We Are Not Amused VII

Guest blogger Dr Nick Hervey continues his series of posts on ‘…Insane Persons and others who have come under the cognizance of the Police Force for offences against H.M. Queen Victoria…’

Several of those mentioned in the police file were in fact tailed by plain clothes detectives for extensive periods. In 1842 ‘PC 20’ spent some time in Margate watching William John Grant, who had written to Victoria, Wellington and Sir J Graham about the condition of convicts. Grant’s complaints about the convict service, allied to the fact that he had once shot a man, evidently justified this use of police time.1 Another man thought to constitute a threat was Lieutenant Frederick Mundell, a former officer of the 69th Regiment, who believed his promotion had been deliberately blocked. Mundell spent most of his time wandering London seeking redress for his wrongs, and among those he approached were Victoria and Wellington. In November 1846 the Lord Steward, who was responsible for safety inside the royal palaces, wrote to the Police Commissioner, Colonel Rowan, saying that Mundell was ‘probably mad, or a fool, or both, but there is something in the tone of his letter, especially the latter part of it, which further betokens his belonging to the genus dangerous’.2 This was certainly an overreaction, and a Home Office reply was more realistic when it stated that ‘There is an approach, but no menace, to the Queen and there is not enough for the Home Office or for a magistrate to interfere. All that can be done is that the hundred eyed police should watch, and keep all safe’. Between 1846 and 1853 Mundell was tailed almost continuously, except for a few brief periods when he was gaoled for unacceptable public behaviour. Among those who followed him were PC 182 ‘C’ Division, James Johncock; PC 10 ‘C’ Division, John Gray; PC 140 ‘B’ Division, Thomas Collard and PC 118 ‘D’ Division, John Marshall. Other officers also involved were PC Partridge (for 96 days), PC Handley (for 133 days) and the former Bow Street Runner, Mr Ballard. This surveillance extended all over London, and to Manchester, Brighton, Walmer, and Ramsgate. On the few occasions Mundell eluded his shadows and moved lodgings, the police employed a specialist, Inspector Whall, to find him. The police didn’t only content themselves with following Mundell though. His room was searched on a daily basis at one lodgings, and those around him were constantly questioned as to his behaviour and intentions. The Police Commissioners evidently thought him dangerous, especially after he was found with loaded pistols on two occasions.3

Mundell’s case is not only interesting in its illustration of police surveillance, but also because it highlights their role in the legislative process. Between 1848 and 1852 the Police Commissioners were in regular contact with the Lunacy Commission and Home Office in an attempt to draft effective legislation to deal with a loophole in the 1845 Lunacy Acts. These had repealed the 1828 Lunatic Care and Treatment Act which allowed the police to pick up a wandering lunatic and take him before a magistrate, and only allowed them to apprehend those who were paupers. The Police Commissioners were concerned at the mounting cost of keeping surveillance on various lunatics whom they could not arrest as the law stood.4

In addition to surveillance, the police had a role investigating the background to any situation which involved the Queen’s safety. In the case of John Francis, for example, they were asked to conduct a search for him after he had been observed presenting a pistol at Victoria’s carriage the day before actually firing at her. On the day of the incident plain clothes detectives had flooded Green Park to try and spot Francis before he could act again.5 Similarly police were involved in investigating the possibility of assailants being part of a wider conspiracy to bring down the monarch.

To be continued…

1 MEPOL2/44, Case 27

2 For more detailed discussion see Hervey N, Op Cit, p.271; Also MEPOL2/89 and MEPOL3/20 and 21. For Lord Steward’s letter see MEPOL2/89, Lord Steward to Colonel Rowan, 10 Nov 1846.

