Well, the weather turned out beautiful for the Sunfayre last Saturday, 10 July. So, on a wet and dreary Tuesday morning, let us transport you back to the gloriously sunny weekend, where those who came on our historic tours of the site needed parasols rather than umbrellas! A big thank you to everyone who visited the museum and archives, and participated in our talks and tours in the education room. We had nearly 300 visitors in total, a remarkable number given the small physical size! Most of the visitors were local, and many had strong connections to the site: we met former Bethlem employees who were fascinated by the history, or those who had been previously treated or visited relatives under treatment here. Others found the event, particularly the guided tours, reassuring, remembering previous concerns in the local press but never having been to the site before.
As well as viewing an exhibition of Louis Wain’s anthropomorphised cat paintings in the museum, huge numbers of visitors attended talks on the history of the hospital: ‘Meet a Victorian Patient’, and ‘Bethlem Patients in the 1850s’. The studio portraits of patients on the walls of the education room fascinated many. Photographed by Henry Hering, a well-known society photographer, in the 1850s, many of the images come in pairs to show a patient during their illness and following recovery. The education officer explained that this was perhaps an attempt to understand insanity through the comparison of facial expressions and posture. The talk was followed by a guided tour of the site, led by the head of the Archives & Museum. The tour offered a rare opportunity to visit the Hospital’s historic boardroom, as well as taking in Dower House, built as a home for the superintendent in the days when he was resident at the Hospital: the remains of one of the Hospital’s air raid shelters can also be seen in the garden. Juxtaposing the old and the new, we passed River House, a state of the art medium-secure unit, opened in 2008, ending at the recently refurbished Walled Garden, an important part of the Hospital’s occupational therapy unit.
One visitor’s experience was not uncommon: “I’ve lived locally for years, and drive past the site all the time, but I never realised it was such a fascinating place with so much history. There should be more days bringing the community in!”
Until next year’s Sunfayre, you can still visit the museum every weekday, from 9:30am – 4:30pm while, from August, we aim to open one Saturday a month (in conjunction with Bethlem Gallery opening): watch this space for more details! You can also arrange group visits to enjoy talks and activities, including those around the Hering photos. For more information, or to book a visit, go to: www.bethlemheritage.org.uk (no booking necessary for individual visitors to the museum or gallery).