People often ask us, ‘Have there ever been any famous patients (or, any notorious patients) at Bethlem or the Maudsley?’ It is a question we struggle to know how best to answer. Certainly mental distress is no respecter of persons, so over the years one would expect a small percentage of hospital admissions to have been of those in the public eye for one reason or another. (Brian Moody’s photographic 1 in 4 exhibition is a near-contemporary reminder of this.) But the question seems to reflect an intrusive obsession with celebrity, not to mention a disregard for privacy, which we find ourselves reluctant to affirm or encourage. It should go without saying that the medical confidentiality of those admitted within living memory is inviolable.
That said, the Archives & Museum is in a unique position by virtue of its collections to record the lives and experience and celebrate the achievements of people who suffer, or have suffered, mental health problems. One small way we have sought to do this is by highlighting an artwork from our reserve collections in our monthly In the Frame post. This year we will add a new series of posts to this blog about people of previous generations who spent time as Bethlem or Maudsley Hospital patients, but whose lives became defined, at least in the minds of others, by their achievements rather than by that experience. A few of those we feature will be familiar (if not actually household) names. All deserve to be better known.
We will restrict ourselves to those admitted to Bethlem or the Maudsley between (say) 1840 and 1939, as earlier patients of note are featured under the ‘patients’ tab in Visiting Bethlem. For the purpose of this series of posts, we will also exclude artists whose work is represented in our collections here at the Archives & Museum – with one exception, which will be explained in due course.