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Bedlam: Bethlehem Royal Hospital

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  • Bedlam: Bethlehem Royal Hospital

    I thought it would be helpful to start a thread dedicated to the legendary Bethlehem Royal Hospital and another to Broadmoor, because although they are frequently mentioned in passing there is surprisingly little solid information about either of them on any of the message boards.

    I'm hoping that those of you who have photographs, documents, and information about these institutions will post them here, and that this thread will serve as a sort of all-in-one archive that will be available to anyone for future reference.

    Please note: I'd like us to avoid getting into any Ripper-suspect discussions on this thread, as there are many other threads designated for that purpose.

    I feel it's important to remember that the people who were patients and inmates at Bedlam & Broadmoor actually passed their lives in these facilities, and that countless others spent their careers here as doctors, nurses, guards, administrators, chaplains, etc.
    In the case of Broadmoor, this is still going on, yet we on the outside know little about it.

    I'm hoping we can all pool our knowledge & learn new things.

    Thank you, Archaic

    This beautiful engraving of the Bethlehem Royal Hospital is from 1811.

  • #2
    750 Years of Bedlam!

    The Bethlehem Royal Hospital is recognized as the world's oldest mental health institution, dating back to 1247 as a priory which treated the ill. In 1330 it became a hospital. In the course of its long history it has been called 'Bethlehem', 'Bethlem', and in popular usage, 'Bedlam'.

    The word 'bedlam' meaning "infernal noise and chaos" comes directly from the the name of the hospital. (more on this later)

    Bethlehem Royal Hospital is still in use today, though it has changed locations. It's old facilities still exist, but are now the Imperial War Museum.

    Bethlehem Royal Hospital has been in use for over 750 years!

    The website Victorian London's page on Bethlehem Hospital:

    PLEASE NOTE: If I can figure out how to do it, I will re-post the articles here via Photobucket instead of with a link; still learning!


    • #3
      Here's a map of Bethlehem Hospital from 1872. This is I believe the second location(?) and is now the site of the Imperial War Museum.

      and a photo


      • #4
        Excellent thread Archaic...

        There is a plaque on the building of the Liverpool Street Train Station which stated that Bethlam was once on the same site...

        Photo of the plaque


        • #5
          Here's a 1775 map showing the location of the original Bethlehem (I've marked in red)

          And some text on it's history.

          Bethlehem Hospital from whence derives the word "Bedlam" was originally built in the sixteenth century to succeed the original St. Mary of Bethlehem hospital, which had been employed to house "distracted people" since the 14th century. In 1547, the land of the dissolved priory was given to the City of London in order that it might provide for "lunatics": the hospital that was built on the site seems to have held about 60 inmates at a time.
          The original hospital was spared by the Great Fire, but it was determined that its fabric was, in any case, too far decayed to continue in service; it was therefore decided to build a new one in its place. Accordingly, a new and grander hospital was constructed in 1676 to the designs of Robert Hooke at Moorfields, a little farther from the centre of the City than the original hospital. The new building was impressive, and was much admired by many, including the French refugee Henri Misson, and John Evelyn. It was also much larger, and held up to about 150 patients; amongst these was the Restoration poet and playwright Nat Lee. In 1815, a new hospital was built in St. George's Fields, on the south side of the Thames, and the old hospital was torn down.
          "Bedlam" held a relatively prominent place in the popular imagination of the age, in part, no doubt, because so many Londoners had the opportunity to observe it in operation. It was, in fact, a popular tourist attraction from the beginning of the seventeenth-century; admission in 1753 was two pence. The hospital derived a fair amount of revenue from such visitors, and the practice was not discontinued until near the end of the eighteenth century.


          • #6
            Bethlem Royal Hospital Archive & Museum Services

            Here's a nice link to the website for the
            Bethlem Royal Hospital Archive & Museum Services

            Looks like it would be an interesting place to do some research.


            *The Bethlem Royal Hospital Art Gallery, which of course includes the work of Louis Wain and Richard Dadd:



            • #7
              This was written by a friend of mine Prof, Dick Mindham

              The Architectural Legacy of Bethlem Royal Hospital.