3 MEPOL2/89, Letter from the Home Office (HO) to Colonel Rowan, 17 Nov 1845. For details of the police surveillance see MEPOL3/20 and 21 for police reports throughout; for use of Inspector Whall see MEPOl2/89, letter dated 1 Apr 1847, Police to the HO; For evidence of the room search, MEPOL2/89, see report of PC Johncock dated 31 Oct 1847. For other cases where the police tailed lunatics see MEPOL1/46, Police to HO, letter dated 22 Jul 1856 concerning a Mr Barnett; MEPOL1/53, Police to HO, letter dated 15 Oct 1850 concerning a James Haywood. This illustrates that the police often acted with a scrupulous fairness, not apprehending lunatics like Haywood who were quiet, and despite their bizarreness, unlikely to act violently. They had twice before refused to interfere with Haywood’s liberty despite requests to do so, and were keen to set the record straight with the HO that he had not made an attempt on the life of Lord Melbourne, as stated in a letter from the Mayor of Stamford, although he had written threatening letters; Also MEPO1/45, Police to HO, letter dated 9 Mar 1849 concerning Spencer High being under surveillance. For other police concerns regarding the use of plain clothes detectives see Clive Emsley, The English Police: A Political and Social History (Longman, 1996), pp.190-91.

4 NA/HO45/OS/2222. See also the case of John Fisher, alias Launcelot Shadwell, for another wandering lunatic the police could not deal with effectively.

5 See MEPOL3/18 passim. A Confidential Officer of Police was placed at each of the seventeen entrances to St James’ Park. Also two PCs were appointed to liaise with the Palace Inspectors, but the Police weren’t actually expecting another attack from Francis to be before the Queen’s next public appearance.

A Rake’s Progress III

A Rake's Progress (plate 3) 1735 by William Hogarth 1697-1764

Bethlem’s most famous fictional patient is probably Tom Rakewell, the creation of the artist and satirist William Hogarth (1697-1764). A Rake’s Progress, a series of paintings (later published as engravings) depicting scenes from Tom’s life, was Hogarth’s exposé of the cruelty, depravity and hypocrisy which he saw in London society, as well as a morality play in which evil finally comes down on the head of the evildoer. Here on the blog we have been publishing and commenting on the 8 engravings in sequence, one each month, and will continue to do so we finally arrive at Bethlem where the last act of the drama unfolds.

The third engraving in the series shows Tom patronising the Rose Tavern in Covent Garden – a brothel – after a day spent in diversion and dissipation.

“The Chocolate House – White’s – the Cockpit – a rehearsal – a match at tennis – a visit to Figg’s temple of the ‘Fancy’, Oxford Road – a late dinner, and plenty of wine, at Pontack’s – and the day is spent; but the night is coming on; and riot and disorder stalk abroad – the night is coming on – but so also is the morning!”1

Hogarth shows Tom Rakewell being “robbed of his watch, by the girl whose hand is in his bosom; and, with that adroitness peculiar to an old practitioner, she conveys her acquisition to an accomplice, who stands behind the chair. Two of the ladies are quarrelling; and one of them delicately spouts wine in the face of her opponent, who is preparing to revenge the affront with a knife, which, in the posture of threatened defiance, she grasps in her hand. A third, enraged at being neglected, holds a lighted candle to a map of the globe, determined to set the world on fire, though she perish in the conflagration! A fourth is undressing.”2

To be continued.

1 J. Trusler and E.F. Roberts, The Complete Works of William Hogarth, vol. 2, p 86.
2 ibid., p. 87.

Virtual Book Club VI

Thanks to Education and Outreach Officer, Caroline Smith, for this month’s reviews of ‘The Quickening Maze’ by Adam Foulds.


Adam Foulds’s prose in this fictionalised account of the lives of the inmates at the private High Beach asylum and its proprietor Matthew Allen is hauntingly beautiful, almost hypnotic at times. This is most evident when he is describing the natural world surrounding the asylum. The delicate balance of the countryside is already under threat from industrialisation and enclosure.

