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Temporary Re-Location to Coffin Crypt in 2006

Entrance to the Coffin Crypt Exhibition

In June 2006, following extensive roof restoration work, the Old Operating Theatre, Museum & Herb Garret returned to its home in the attic of St Thomas' Church. The attic, which contains the 18th Century Herb Garret and 19th Century Operating Theatre of St Thomas' Hospital, had been closed to the public since the museum temporarily relocated in late 2005.

Throughout the restoration period, the museum remained open in the Coffin Crypt of St Thomas' Church. Some 1,250 medical artefacts were relocated and displayed by a small team of part-time curatorial staff; most of the items were transported by the primary access route available to the public - a steep narrow 300-year-old spiral staircase! Throughout June, this process was reversed, and re-display in the museum completed by July 2006. Our thanks go out to all those who have supported the museum during this difficult period, and made the displays in the Crypt such a success. In particular the conservation students from Camberwell College who assisted with the move, conservator George Monger, and ALM London, who provided a grant to help meet conservation costs, and of course our loyal visitors, both schools and general public.

Building Work at the Museum

st Thomas church being scaffolded for repair of the roof

St Thomas' Church dates from 1703, and is the oldest surviving part of the old St Thomas' Hospital at London Bridge. The Church was deconsecrated at the end of the 19th century, and functioned as the Chapter House of Southwark Cathedral until the late 1980s, when the property was leased to Chapter Group Plc. In the late 1990s the fabric of the building was seriously damaged by the Jubilee Line Extension Project, and as a Grade 2* Listed Building was placed in 2002 on the Buildings at Risk Register. The current repair and restoration of the roof is the first step in remedying this dilapidation.

From Garret To Crypt

Since the roofing needed to be stripped, re-slated, and any water damage to the timber mansards repaired or replaced, the Museum was faced with the option of a temporary closure or a relocation of its activities. By the summer of 2005 the Trustees of The Lord Brock Memorial Trust, the managing body of the Museum, were able to make a modest grant available for the betterment of the roof space, and in appreciation the leaseholders wavered any commercial interest and agreed to make available the crypt of St Thomas' Church. The Museum would relocate from the attic to the cellar, from Garret to Crypt.

Houses In Motion

In December 2005 the small team of part-time curatorial staff arranged the relocation of some 1,250 medical artefacts, most of which were transported by the primary access route available to the public, a steep narrow 300-year-old spiral staircase. The packing and protection of the Museum's collection was assisted by conservation students from Camberwell College, and professional advice was sought from the conservator George Monger. A grant from Archives Libraries & Museums (ALM London) helped to meet the costs. By the end of December the Museum was stripped bare, and the sight of the unadorned interior structure created for some the uncanny impression of moving back in time to the date when the Theatre was rediscovered. All that now remained was the protection of the interior fabric and fixtures of the Museum, which was under the aegis of the Listed Consent for Planning Permission granted by the London Borough of Southwark, with specialist advice from English Heritage.

The Coffin Crypt

In January 2006 the Coffin Crypt opened to the public. The erroneous rumour circulated in the early 20th century of an operating theatre in the crypt of a church was swiftly, if ironically, resurrected. Not unexpectedly, some visitors were disappointed that the actual Theatre in the attic was unavailable for viewing, but most took full advantage of the concessionary admission to support the charity and view the medical collection, which was supplemented by a rolling programme of public events, titled Tales from the Crypt. The education service for school groups also thrived in the new environment. Crucially, the Museum Curator made the decision to take full advantage of the dislocation and collaborated with two artists, Richard Squires and Philip Warnell, to create Suture, Artwork without Anaesthetic. This exhibition bridged the relocation from the Garret to the Crypt, with the first instalment taking place in the Theatre and Garret in the autumn of 2005, and the second instalment taking place in the Coffin Crypt in 2006.

Images of the Museum in the Crypt

crypt of st thomas The enlarged Museum shop
Crypt of St Thomas The children's and the Evelina area of the Museum
Crypt of St Thomas Art Installation, Suture, behind the Herb Table
teaching area in the Crypt of St Thomas The Operating Theatre area
crypt of st thomas The Herbarium and Suture, the art installation

The Crypt Before Relocation

crypt of st thomas empty crypt of st thomas The Crypt in October 2005

A week before Opening

crypt of st thomas crypt of st thomas The Crypt, just a week before re-opening - piled high!



16/01/2007 SC