              The Priory of Saint Mary of Bethlehem was founded in 1247 in Bishopsgate just north of the walls of the City of London as an outpost of the mother church in Palestine.

              Sometime before 1400 the Priory had come to specialize in the care of the insane and was unique in this regard in the British Isles for several centuries. The work of the Priory was supervised by the Corporation of the City of London from 1346. In 1536 the monasteries were dissolved and fell to the ownership of the Crown but in 1547 Bethlem once more came under the control of the City. The institution was financially supported by donations and most of the inmates came from London. Information on how the Priory and its work as a hospital for the care of the mentally ill was conducted is scanty. The buildings were hemmed in by houses and some other
              buildings. There was a house for the master and accommodation for attendants and other members of staff, a chapel. a kitchen and a block with roomsfor the inmates. An early plan oft he accommodation for patients shows a series of rooms in a central block with corridors along two sides.

              In 1632 the hospital had twenty-seven patients so that its scale was small. A building extension led to there being fifty-nine patients by 1667. The hospital was in a poor structural condition and plans were made to rebuild
              it on a site overlooking Moorfields to the north and backing onto London wall to the south. Robert Hooke [1635-1703] had been appointed surveyor of the City of London following the Great Fire of 1666 and he was asked to prepare plans for a new hospital. Following some preparatory work building began in April 1675 and by the time of the King's visit in August 1676 it was almost finished. The new hospital was designed to accommodate 136 patients on two floors with a basement beneath and an attic above. The building was of single pile construction as it was thought that this would provide a healthy environment through good ventilation. On the south side, facing London wall, were the cells for the patients each with a barred opening but no glazing. On the north side the cells opened onto a long corridor or gallery, which was
              glazed. The gallery was divided into two by the central administrative block but such was its design that the galleries passed continuously from end to end of the building, a length of almost 600 feet. The exterior of the building was in the manner of a palace.

              The central block and the terminal pavilions were advanced beyond the main part of the structure. The fa'Yade was in stone and embellished with Corinthian pilasters, swags, balustrades and urns. The roof was steep and included dormer windows. The central block and the pavilions had a decorated pediment, many chimneys, a balustrade at the ridge with a viewing platform, and the whole was surmounted by cupolas. The building was surrounded by a wall 14 feet high to the south and 8 feet high to the north but perforated by openings secured by grills. The overall effect was impressive and gave rise to a great deal of comment. A sharp contrast was seen between the grimness of the purpose of the building and its magnificent exterior.

              Initially male patients were housed on the ground floor and female patients on
              the first floor but this was found to be impractical and women were subsequently accommodated to the west with men to the east. This arrangement required the construction of iron grills between the galleries and the administrative block to prevent mixing of the sexes but this was done without obstructing the vistas along the galleries. Between 1723 and 1735 wings were added at each end, at right angles to and projecting forward from the main building, to house patients who were regarded as incurable. These added wings were of double-pile construction with a central corridor with rooms leading off on each side. These additions raised the capacity of
              the hospital to 275 patients. The double-pile layout was noted to be less agreeable for the inmates with no immediate access to galleries, more noise and poorer ventilation.

              The way in which the patients were cared for can only be surmised from
              scraps of evidence. Inmates were locked in their cells for at least part of the time. They were allowed out to exercise in the rear yards under the supervision of staff but they were probably not allowed to use the front part of the grounds as this was less secure and their presence was thought to impair the appearance of the building. The galleries were used for the recreation of patients but it is unclear how freely this was available. Visitors unrelated to the patients were encouraged to visit the hospital to see
              the inmates as this provided an opportunity for the collection of donations towards the cost of running the hospital. As time went by this practice became a less acceptable and received adverse comment.

              The picture by Hogarth from the series 'A Rake's Progress' provides some information on the conduct of the hospital. The layout of the cells and galleries is clearly shown. Patients suffering from various serious mental illnesses are depicted, some of them restrained by chains. Two visiting ladies are clearly affected by what they are seeing; one uses her fan to shield her eyes from sight of a naked man and the other comments privately in her ear.

