Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Serendipitous Trip to Bedlam!

Some of you may know that I am taking a group of high school students to Europe this summer to study the history of World War II. Our travels will take us to London, Paris, and Berlin, and I am very excited that we will be departing quite soon! See the trip website at for details.

While I was communicating with our tour director who is currently in Ireland, he casually mentioned that one of the museums we will be visiting - the Imperial War Museum, which houses artifacts from WWI and WWII - IS BUILT ON THE GROUNDS OF BETHLEM ROYAL HOSPITAL (a.k.a. "Bedlam")! So, my trip is now (though unintentionally) a psychology history trip as well!

For my students who may be confused as to why I am so excited about this, Bethlem was a notorious mental hospital that, in practice, operated more like a zoo. Most abnormal psychology textbooks make some mention of it (often as an example of why modern reforms in mental health care were so direly needed). In fact, our term "bedlam", which is used to describe chaos or an out-of-control situation is derived from this hospital's name!
The IWM's website describes the history of Bethlem Royal Hospital like this:

The building which accommodates the Imperial War Museum London was formerly the central portion of Bethlem Royal Hospital, or Bedlam, as it was commonly known. Designed by James Lewis, it was completed in 1815. Sidney Smith’s dome was added in 1846 and contained the chapel. The east and west wings were demolished in the early 1930s to make room for the park which now surrounds the Museum.
Bethlem Royal Hospital dates back to 1247, when Simon Fitz-Mary, a wealthy alderman and sheriff of London, founded the Priory of St Mary of Bethlehem on the site which is now part of Liverpool Street Station. In the fourteenth century the priory began to specialise in the care of the insane. In 1547 Henry VIII granted the hospital to the City of London.Bethlem was moved to a new building in Moorfields in 1676. Until 1770 there were no restrictions on visitors, and the lunatics, who were often manacled or chained to the walls, were a public attraction.

The hospital was housed in the present building from 1815 to 1930, when it was transferred to Eden Park near Beckenham, Kent.

Patients included Mary Nicholson who tried to assassinate George III in 1786; Jonathan Martin, committed in 1829 after setting fire to York Minster; the painters Richard Dadd and Louis Wain, famous for his cartoons of cats; Antonia White, author of Frost in May and Beyond the Glass; and the architect A W N Pugin who designed the Houses of Parliament and St George’s Roman Catholic Cathedral opposite the Museum.

As if I needed another reason to be excited about this trip! Can't wait to bring back photos to share!