‘A Church of Our Lady that is named Bedlam. And in that place be found many men that be fallen out of their wit. And full honestly they be kept in that place; and some be restored onto their wit and health again. And some be abiding therein for ever, for they be fallen so much out of themselves that it is incurable unto man’
William Gregory, Lord Mayor of London, c. 1450
The year is 1247, not much is happening in Britain Henry III is on the throne, Romford becomes a market town, a new silver long cross coin is introduced into the currency and then on October 23rd the Priory of the New Order of St Mary of Bethlem opens. in 1377 the Priory becomes a hospital but it wasn’t until around 1403 that confirmation that it was being used as a place for the housing of ‘lunatics‘ after an investigation by the Royal Commission following a scandal including the Porter.
From this moment on the institutions role would be one inextricably linked with the asylum of those suffering with disorders. Far from a place of treatment ‘Bedlam‘. often was used as a place to visit, rather like a zoo. Treatment tended to be based upon blood letting and similar unpleasantness based upon the historic view of Galen’s’ humours’.
Here is a new museum has been set up to commemorate this historic institution. Including art created by some of the inhabited the place. ‘Work is on display by several renowned artists who spent years in Bethlem, including Richard Dadd – noted for his minutely detailed fairy paintings – who was locked up after he murdered his father. Jonathan Martin, brother of John Martin who was famous for his huge biblical scenes, only took up art when committed to Bethlem for his partly successful attempt to burn down York Minster and became a celebrity in the hospital, selling his work to visitors. His output is represented by a drawing of himself sitting in a wood full of lions, which according to his own inscription represents his dream “ of my foot cut off by the command of the princess and the king”. cited from the Guardian
Following is the time team special that focuses on ‘Bedlam’, and in particular the graveyard used by the institution.
Here is a list of reasons for entry into one of The U.S historically significant institutions Trans-Allegheny (it was closed in 1994) which should give you an idea of how far the treatment and perception of dysfunctional behaviour, thankfully has come.