              The statues, by Cibber, which were on top of the massive gateposts of the hospital and can be seen in contemporary drawings are of naked men showing the features of 'raving and melancholy madness'. The subjects shown in Hogarth's painting and in Cibber's statues appear to be suffering
              from serious mental illness. The iller patients seem to be detained in their rooms and some are chained but others use the gallery for various activities.

              The hospital at Moorfields remained in use for one hundred and fifty years but
              it became clear that the building was unsound and required considerable expenditure or rebuilding. As a bigger hospital was needed the decision was made to move to a new site and that chosen was at Saint George's Fields, Lambeth. The design of the hospital was the subject of a competition, advertised in 1810, and this attracted many entries including one from a current inmate. Although the prizes were awarded none of the entries were built as submitted. Instead the hospital surveyor, James Lewis, was instructed by the Governors to prepare a plan incorporating the best features of the submitted plans.

              A decision to proceed was made in 1811, building began in 1812 and the building was opened in 1815.A substantial grant was made by the government. The building was in a rather severe Greek style with a central administrative block with portico and dome, with the wards and terminal pavilions stretching out on each side. There were two and a half storeys with a rusticated semi-basement. The plan was remarkably similar to that of Hooke's building, single pile with individual cells to the south and long galleries to the north, access through the central block, and patients segregated by sex on the two sides of the hospital. Little more than twenty years later the hospital was extended by the addition of wings at right angles to the ward blocks but extending backwards to the south. As was the case in Hooke's building the extensions were double pile with a central corridor with rooms on each side. These additional rooms were intended for
              the accommodation of chronic or incurable patients.

              Sydney Smirke [1797-1877] was responsible for the extensions but he also altered the exterior by the addition of a portico, a drum and a copper dome to the central block which greatly improved the appearance of the building.
              Photographs of the galleries in 1860 show that they were used for patient care. In both male and female wards patients are shown sitting quietly, some
              engaged in tasks such as sewing or playing games, others are unoccupied. Many men and women wear hats and women pinafores as if about to be engaged in some kind of work. The plans and details of Bethlem at St. George's Fields show that the individual cell opening onto galleries was the basic accommodation for the care of in-patients throughout the period in which the hospital was in use. Changes in the approach to the care of the mentally ill led to plans for the Bethlem Royal Hospital to move to another site and for quite different accommodation to be provided. The legislation of 1808and 1845 led to the building of county mental hospitals all over the British Isles. The new hospitals were predominantly set in rural sites allowing the provision of occupation for patients in farming and horticulture as well as in the many crafts needed in hospitals. The emergence of this type of hospital in healthy rural sites led to the expectation that new hospitals would offer similar facilities.

              In 1924 the Governors of Bethlem bought an estate at West Wickham, Beckenham, Kent a little over ten miles from the centre of London. This site would allow all the advantages of a rural situation within easy reach
              of London. Messrs. Elcock and Sutcliffe were appointed architects, building began in 1928, and the hospital was opened in July 1930. Contrary to national trends the outpatient department at St George's Fields was closed in 1928 and none was provided at Beckenham.

              The hospital proved to be one of the last mental hospitals to be built in Britain although the same plans were used to build a hospital to serve part
              of east London at Runwell, Essex. As the new hospital was on a rural site there was no need for the buildings to be high or close together. The main accommodation for patients was in two storey pavilions in which patients rooms opened onto gardens. There were separate dining, sitting and recreation areas. Each ward block had a separate, enclosed garden
              area which could only be entered by patients from the ward itself A convalescent ward had the character of a small hotel. The administrative block, the nurses' home, the staff restaurant, the boiler house and chapel were located near the entrance well away from the wards. The grounds were landscaped and included tennis courts, a bowling green, cricket and football pitches as well as woodland walks. At the end of each admission ward the last few rooms were in a corridor at right angles to the main one. This section of the ward could be closed with a door allowing patients to be
              detained in a part of the ward with several rooms, recreational space and direct access to the head nurses office. Functionally this part of the ward was like the galleries of earlier hospitals even though its appearance was different.

              In the various premises occupied by the Bethlem Royal Hospital there is
              continuity in the design of patient accommodation from the earliest times.

