Grounds of Bethlem Royal Hospital (known as Beldam) South London, The notorious institution, which was the first to specialise in mental health treatment in Europe and later inspired the 1946 horror film Bedlam
The Bethlem Royal Hospital was the first dedicated psychiatric institution in Europe, having been founded as a priory in 1247 and converted into a hospital in the early 14th century.
Most of the patients at the London asylum, better known as Bedlam, were diagnosed with acute mania and some arrived after killing people.
The notorious institution, which was the first to specialise in mental health treatment in Europe and later inspired the 1946 horror film Bedlam, was founded in 1247 during the reign of Henry III.
It was founded by Goffredo de Prefetti, who had been elected Bishop of Bethlehem, and was originally located just outside the London city wall, on the site of what is now Liverpool Street station.
Its nickname ‘Bedlam’ came from Londoners shortening Bethlehem to Bethlem or Bedlem – which became Bedlam in modern spelling.
And due to the hospital’s reputation as the principle treatment centre for the insane, a version of its name – ‘Bedlam’ – came to signify madness and chaos more generally.
Although it is sometimes thought to have treated its patients cruelly, most were free to walk around the grounds, and conditions were not much worse than the average home of the period.
In 1674, the hospital’s governors decided that the institution should move a few hundred metres to the west to Moorfields, with the area’s open space thought to be healthier than its original premises.
Bethlem moved against in 1815, to St George’s Fields in Southwark, which is now the site of the Imperial War Museum.
A final move came in 1930 when the hospital relocated to the suburb of Bromley – it is now run by the NHS and is considered to be a leading psychiatric hospital.
A treatment, invented by Erasmus Darwin – grandfather to Charles – called rotational therapy involved putting a patient in a chair suspended in the air and then spun round for a few hours.
In the 18th and 19th centuries patients were dunked in cold baths, starved and beaten. During this brutal period a Quaker philanthropist Edward Wakefield visited Bethlem in 1814 and described naked, starved men chained to walls.
A notorious aspect of Bethlem was its availability to public. Wealthy patrons would often pay a shilling to gawp at the unfortunately souls locked in the asylum.
The institution had a number of famous patients such as famous artist Richard Dadd, from Chatham, in Kent, who became so convinced his father was the devil he stabbed him to death.
And Margaret Nicholson who tried to kill King George III in 1786 with a desert knife. She was declared insane and sent to Bedlam where she died.