St. Thomas’s Hospital, London, UK, is one of London’s most fascinating places to visit, especially the Herb Garrett and Old Operating Theatre.
St Thomas’s Hospital began as an Augustinian infirmary during the twelfth century and was refounded by royal charter in 1551, one of five major royal hospitals established in the mid-sixteenth century.
It was a general hospital for the sick poor, including sufferers of venereal disease, and occupied the same site, on St. Thomas’s Street in Southwark, for more than six centuries.
At the end of the 17th century, the hospital and church were largely rebuilt by Thomas Cartwright, Master Mason to Christopher Wren at St Mary-le-Bow.
Between 1693 and 1720, more than £37,000 was raised to construct an elegant classical structure around three spacious courtyards and improved accommodation for the Hospital’s administrative staff. The rebuilt Hospital had nineteen wards, including two foule wards for venereal patients and a cutting ward, with room for more than 400 patients. Male and female patients were strictly segregated, as were the venereal patients.
In 1822, part of the Herb Garret of the church was converted into a purpose built Operating Theatre,
to replace operating on the ward, as the female surgical ward abutted the garret.
The patients were mainly poor people who were expected to contribute to their care, while rich patients were treated and operated on at home.
The patients at the Old Operating Theatre were all women and were brought in from the ward through what is now the fire escape.
In 1859, Florence Nightingale set up her famous nursing school on the site and, when the Charing Cross Railway Company offered to buy the hospital’s land, she advised them to move to a new site. In 1862, the Hospital began moving to its present site at Lambeth and the operating theatre in Southwark was closed and lay abandoned until rediscovered in 1956.
Today, the operating theatre and herb garret is accessed by very steep spiral steps.