              The single room opening from a common corridor or gallery which was also used as an amenity for patients can be identified in each of the four sites occupied by the hospital from the fourteenth century. The appropriateness of this kind of provision is apparent where it was necessary for patients to be segregated from others for their own safety, for the protection of others and for their own privacy.

              As Aikin put it :

              The absolute necessity of a separate room or cell for every patient is very
              apparent : and it would seem needless to inculcate on the humane, the very
              great impropriety and cruelty of allowing the poor unhappy sufferers to
              become spectacles for the brutal curiosity of the populace. The arrangement can provide privacy for patients but does not always facilitate observation by staff. Influences from the designs of the various buildings occupied by Bethlem Royal Hospital are widely seen.

              Although the example of Bethlem Royal Hospital is important on account of
              the early date of its foundation and the influence that its buildings had on the design of many other hospitals, it is a special case becausei t remained
              independentf or almost the whole of its existence and was not apaft of any public service until its incorporation into the National Health Service in l948

              The need for countrywide provision for the care of people with mental illness was recognised in the County Asylums Act of 1808 which empowered but did not compel, local authorities to make provision for the care of the mentally ill in their own areas.


              • #8
                18th C. Engraving of Patients

                This is an 18th Century engraving of patients in an insane asylum. The half-naked man man in the foreground is chained to his bed. Curious observers are lined up at the barred windows on the right-hand side.


                • #9
                  1828 Engraving

                  Here's a beautiful 1828 steel engraving of Bethlem Hospital.


                  • #10
                    1896 View of Bethlem

                    A view from 1896.


                    • #11
                      Moll Cutpurse, Bedlam Inmate

                      I just learned that the notorious Moll Cutpurse was an inmate of the Bethlem Hospital and was released from it in 1644. I'm still trying discover what she was incarcerated for... possibly for being a woman who dressed and behaved like a man, a sure sign of lunacy in those days!

                      Moll's real name was Mary Frith; she was born in 1584 and died in 1689. She led an incredibly raucous life, dressing in mens' clothing, drinking and carousing, and working as a thief and a pimp. Moll was nicknamed 'The Roaring Girl''; "roaring boys" were carousing rakes.

                      There are so many colorful legends and stories associated with Moll that historians aren't sure which of them to believe.

                      Moll was immortalized along with notorious outlaws like Dick Turpin in the fabled 'Newgate Calendar', which was a series of biographical chapbooks published in the 18th & 19th Centuries. These were intended as "morally improving" literature but seem to have verged on the later 'penny dreadful'.

                      (Note: I will post a link to the entire Newgate Calendar both here and elsewhere on the forums for those who may be interested in reading it.)

                      Moll Cutpurse biography:


                      The Complete Newgate Calendar, Vol. 1, >Mary Frith:


                      *c. 1700's 'The Complete Newgate Calendar, Or Villany Exposed':
                      This version is fabulous; there's no date but it's clearly from the 1700's. You can read it in its original book-format, complete with original illustrations, odd spelling, and lovely old brown pages or you can download it in text format.
                      (Guess which one I prefer? )
                      I attached the first 2 pages so you can see how cool it is.



                      • #12
                        Some lovely etchings there Archaic, well researched.


                        • #13
                          Thanks very much Archaic.

                          I'll tell ya...the cure looks worse than the condition ( Especially the etching of the inmates in that narrow room).
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                          • #14
                            Moll Cutpurse outlasted many a manjack and bonnie lass it seems. She lived to be 73. Thats an impressive fact, I think.

                            Again,very good thread Archaic.
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                            • #15
                              Rock'N'Roll Bedlam

                              The engravings of the asylum inmates are certainly sad; I'll lighten things up for a moment.

                              Here are two very different images of 'Bedlam' showing how that word and concept has pervaded Western Culture. Two of my favorite musical acts used 'Bedlam' in their album title & album art.

                              The first is by the Retro Jazz & Blues band The Squirrel Nut Zippers and the second is by singer/songwriter James Blunt... The latter seems to have been inspired by Richard Dadd's intricate spirals of flying fairies.