In this video, History Hit's Alice Loxton dives deep into London’s grisly past. She goes under the knife and takes a forensic look at the horrors of Victorian medicine. And where better to do so than the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret - one of London’s hidden gems.
The museum is housed in the only remaining part of what was once London’s most important centre of medicine, the old site of St Thomas’ Hospital. The tower of St Thomas’ Church, is one of the only surviving part of the original structure. And at the top of its very windy staircase is the original apothecary and herb garret for Old St Thomas’s Hospital.
In 1822, part of the herb garret was converted into a purpose-built operating theatre. Instead of operations taking place in the women’s ward in front of all the other patients, they would be performed here by leading experts, where medical students could watch and learn.
As Alice discovers, going under the knife for a Victorian amputation was a risky business. There were no anaesthetics and very little understanding of germs or infection. But despite the gruesome nature of these procedures, the female patients who made it onto the operating table here would've considered themselves lucky. Most were poor, and were prepared to put up with the distress of a live audience in order to receive treatment from the best surgeons in London. In fact, the trial and error of these operations led to major breakthroughs in surgical practice, paving the way for the huge advances in medicine in the 20th century.
So if you are someone who is fascinated by the gory, the gruesome and the downright bizarre … this is just what the doctor ordered. Stick around to the end to see if I survive the operating table, and don’t forget to subscribe and hit that notification bell.