Old Operating Theatre

  • About
    The Operating Theatre (operating or emergency room) is found in the roof space of an English Baroque Church. At first glance this placement seems bizarre. But it makes more sense when it is realised that the wards of the South Wing of St. Thomas's Hospital were built around St. Thomas's Church. Dorcas was the women's surgical ward. Before 1822, the women were operated on in the ward - this must have caused some considerable distress. In 1815 the Apothecary's Act, which required apprentice apothecaries to attend at public hospitals, meant that hordes of students poured in to watch operations.

    Placing the Theatre in the Herb Garret of the Church provided a separation from the ward. It gave a separate entrance for students, and afforded a measure of sound proofing. It was also approximately at the same level as the women's surgical ward which aided the transport of patients to the theatre. The Theatre was purpose built to maximise the light from above, with a large skylight. Although not heated or ventilated, it provided an ideal, albeit small, area for demonstrating surgical skills.

    Until 1847, surgeons had no recourse to anaesthetics and depended on swift technique (surgeons could perform an amputation in a minute or less), the mental preparation of the patient and alcohol or opiates to dull the patient's senses. Thereafter ether or chloroform started to be used. The Operating Theatre had closed down before antiseptic surgery was invented. The majority of cases were for amputations or superficial complaints as, without antiseptic conditions, it was too dangerous to carry out internal operations.
  • Address
    9a St. Thomas's St
    SE1 9RY

Members of Mandy who have worked for Old Operating Theatre