This is the Museum's old web site. For the new web site go to: http://oldoperatingtheatre.com

The Restoration of the Old Operating Theatre

2012 is the 50th Anniverary of the foundation of Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret, in Southwark. to find out more about the discovery of the Old Operating Theatre, or the Opening of the Old Operating Theatre museum in1962

This page is in course of construction - let us know of any errors

 

black and white picture of the Old Operating Theatre Museum with light streaming in from the skylight

The following text is largely from the original guide book of the Museum.

Following the discovery of the Old Operating Theatre in the roof of St. Thomas Church it was clear that the old theatre could not be left to perish in its state of dereliction and neglect. Full restoration rather than mere preservation was needed. Apart from the intrinsic interest within Guy’s and St Thomas’s hospitals, the restoration would be of considerable general appeal; both to the medical profession and the public at large. No other early 19th century operating theatre exists in Europe. As the restoration would be within the property of the Cathedral authorities, their permission and co-operation were needed. The Provost and Chapter gave this willingly and graciously and a small Restoration Committee was then formed.

The proposal to restore the theatre was presented in a talk to the United Hospitals Club, which consisted of 25 members from Guy’s and St Thomas’s and dates back to 1828. It was enthusiastically received and the members gave the first donation towards a restoration fund. Other generous private donations provided sufficient funds to proceed.

The standings and some floor boards had been removed but the structure of the theatre remained intact. Encouragement to begin the first practical step of restoration, namely to restore the two skylights by replacing the slates with glass. The effect of this replacement was both striking and encouraging. Finance remained a serious problem until a generous grant was made by the Wolfson Foundation which enabled the whole work to go ahead.

the Operating Theatre looking west 1957

the Operating Theatre looking west 1957

wolfson foundation image

The skylight as rebuilt for the opening in 1962

The skylight as rebuilt for the opening in 1962

The initial stages included removing the bell from the tower and installing a ceiling in the first floor room, together with a staircase leading up to the old opening in the north wall of the attic. This remains the only means of public access to the site.

St Thomas Church Tower by Simona Piantiera

St Thomas Church Tower by Simona Piantiera

The staircase built for the 1962 opening

The staircase built for the 1962 opening

The main problem for the restoration was presented by the standings and the staircase which led to them from the back of the theatre. After careful scrutiny of the remaining structure, particularly by the appointed architect Pamela Cunnington and the carpenters, Rider & Son -it was possible to obtain a great deal of information on the standings and their method of construction. For example, the angle of fixing the oblique supports could be easily determined and projected down so as to show where they joined the floor. Two strokes of good fortune then occurred. Although the whole place had been professionally cleaned, the floor of the theatre was still dusty and was carefully cleaned with a hand brush. Remarkably, this revealed the 17 complete outline of the inner limits of the standings. The reason was due to the colour change between the area that had been exposed to wear and washing and that which had been covered by the standings. This revealed the large recess on the south side of the theatre where the standings were reduced from five to three and where a cupboard now stands. In addition to this invaluable outline tracing, many other helpful features of construction were revealed, such as the exact thickness of the match-boarding and the size and siting of the various wooden supports and ties.

To continue the story of the Restoration click here

50th Anniversary Web pages

1956 - the re-discovery of the Operating Theatre of Old St. Thomas's Hospital

1957-1962 - the Restoration of the Operating Theatre

27th October 1962 - The Official Opening of the Operating Theatre of Old St Thomas's Hospital

1962 - 1989 - The Operating Theatre of the United Borough Hospitals of Guys & St Thomas'

1989 - 2012 - The Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret

27th October 2012 - the 50th Anniversary of the The Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret

 

The floor of the Operating Theatre, 1857

The floor of the Operating Theatre, 1957

The Brompton cupboard in the recess

The Brompton cupboard in the recess

 

 

   

 

About the Museum and the Museum's Trust

Annual Report for 2003 (PDF)

 

29/10/2012 kpf