired and used cadavers, and how they sometimes ran into conflict with the wider community.

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The Victorian Séance: From the Occult to the Gin Parlour

Event | 26 October, 2018, 7:00 PM

Although rituals to commune with the dead have been a part of the human experience reaching back through cultures and time immemorial, what has had the strongest foothold in our Western cultural imagination today is that of the Victorian séance. From its roots in the romantic era gothic imagination to fascinations with the boundaries of science, Victorian fringe exploration into the esoteric manifested itself by way of a variety of literary masterpieces and occult societies – the most famous of which was founded by the ‘Wickedest Man in the World’, Aleister Crowley.

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Is There Anybody There? Spiritualism: From the Front into the Front Parlours

Talk | 11 November, 2018, 7:00 PM

Between 1914-1918, millions of people were suddenly forced to deal with a vast number of violent and unnatural deaths of young men. Britain became a nation of mourners. Bereavement and attempts to cope with mass death intensified as families and individuals sought all the help they could in dealing with personal loss. For many people, Spiritualism provided an outlet for their suffering and sorrow and offered an assurance that their dead loved ones lived on. This talk will explore how Spiritualism helped illuminate a world darkened by the catastrophe that we call today the Great War.

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The Night of the Body Snatchers

Talk | 25 October, 2018, 7:00 PM

Today, the body snatchers who crept into the burial grounds of Georgian London to dig up the dead for the anatomy schools of London seem like characters from a dark gothic story. But the body snatchers were not characters from fiction and the lucrative trade in human corpses was real. Hear the real story of London's Resurrection Men, and the anatomy schools they supplied and discover how the development of surgery in the Enlightenment lead to the business of selling the dead.

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After Hours Victorian Surgery Demonstration

Special Event | 27 November, 2018, 7:00 pm

​This is a unique after hours event that will take you back in time to witness a mock Victorian surgical demonstration presented within the original architecture of the old operating theatre of St. Thomas’s Hospital dated to 1822. Before the advent of anaesthesia, an operation had to be swift. Without hand-washing or antiseptics, the chance of later infection was high. Upon entrance you will be welcomed to a glass of wine (included in the ticket price) and to spend some time looking around the museum.

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Frankenstein 200

Talk | 20 November, 2018, 7:00 PM

Two hundred years ago Mary Wollstencraft Godwin Shelley (1797-1851) wrote the novel Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus, a phenomenal work that is often considered today to be the first science fiction novel. While the scientists of Mary’s era were keenly demonstrating the newly found electrical forces to include the re-animation of dead people, she gave Dr Frankenstein a similar fire. However his creation is monstrous and Mary led them both on a dance of vengeful destruction.

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Skerryvore: A Tale of Terror

Special Event | 14-15 & 28-29 November, 2018

On 23rd December 1876, tragedy befell the lighthouse at Skerryvore. The three crewmen vanished, leaving a meal on the table and a fire in the grate. Only Mary was left. A little girl with nowhere to go. A witness without a memory. But tonight, 23 years later and via the miracle of mesmerism, Professor Barrett will return Mary to the eye of the storm. At last, she will tell all she knows about the tragedy at Skerryvore, finding redemption in the process. That is, if everything goes to plan…

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Secret Concert @ The Old Operating Theatre: Introducing Russell Swallow

Special Event | 6 November, 2018, 6:30 pm

Russell Swallow is a musician, event organiser, music consultant and curator. He has worked with the following artists: Morcheeba, The Noisettes, Ghostpoet, Trevor Nelson, Omar, Waylayers, Delilah, Dan Sells (The Feeling), Izzy Bizu, Stealing Sheep, Kimberly Anne, Leddra Chapman, Sarah Walk, Sarah Howells (Bryde), Kal Lavelle, Anna Pancaldi, Liv Austen, Emma Ballantine, Fiona Bevan and many more.

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Drop-In Art Sessions

Workshop | Tue-Sun, 10:30 AM - 5:00 PM

The museum welcomes individual artists in our drop-in art sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays during opening times.

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The Gore Tour

Talk | Sundays at 2:00 PM

In this tour, the museum's resident researcher, Kirsty Chilton, will invite the public to take a visual tour through some of the most grizzly and terrifying surgical instruments ever designed and how they were used in the Georgian and Victorian Era. The surgical knives, the amputation saws, the trephines, and forceps are just a sample of objects used in the past and they will be presented live through our object handling collection.

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Visiting us

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The Museum is located in central London, in the historic Borough of Southwark along the same street as the Shard, just south of London Bridge.

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History

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The Operating Theatre (operating or emergency room) is found in the attic of an English Baroque Church dated to the 18th century.

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Venue hire

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The Museum is a great place for a reception or book launch. It is very atmospheric, which makes it a very special place.

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Walks

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Our walks can complement any of our talks for schools, colleges & universities, as well as for people with a general interest in the history of medicine, public health, and crime. Even though the following walks describe general objectives and curriculum links for schools, these walks can be customised to suit other ages and interests.

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