The novel mixes the real and the fictional in much the same way as reality is often blurred for some of the key characters; in his sympathetic portrayal, Foulds makes us care about both. We observe the flawed proprietor of the asylum, Matthew Allen and his family, the poet John Clare and Septimus Tennyson, brother of the poet Alfred Tennyson but the fictional inmates and staff are no less effectively drawn.

The real life Matthew Allen was the proprietor of licensed houses at High Beech in Essex from 1825 -45. He had previously worked at The Retreat in York, a Quaker run asylum which pioneered the idea of moral management. This was a form of social therapy involving routine, occupation and a calming environment which represented a new approach to the care of the mentally unwell. Such changes, coinciding with the work of Dr John Conolly and the non-restraint movement, did impact the way asylums were run but only over time and Allen thought of himself as being something of a pioneer at High Beech. He claimed to be amongst the first to promote a mild system of management and outdoor occupation; our first glimpse of him in the book is at the manual task of chopping wood and he recommended similar open air tasks for the inmates.

In his Essay on the Classification of the Insane 1837, Allen advocated the use of voluntary confinement in order to facilitate the early treatment of mental illness, together with the use of parole and voluntary boarding by convalescent patients. Tennyson, who in the novel stays nearby to support his brother Septimus who has been admitted to High Beach, did in reality himself voluntarily stay for two weeks suffering from depression. Allen allowed many patients their own keys to enable some freedom of movement and exploration of Epping Forest within which the asylum was set. It is this freedom which allowed John Clare to stay connected to the natural world he loved and the withdrawal of which, in the novel, was so damaging.

Clare was an actual patient at High Beech from 1837, when he was taken there by his publisher John Taylor, until 1841 when he escaped. Initially his health appeared to improve in the sheltered atmosphere; the journalist Cyrus Redding described him ‘busily engaged with the hoe, and smoking.’ Clare was encouraged to walk in the woods and continue to write. In a letter to his wife he commented that ‘the country is the finest I have ever seen.’ As the novel progresses the reader sees Clare’s mental state unravel into delusions about his dead childhood sweetheart, obsession with prize fighters such as Jack Randall and disintegration into complex multiple identities including that of Randall and Lord Byron. Reality and its shifting boundaries is an ever present theme. Although it is perhaps most clearly demonstrated through the figure of Clare, it is seen also in Allen’s attempts to construct a more favourable reality out of the disaster of his money making schemes and his daughter Hannah’s desire to see Alfred Tennyson as a suitor.

The real life asylum was made up of a number of houses for different groups of patients with conditions of varying severity. In the novel, the genteel, more relaxed conditions of Fairmead House under the day to day supervision of Allen contrast starkly with the more restricted and often brutal regime supervised by his deputy at Leopards Lodge. We only actually see Allen once at Leopard’s Lodge and the extent to which he knows the extent of the abuses that take place there is left ambiguous.

The book is not just concerned with physical confines; the limitations imposed by social convention, wealth and class are all subtly raised. The theme of the outsider and those on the margins of society runs through the novel: the asylum inmates sheltered or removed from a society which might prefer to pretend they are not there; the gypsies Clare meets on his rambles driven out by prejudice and enclosure; Allen himself when discussing his religious upbringing. Many of the characters seem to long for escape from the confines of their own situation: Allen from his money worries and fears of being unfulfilled; his daughter Hannah from her stultifying environment; Tennyson from his grief at Arthur Hallam’s death and his own melancholy; Clare from the restrictions of the asylum which thwart his desire to go home. In the end it is perhaps only Clare who feels he has left the asylum behind.

Please comment below if you wish to share your thoughts about this book.  Next month our Community Engagement Officer will be reviewing the award-winning ‘The Shock of the Fall’ by Nathan Filer.  This will be published in the week commencing 11 August.

A Maze of Possibilities II

In the second of our responses to William Kurelek’s The Maze the artist commented:

….His piece inspired me to take the idea of the skull and adapt it but to my own thoughts. The skull represents me as a person, but in a dead and empty state. The maze which I adapted more into a circle of representative images of myself, refelect(ing) me as a person and the things that relate to me.

