Modern medicine tends to be divided between doctors in general practice, and those in hospitals who specialise in various fields. But for centuries there were two groups: Physicians who were educated, elite and well educated, and barber-surgeons who were mere tradesmen and often treated people by bleeding them. Apparently this in turn dates to when priests were also soldiers. They were banned from shedding blood, so could no longer perform surgery, so they continued as physicians while surgery was left to laymen.
When infirmaries began to be founded as charities in the early 18th century, both of these professions were involved, but barber surgeons often complained of having lower status and wages. They tended not to wash their instruments between patients and operated in gore caked coats that were more to keep their clothes clean than for any concern for their patients/victims. I read an account of an amputation when the famous surgeon was so drunk he removed the wrong leg, despite his audience repeatedly warning him of his mistake. The victim was a poor young woman who died of the shock.
By the 18th century many of the old guilds were closed or just faded away, and in 1745 the united Company of Barbers and Surgeons was dissolved, allowing the Surgeons to become more respectable professionals. This also put an end to their control on carrying out dissections in their Hall, so William Hunter held his first anatomical lectures in London the following year, probably at a house in Covent Garden where he had been collecting anatomical specimens for study. In 1762 he applied to build a purpose built venue, including a small house, museum, library, circular dissecting room and a burial ground. The Earl of Shrewsbury soon proposed a pan to build it by public subscription, offering to start the fund with a donation of £1,000 but this would have meant having no control over the scheme, soHunter refused. Instead he bought a house on Great Windmill Street in 1766 and employed Robert Mylne – a fellow Scot to whom he was related by marriage – to rebuild it, including a rear yard, behind which were rooms for preparing the ‘subjects’. There is no mention here of a burial ground.The first lecture was held at the new Windmill Street on 1 October 1767. In 1768 he claimed to have spent over £6,000 and that it would cost him at least two more. This shows how profitable such lectures were. The museum continued for many years at the site, but closed in 1831, strangely a year before the first anatomy act was passed, making human dissection legal, though it had probably become so widespread the act was merely formalising standard practice.His collection eventually became part of the University of Glasgow.
In 1887 it was sold to H. J. Leslie who employed the architect C.J. Phipps to convert it to the Lyric Theatre, which continues to this day.