We Are Not Amused IV

Dr Nick Hervey examines the historic role of the police in royal protection in the fourth in a series of twelve guest posts.

The police (or rather, the Bow Street Runners) had a long history of involvement with royalty, acting in the capacity of bodyguards. Buckingham Palace and the Mall still fall within Bow Street’s jurisdiction and it was to Bow Street that Queen Elizabeth II’s would-be assassin, Marcus Sarjeant, was taken in June 1981. The Bow Street Runner John Townsend was a favourite of George III’s, whilst Sayer and Macmanus regularly attended him both in and out of London. Another Runner, George Ruthven, who had been instrumental in crushing the Cato Street Conspiracy, gained extensive experience of working in the service of the Russian Emperor and also the Prussian government. In fact it became quite common for Runners to be seen at fashionable gatherings in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century where they provided some measure of security for important public figures. Thus the seeds of an embryonic royal protection corps were already in existence.1

The Bow Street Runners were not especially popular with the general public, several being guilty of extortion, receiving stolen goods and consorting with the criminal classes, but Peel’s New Police Force set up in 1829 was even less acceptable to the press and public. It smacked of continental absolutism, secret police, state power and centralising tendencies. The magistrates at Bow Street were also opposed to the new force and regularly obstructed its officers until 1839, when the second Metropolitan Police Act did away with the Runners and restricted the justices at Bow Street to a purely judicial role. Throughout the majority of our period the chief magistrate at Bow Street was, Thomas J Hall, (1839-64) and he dealt with many of the lunatics who were found in the environs of the Palace, although a number were also taken to the Queen-square, Marlborough Street and Guildhall police-offices.2

Despite the seriousness of Margaret Nicholson and James Hadfield’s attempts on George III’s life, security around the monarch was still relatively lax when Victoria came to the throne. One of the earliest madmen who tried to gain an audience with Victoria, Arthur Tucker, had in fact been following the Court around for several years and was already known to the police. In the summer of 1835 he had got into Windsor Castle and ‘succeeded in getting very near’ to William IV. This man was clearly insane and although wanting to obtain a hearing for what he conceived to be a righteous grievance, he might well have proved unpredictable and dangerous. Yet it seems the police adopted a more relaxed attitude to his presence, than they did to that of subsequent offenders in Victoria’s reign.3 This may be because of the number of serious attempts that were made on her life between 1840 and 1842, but it is also possibly a reflection of the increasingly intolerant attitude being adopted towards insane behaviour in the community.

In June 1837 when Victoria succeeded her uncle, William IV, she moved from her family home at Kensington Palace into Buckingham Palace, which had superseded St James’s as the Sovereign’s private London residence.4 Renovation work on the Palace had finally been completed in May 1837, but had left it in a far from satisfactory state. Apart from the smoking chimneys, which meant fires were kept low and the rooms were cold, ventilation was poor, cleaning was done irregularly, and smells emanating from rubbish and food in the kitchen area permeated the upper rooms. More importantly Palace security was ineffective.

Gaining entrance to Buckingham Palace was easy. In December 1838 the ‘boy Cotton’ was finally apprehended after spending more than a year there undetected. A 12 year old, he had lived unseen in the servants’ quarters and domestic offices. When caught, Cotton was covered in soot, and it was revealed that he had been hiding in the chimneys, occasionally sneaking out to snatch some sleep in whatever bed was available. He had never attempted to enter the state apartments, but had stolen and concealed a number of articles, amongst which was a sword. Cotton had also broken open a sealed letter to the Queen, and his incursion clearly represented a potential threat to her safety.5 Despite this a similar event occurred two years later.

On 2nd December 1840, Victoria’s monthly nurse heard a noise in the Queen’s sitting room just after 1am, and summoned a page. After a search a lad was found curled up under the sofa. He was at once recognised as ‘the boy Jones’ who had attempted to enter the Palace before. Jones stated that he could enter the Palace whenever he liked by climbing over the wall on Constitution Hill and creeping through one of the windows. When asked why he had entered the Queen’s rooms he said that he ‘wanted to know how they lived at the Palace’ and that ‘a description would look very well in a book’. It seems Jones had tried out the throne for size, and even caught sight of Victoria herself. A stunted youth of seventeen, he was the son of a tailor who earned a scanty living working from a shed in Derby Street, Cannon Row. The first time Jones entered Buckingham Palace he had been declared insane and discharged to relatives. On this occasion he was committed to the Tothill Street House of Correction for three months and put on the treadmill. Jones put on considerable airs, and requested the Police to treat him as a gentleman who ‘was anxious to make a noise in the world’. Three and a half months later when found for a third time in Buckingham Palace, on this occasion in the Great Hall, he was given a second spell of three months on the treadmill at the House of Correction, and then put on board HMS Warspite, bound for New South Wales. On two further occasions Jones jumped ship, but was returned on board, and subsequently served in HMS Inconstant and HMS Harlequin before being left in Malta, in 1847, to await passage home to England.6