Some examples are puzzle pieces, a lock and an iPod. The puzzle piece is relatable as I think that life is like a puzzle, the lock also represents the private side of my life and the iPod shows that I like listening to music. I decided to make the drawings of the objects (representing the brain) to be shattered into pieces as it shows that nothing is perfect and not everything is how you would want it to be, also the way I mixed up the images represents thoughts and confusion.

Kurelek 2

Come along to Bethlem Sunfayre, Saturday 5 July 12-5pm


In the Frame for July 2014

This month’s ‘In The Frame’ is kindly contributed by reader Jenni Lidyard, who looks at Valerie Potter’s, ‘Untitled’.

Bethlem’s collection has several pieces by Valerie Potter, including an untitled painting that exemplifies her early style. Potter went on to create some extraordinary black and white embroidery pieces, but this untitled painting shows not just the shapes and images that continue to appear in her later works, but also the bright, riotous colours that she initially experimented with.

Valerie Potter, Untitled

Valerie Potter, Untitled

Potter is largely a self-taught artist, although she did study for a while at Hull College of Art. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teenager, but her career as an artist belies the commonly held myth that creativity flourishes alongside excess, addiction or even mental illness. Many artists are aware of these myths, and become very sensitive to their own use of substances such as alcohol and emotional states in response, but while some people still believe that addiction and mental illness inspire creativity, others focus on the need for dedication, stability and hard work. Curing an addiction or completing treatment for a condition like schizophrenia does not hamper creativity. Potter’s work reflects this. Her work has flourished as her mental health has improved, according to the Tate Gallery, although art has always played an important role at every stage in Potter’s life. Her early works include many brightly coloured paintings like Untitled, but she has gone on to create drawings, and later embroideries, often featuring similar patterns and images. Since the 1990s, she had produced a selection of embroidered images, using black thread on unbleached calico, but she has more recently been working with cross-stitch embroidery. It is the absurdity of this form that she finds attractive. “Can you imagine anything more pointless and bizarre than trying to create a world that is made up of curves and swirls on a grid that only takes straight lines?” she told the Tate. The contrast between the restrictive medium and the intended result is perhaps even greater when it is Potter who is working the needle, since she continues to create worlds using the same swirling lines and patterns that are found in her Untitled painting.

Untitled is a busy painting, bursting with eclectic images of eyes and faces. Potter’s interest in patterns is apparent in the varied textures that adorn sections of the painting. Some areas are covered with a regular grid-like pattern, while others swirl with speckled colours that seem like the skin of some mythological reptile, or else a patchwork of brightly patterned batik cloths. This is a painting with few restful points for the eye to settle. Everywhere, there are lines of colour and pattern that drag the eye onward, keeping the viewer’s focus moving, swirling round and trying to find a way in to make sense of it all. A slightly jarring sense of confusion is the first reaction to this jumble of shapes, but as the viewer takes the time to explore the scene, recognizable images do begin to stand out. The eyes are particularly clear. Some of them are paired with savage-looking mouths, while others hover over spaces where vague face-like shapes can be discerned around them in the surrounding curves of colour. The eyes are almost entirely disembodied, but there is still a hint of the contorted faces that surround them, fractured and overlapping, which creates a sense of tension that can never be resolved. The two overlapping faces on the left hand side of the painting, for example, can never be disentangled from one another, however much the eye tries to see them as separate. Other images are also revealed through patient observation.

