Friday, October 16, 2009

Blitz and Gore

Last day on the London Pass so had lots to cram in. Headed out from the hostel and started the day at the nearby Southwark Cathedral, one of the oldest churches in the city, containing a memorial to Shakespeare who used to live in the area as the Globe theatre was just around the corner. Headed past the replica of the Golden Hind and found the Britain at War experience, which starts in an underground recreation of a tube station bomb shelter with a bunch of mannequins ‘sleeping’ in makeshift bunks. After a short video you continue on to the museum with lots more mannequins including children being evacuated to the countryside, women in factories and even Churchill sitting surrounded by fascinating wartime memorabilia. To exit the museum you first have to walk through a bar full of American soldiers and into the ruins of a recently bombed department store…and then into the gift shop.

A few streets further on I found the Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garret Museum which is located at the top of another flight of narrow spiral stairs in what was once the attic of St Thomas’ church. The herb garret is a huge open space filled with dried herbs, early surgeons tools, organs preserved in specimen jars etc. I arrived just as a German school group was been shown around the place which worked out really well as I managed to tag along into the operating theatre and so got to watch the presentation in there. The operating theatre is the oldest in Europe, dating back to the 18th century and is one of those ones with the observation areas around the sides for students and other spectators. One poor student got volunteered to have his leg amputated for our amusement and had to lie on the tiny wooden operating table while the guide pulled all sorts of menacing looking knives out of the old surgeon’s kit.

Grabbed a tasty Cornish pasty and walked back to Tower Bridge to board a boat for a ride up the Thames to Westminster where I planned to see the Florence Nightingale museum and the Banqueting house but both were closed so instead took a quick look at the Household Cavalry museum before finding the house where Benjamin Franklin lived while in London. Here they used a mix of videos and one actress as the landlord’s daughter doing some fabulous miming in various rooms of the house to present Franklin’s life and work in London in a delightfully cheesy manner.

From there took a boat back up the Thames to visit another of the older churches in the city, Old Hallows by the Tower with its fascinating crypt and underground museum and then back to the hostel.

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