To be continued…


1 Joan Lock, Tales from Bow Street (Robert Hale, 1982), pp.193-5.

2 Frederick Roe retired from Bow Street in 1839 (at only 50) immediately the second Police Act came in which deprived Bow Street of its police powers; Thomas J. Hall had been the first stipendiary magistrate in Liverpool before coming to Bow Street. For a good introduction to the debate about the origins of the New Police Force see Robert Reiner, The Politics of the Police (Wheatsheaf Books, 1985), chapter 1 passim.

3 Morning Post, 30 Jan 1838, p.3 and The Times 31 Jan 1838, p.3. Tucker claimed that there was a conspiracy against him and wanted to be paid for his attendance at Court.

4 Buckingham Palace was built in 1705, and had been bought by George III in 1762 as a Dower house for Queen Charlotte. He and the Queen continued to use St James’ Palace for ceremonial occasions. After the King’s illness removed him from public life, the Prince Regent contemplated rebuilding the Palace for himself. However because of work on Brighton Pavilion and Windsor, nothing was done on Buckingham Palace until 1825. In 1828 funds ran out, and public dissatisfaction with John Nash’s design which had resulted in a Select Committee, prevented further improvements being made. George IV’s death in 1829 brought building work to a standstill, and William IV never showed any enthusiasm for living there. Queen Victoria wasn’t a big fan either.

5 Cecil Woodham-Smith, Queen Victoria: Her Life and Times, Vol I, 1819-61 (Book Club Associates, 1973) pp. 207-8, 261.

6 ibid., pp.217-8; MEPOL2/44, Case No. 17 and mentioned again in the section dealing with the sane (as opposed to insane) persons who were arrested as a threat. S. Weintraub, Victoria: An Intimate Biography (Penguin, 1987), pp.151, 393.

New exhibition at Bethlem Gallery: The Silence of Sawn Wood

The Silence of Sawn Wood by Phil Baird

The exhibition presents a selection of paintings, drawings, prints and collages combining the artist’s poetic use of materials and his fascination with the imagined landscape. Phil’s work includes story telling and illustration combined with abstract and improvisational drawing techniques.

Opening 16 April 3 – 6pm
Exhibition continues: 17 April – 9 May Wednesday – Friday 11am – 6pm

The Advertisement Archive VIII

ECT Machine

Artist in Focus VII – Charles Sims

Charles Sims was born in Islington, where his father owned a factory, but grew up in Margate where the family moved soon after his birth. Throughout his life he was lame from a serious injury to his leg which he received in infancy. After various attempts to train him for a career in business he was allowed to attend art schools in London and Paris, and later the Royal Academy Schools – from which he was expelled on the pretext of a trivial misdemeanour (in reality, probably for his cheerful non-conformity). His reputation as a painter was established with his first one-man show at the Leicester Galleries in 1906. He became best known for lyrical open-air scenes, full of light and exuberance, which he painted during an idyllic period of his life with his wife and young children in Sussex. He was constantly experimenting, and revived, or reinvented, the technique of painting with tempera in order to preserve the brilliance of the colours.

The idyll ended with the outbreak of war. His eldest son was killed, and the family moved to London. In 1917 he completed a series of paintings, The Seven Sacraments of Holy Church, in a deliberately archaic style quite unlike his usual work. In 1918 he was sent to France as an official artist, and this experience, together with the move from the country, seems to mark the beginning of a change in his personality. He became gradually more reserved and aloof, and at the end of his life he appeared to one friend as ‘a very lonely and pathetic figure’. He was Keeper of the Academy Schools from 1920 to 1926, and earned much of his living by portrait painting during this period.
In the last two years of his life he worked on a series which he called ‘Spirituals’ or ‘Spiritual Ideas’. (Though spiritualists claimed these works as representations of the ‘spirit world’ itself, Sims was adamant that this was not his intention.) As with The Seven Sacraments, these were quite unlike his previous work in style. For the first time he used abstract form and colour, the background of all the pictures suggesting a torn curtain through which some mystical experience is glimpsed. The figures also lean towards abstraction, and the paint is thin and flat. Six of these paintings were exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition of 1928, but shortly before this Sims had killed himself, tortured by insomnia and dreading the approach of old age.

