The Old Operating Theatre Museum & Herb Garret has an exciting collection of medical objects, images, books and archives spanning the 17th Century up to the early 20th Century.

We categorise the collection into ten different medical themes to help cataloguing and searching.  Our collection catalogue is held on eHive and is currently being updated and added to.  As such, we are aware that there may be typing errors during this period of transition.  If you find a mistake on the catalogue, or wish to help enhance our records, please contact our Collections Team by contacting collections@oldoperatingtheatre.com.

You can search our catalogue using the following themes:

Museum collection on e-Hive
The Museum collection on eHive

History of the Collection

The Museum itself is housed in an original part of the authentic architecture of old St Thomas’ Hospital, within St Thomas’ Church, Southwark, London, built in 1703.  The medical displays presented within the two main rooms of the old hospital architecture includes: surgical, pharmaceutical objects, hospital furniture, a small collection of human specimens and a small image collection.

The collection was originally donated by various representatives of the London NHS Hospitals and by private donors to Lord Russell Brock, founder of the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret. Lord Brock was a surgeon of Guy’s Hospital had gained financial assistance for the restoration of the  attic space and gathered donations and loans of medical items in order to furnish the space as a public medical museum in 1962. The original collection comprised of circa three hundred items, including 22 loaned items from the Wellcome Institute, London. In the 1970s and in 1997 Dr Michael Joseph of the old Evelina Hospital for Children (1869-c.1976 originally sited close to the museum) donated additions to the collection of a metal operating table, a set of admission books and child’s cot.

Over the years of the Museum’s existence, acquisitions to the collection have been acquired from private individuals and staff of St Thomas’ and Guy’s Hospitals. Addition objects have been purchased by the Museum in order to enhance and improve public interaction with the comprehension and chronology of the displays.  


Collection Highlights

Garret

Pharmaceutical and apothecary items of the collection are shown in the Herb Garret area (1703) which is approximately half of the available exhibition  space. In this area of the museum collection items are presented to illustrate the pharmaceutical processing techniques and supplies as used by the Old United Hospitals for making patients’. The exhibition shows:   

  • Sets of labelled pharmacy jars and glass bottles, shop rounds and carboys of all sizes
  • Porcelain, bronze mortars, pestles
  • Old pill boxes and pill making equipment 

The Herb Garret section of the museum exhibition also includes several larger collection items such as a metal 1890s operating table and cot from the old Evelina Children’s Hospital (originally sited in the local SE1 area of the museum, now locate in modern St Thomas Hospital, Lambeth). Additional medical items presented also include:

  • A wooden prosthetic leg
  • Three cases of obstetric equipment that were once used at the old United Hospitals
  • A small collection of anatomical models made by Adam Rouilly
  • A human skeleton and circa twenty human pathology specimens loaned from the Gordon Museum within Guy’s Hospital (which otherwise currently allows no public access to its medical collections). 

Antechamber

Within the Antechamber corridor running alongside the Operating Theatre is display of medical instruments that form a chronology for the history of surgery from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. Within locked glazed cases the surgical instruments displayed here illustrate the surgical history of old Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals and include:

  • Surgical saws, knives and forceps
  • Surgeons’ amputation sets 
  • Lithotomy instruments
  • Anaesthetic inhalers

Theatre

The objects shown within the Old Operating Theatre (built in 1822) are mainly nineteenth century items or original Hospital furniture such as:

  • A rare wooden operating table (circa 1830s)
  • Dignitary chairs wooden hospital trolley and table
  • A set of wall mounted medical student certificates for the United Hospitals

Non-medical

While the collection is predominately medical but also contains a small amount of quite diverse materials such as architectural finds from the building’s restoration, London Bridge excavation work. Most of this material remains within closed storage (see details in Section 2.4. below). The collection holds some reproductions of ancient medical instruments such as:

  • A brass cupping jar found at Pompeii, Italy circa 79 AD
  • A set of thirteen surgical instruments, artisan made replicas of ancient finds from circa 50AD from ‘the largest medical find in the western world’ (Stanway, UK an archaeological excavation made in 1999).

The Museum’s official document archive is stored within the Metropolitan Archives, London, however circa 120 prints are presented within the displays, which include original medical certificates, anatomical engravings, prints and original Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital images and maps.