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St Mary's Catholic High School

Year 11 History pupils visit The Old Operating Theatre

On 20th March, Year 11 pupils visited The Old Operating Theatre in preparation for their forthcoming GCSE History examinations, where ‘Medicine Through Time’ is a key component of their course. Our pupils were taken back to the Victorian era, exploring the surgical procedures that were once carried out at the old St Thomas’ Hospital in Southwark.

To understand the dramatic location of the operating theatre located in the attic of a church, they first explored the origins and history of Old St Thomas’ Hospital with an overview of the medical profession. They then had described the most common surgical procedures that would have taken place in this original space nearly 200 years ago. They listened as their guide described some of the horrors of surgery before the arrival of anaesthetics and antiseptics that helped pave the way to our modern medical procedures.


As part of their visit, pupils experienced:

  • The oldest surviving surgical theatre, in its original location in the attic of an 18th century church, where up to 150 medical students would have once gathered and learned their trade in the days before anaesthetics and antiseptic surgery.
  • The herb garret used by the hospital's apothecary to store and cure herbs used in healing.
  • A collection of artefacts revealing the horrors of medicine before the age of science, including instruments for cupping, bleeding, trepanning, and childbirth
  • Displays on medieval monastic health care; the history of St Thomas's, Guy's Hospital and Evelina Children's Hospital; Florence Nightingale and nursing; and medical and herbal medicine.