During this last period he had been undergoing treatment by a ‘nerve specialist’, and after his suicide it was rumoured that he had been insane. Attempts were even made to keep his work out of the Academy exhibition. The painting Aspiration, which was part of the original Guttmann-Maclay Collection (the others having been added more recently), is presumed to have been acquired because of the belief that Sims was suffering from serious mental disorder. At present we do not know much about his actual state of mind, but there seems little doubt that his painting was profoundly affected, both in style and content, by the mental turmoil which he was experiencing. There is no doubt at all that the most powerful and original paintings of his whole career are to be found among these final works.

Tell us what you think…

Tell us what you think...

Virtual Book Club III

Side Effects

This month’s book is the graphic novel, ‘Side Effects’ by Andre Voyce, which has been reviewed by our volunteer, Harry Bentine.

A graphic novel is an unusual medium for an autobiography. Rendering memories visually from a third person perspective doesn’t allow for the intimacy and trust that more traditional memoirs strive to achieve. But, then again, Andrew Voyce’s Side Effects can hardly be called a traditional memoir. Set in a dialectic two-tonal colour scheme, it explores the dichotomy in identity that pervades an inpatient’s life as he is constantly split between two forms of existence: unmedicated and unchecked delusions outside of inpatient care on one side, and humiliating and degrading treatment inside of psychiatric hospitals on the other.

So it is unsurprising that the novel doesn’t instil the same intimacy and familiarity most autobiographies try to inspire. It is a story of metaphor and hyperbole, of delusion and anxiety. It is a story of the insurmountable walls between expression and reality, nervously challenged by the palimpsest layering of narrative onto memory. The deadpan narration, plotted around punctiform moments of distress, dislocates itself from the emotional eruptions of panic and delusion depicted in the cartoons through its distant, matter-of-fact tone. The storyboards are linked through an ambiguous time-frame which constantly changes in mitre. Time itself feels like it contracts and dilates around crystallised episodes of trauma, breaking down identity to a series of fragmented events which are thematically repeated in the humiliation and torture of involuntary injections.

In this sense, the novel explores and evaluates the fractured nature of identity. The protagonist wanders a world of shapeless and nameless silhouettes: outside consecrations of his personal alienation, a cast from which he hardly differentiates himself. In hospital, his Kafkaesque industrial therapy oppresses his desire from intellectual stimulus, further belittling his sense of individuality and identity. His invisibility becomes a matter of social oppression, until his only distinction from the rest of the ward is his striped shirt.
His treatment robs him of his identity until, like the lobotomised patient in the canteen, we see him sprawled cadaver-like in a surgery, awaiting the torture of his injections. The lifelessness of inpatient life is counterpoised with the turbulence of the delusions he suffers outside of psychiatric care. We are presented with has two identities and wants neither, whose self-perception is deformed and contorted either by over-medication or untreated delusions.

Overall then, Side Effects is a story about how we are forced to perceive ourselves; it is about how we diagnose and overcome turbulence in our own self-perceptions. Ending with a celebration of artistic expression for self-acceptance may seem an awkward and unfitting idea for a novel so suggestive of the disjuncture between narrative and identity, but here it really works. Advocating artistic creation as both cathartic and therapeutic, Andrew Voyce’s autobiography has become something of a case study, illustrating the need to develop more humane effective practices for the treatment of mental health. The cure suggested is not to change the person, but to change the picture in which he is presented.


Andrew Voyce’s graphic novel ‘Side Effects’ can be purchased directly from Andrew by emailing: sideeffectsbook@yahoo.co.uk.  Next month volunteer Kirsten Tambling will be reviewing Janet Frame’s ‘Faces in the Water’

Mansions in the Orchard: Bare Bones of the Museum

In the last two months, work has begun in earnest on the Museum of the Mind in the administration building at Monks Orchard. Features and fittings added over the past eighty years have been slowly removed, leaving the skeleton of the 1930s building behind. As part of our Mansions in the Orchard project, artist Max Reeves has been documenting the building, capturing the continuity as well as the changes.

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Ths builing still retains something of the people who have lived and worked in it over the years. An office chair waits patiently for its occupant to return, while a blue-tiled bathroom is still visible amid the rubble.

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At a talk at Bromley Library earlier this month, we explored the Hospital’s move to Beckenham in the 1920s. The site has certainly changed considerably since that time, although remnants of the stately home on the Monks Orchard estate, and especially its former gatehouses, can still be found. Similarly, the administration block retains the features of the hospital: not least its style, based as the new Bethlem was on a villa system of self-contained units. Unlike Bethlem’s former home in St George’s Fields (now the Imperial War Museum), the admin block does not form the centre-point of the wings of various wards, but is a separate space.

The next stage of our project will explore this shifting architecture. How have Bethlem’s buildings reflected or shaped psychiatry of the twentieth century? And what role do these walls still play in the the experiences of those who use them?

All photographs copyright Max Reeves (2014)


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