Bethlem’s blog has moved!

Things on the blog have been a bit quiet recently while we have been in the process of integrating the blog directly into our new website.  The blog can now be found here

To keep up to date with our blog and any events we have setup a RSS feed so you can subscribe to it. The RSS URL is  You will no longer receive emails when something new has been posted.

You can also follow us on Twitter or Facebook

For the time being the old blog will also remain but will be removed later this year.  Please do comment and let us know what you think about the new blog and website.

Thanks for your continued support and interest!

Mansions in the Orchard: The Demise of the Asylum

As part of the Mansions in the Orchard project, photographer Max Reeves has recently made some comparative studies of other institutions. The buildings that previously made up St Clement’s Hospital in Bow, East London, are currently under development but they have a lengthy history in mental health and social welfare. Opened in 1849 as the City of London Union Workhouse, the building later became the workhouse infirmary. Psychiatric patients would have been admitted here for observation, although St Clement’s didn’t exclusively become a psychiatric hospital until 1959.

St Clement’s closed in 2005: however, in recent years the site has become the location of Shuffle Festival, a community arts event. Shuffle Festival started in 2013 as an initiative of The East London Community Land Trust, run by local people to develop permanently affordable housing in the area. This week, the summer Shuffle opens in the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, which borders the St Clement’s site. One of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ Victorian cemeteries surrounding London, Shuffle Festival will draw on the site and the former hospital with a programme centred around the City, Nature, Death, Love and Survival.

During the years in which the park was an open cemetery, there was a direct access gate leading to the mortuary from St Clement’s. This year, the Lodge will host an exhibition of Max Reeves’ photographs in The Demise of the Asylum (Sunday 3 August, 12-8pm). By contrasting the urban decay of St Clement’s with the pastoral tranquillity of Bethlem, the exhibition aims to comment on society’s move away from institutional mental health treatment towards one that is more individualised, but nonetheless depends heavily on the efficacy and support of the community within which it occurs.

Other events explore the mental health themes of the festival further. On Saturday 2nd August, Hearing the Voice will lead bespoke afternoon tours of the cemetery park, in which voice-hearers will share their stories and experiences in the peaceful woodland setting. Meanwhile, Shuffle your Mind is a screening of short films about altered minds and inner worlds, taking place at 4.30pm. Meanwhile, on Sunday 3rd August, during the Wellcome Trust supported Day of the Dead, there will be a discussion with Professor Barbara Taylor (author of The Last Asylum) on the state of contemporary social care for the mind and its variations. Tickets for the exhibition and some events are free but places are limited. Book online at

Bethlem by Max Reeves (2013)

Bethlem by Max Reeves (2013)

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



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