Burning candles, legs and bodies can be picked out from among the apparently abstract shapes that surround the floating eyes. These are the types of shapes and images that can be seen elsewhere in Potter’s work. They form part of the mythology of the world she creates in her art. According to the England and Co Gallery, Potter sees her work as “like technical drawings of ideas and scientifically precise diagrams which represent the events of another world,” and this is certainly an impression that the viewer can receive while finding a way around a painting like Untitled. The exaggerated, misshapen faces and symbols, like the gods and goddesses that appear elsewhere in Potter’s work, can make the viewer think of the art and writing systems developed by ancient cultures like the Maya. The same bold colours and patterns, exaggerated features and misshapen symbols, compressed together into complex messages for the viewer to unravel are present in Potter’s mythology. Stepping into Potter’s world through a work such as this Untitled painting can be a slightly disorientating experience, but it is one that is well worth some patient exploration. Taking the time to see how the same images reappear throughout her work, or to watch how the patterns swirl into meaning when you stare into an image such as Untitled and start spotting the faces and symbols it contains, can enable you to see much more than colour and confusion in Potter’s work.

Object Lesson II

Thanks to U3A volunteer, Peter Charles, for sharing his research on the Sports Cup.

I think that one of the most fascinating things about this project from me has been how the objects that I have researched lead onto questions beyond those simply of the nature and function of the object itself. An example of this is the group of sports cups which have been selected for display in the new museum. When I began to look at these, four in particular stood out to me. All four of these were donated to the hospital tennis club in 1936, were competed for in 1937 and 38 and then again for eight years from 1950. This led me to an initial question as to why exactly these particular years were the only ones in which the cups were competed for. Examination of the sports club records show that the sports club was formed when the hospital moved to the Monks Orchard site in the early 1930s. The advantage of this site over the previous one was that the expansive grounds enabled the hospital governors to provide sports facilities for the staff. This had really begun to take off by the mid 1930s and it was probably for this reason that the cups were first donated in 1936.



We can all take a likely guess as to why they stopped in 1938, but there was still the question as to why it took until 1950 for the competitions to recommence following the war. Turning again to the sports club records I could find two possible explanations. The first is a number of references to the condition of the tennis courts in the years between 1945 and 1950. It is unclear whether this damage was as a result of wartime activity or just a general lack of maintenance over the wartime years. The second possible reason was a re-founding of the sports club around 1950, following the merger of the Bethlem hospital and the Maudsley Hospital, as a single sports club. Why then did they stop in 1958? Again a number of reasons can be postulated. There seems in the late 1950s to have been move away from outdoor sports, particularly following the building of a new gymnasium. In addition, the records show that during the 1950s there had been a number of attempts, as witnessed by motions posted at the AGM, to enable winners to take the cups and keep them at home, but these had been rejected each time. In the late 1950s a decision was made to award smaller personal trophies to the competition winners which they then got to keep and these may have replaced the awarding of the cups.

My next set of questions were regarding those donors who had given the cups to the sports club. One of the cups is called the Governors cup, but the other three were all personal donations. The people involved were Sir Lionel Faudel-Phillips; Lord Charles Wakefield and Mr Gerald Coke, all people who had an important part to play in the history of the Royal Bethlem hospital. Lionel Faudel Phillips and Charles Wakefield were respectively treasurer and president of the Board of Governors from 1921 until 1941. It was their vision in the 1920s to move the Bethlem hospital from the site at St Georges Field in Southwark to a more open rural site, which they felt would be better for the patients and enable expansion of facilities. The site they eventually settled on was of course Monks Orchard, and it was these two gentlemen who enabled and managed the move when it happened in the 1930s. Gerald Coke, a cousin of Faudel Phillips, had been a governor of the Royal Bethlem since its move to the monks Orchard site in the 1930s and held the distinction of being the last treasurer appointed by the independentboard of governors. It was he, who according to Andrew’s history of Bethlem first saw the need for the merger with the Maudsley and was the driving force behind ensuring that the merger took place, thus securing the future of the hospital at Monks Orchard. I think it can probably be argued that these three people were the most influential in the hospital’s non-medical history in the period of the first 50 years of the 20th century.

The cups as objects have a value, both financial and artistic, but that value is unrelated to any narrative connected to them. For me the fascinating thing about them is that they provide a doorway into a story that tells us both of the social life of the hospital and the story of the people who moulded its history.


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