Archive for the 'Events' Category

The Bedlam Bones: Excavation, History and Myth

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that we’ve long been pointing out the holes in stories claiming the skeletons unearthed at Bishopsgate as part of the Crossrail project were former patients of the Hospital. We even drew attention to the efforts of turn-of-the-twentieth-century chaplain, Edward Geoffrey O’Donoghue, to trace any references to the first Bethlem Hospital in local parish registers, which included the surprising revelation that “old Bedlam” (as he put it) “was not without its amusements, for on July 25th 1618, the burial is recorded of William Marshall, who died suddenly in the Bowling Alley in Bedlam.”1

Yet the ‘Bedlam Bones’ tag seems to have caught the attention of the media, and is now apparently well nigh unshakeable. This coming Saturday, however, visitors to the Museum will be able to hear the Bethlem Archivist explain the real history of the “New Churchyard by Bethlem”. The free talk starts at 2pm, and visitors will also be able to see a new exhibition in the space: Back From Holiday. In the last few years, many of our paintings have been out on loan around the world. This display features some of these temporary absentees, now back home in Beckenham, including work by Vaslav Nijinsky, Jonathan Martin, Richard Dadd and Louis Wain.

Other events coming up will focus on some of the works recently returned to the Museum. On 2 November, a free talk on James Tilly Matthews explores his sketch of the “Air Loom Gang” that he believed were persecuting him, while December’s Saturday talk (on 7 December) will focus on Nijinsky, whose drawing A Mask, is on display. For full details of upcoming events, visit our website: or join the mailing list.

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1 Under the Dome, vol. 3 no. 11 (30 September 1894), pp. 107-108.


Women and the Mind Doctors: Upcoming exhibitions

Two exciting exhibitions open early next month, one of which features a number of items from the Bethlem Collection. The Freud Museum’s Mad, Bad and Sad: Women and the Mind Doctors, runs from 10 October until 2 February 2014. A mix of historical objects and contemporary art  highlights the experience of women and their relationships to those who confined, cared for and listened to them.  The exhibition also shows how women today conduct their own explorations of mind and imagination in challenging works of art. Items from Bethlem include ECT machines, strong clothing and restraints and Richard Dadd’s A Sketch for an Idea of Crazy Jane. Bethlem Gallery artist Jane Fradgley will also have several artworks on display, from her recent show at the Institute of Psychiatry.

Meanwhile, a major retrospective exhibition devoted to another creative woman opens this weekend: Madge Gill: Medium & Visionary runs from 5 October 2013 until 26 January 2014 at Orleans House Gallery, Twickenham. With no training and no aspirations to fame, Madge Gill produced thousands of ink drawings during her lifetime. Her work remains an enigma: is it true she was inspired by an ethereal spirit guide? Was she genuinely in touch with ‘the beyond’, or was art-making a form of self therapy?

Featuring over 100 original artworks – including the ten metre calico The Crucifixion of the Soul, which has not been on display in the UK since 1979, and contextual photographs and documents, this exhibition is the first of its kind. Madge Gill was championed and collected by Jean Dubuffet, who coined the term ‘art brut’ (raw art), the precursor to the term ‘Outsider Art’. Those interested in Outsider Art might also want to visit an exhibition at St Pancras Hospital, which is on until 28 November. Epiphanies! Secrets of Outsider Art showcases up to twenty artists, from London, Australia and the USA.

Richard Dadd - Sketch for an Idea of Crazy Jane

Richard Dadd – Sketch for an Idea of Crazy Jane

Art in the Asylum: Upcoming Events

September sees the opening of several events that may be of interest to our readers, some of which include items from the Bethlem Collection. First off, an exhibition opens today at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine by the Centre for Global Mental Health: One in Four: Experience and Action. The exhibition is open daily between 10 and 4, and brings together items offering unique perspectives on the experience of living with mental ill-health, as well as the work of the Centre. Free accompanying events include evening film screenings, lectures and discussions, such as the contribution of the Patient Voices Programme to improved mental health care in Manchester on 8 October and the role of service user involvement in research and advocacy on October 10. The exhibition itself runs until 1 January 2014.

Later in the week, Art in the Asylum: Creativity and the Evolution of Psychiatry opens at the Djanogly Art Gallery in Nottingham. Exploring the role of art in mental health care and treatment from 1800 to the 1970s, the exhibition incorporates art from national and international archives, including the Bethlem collection and the Adamson Collection. The display aims to provide a historical overview of the diagnostic and therapeutic use of patient artwork, as well as its wider recognition through associations with Art Brut and so-called Outsider Art. Free lectures and tours run alongside the exhibition, which is open daily until 3 November. These include an evening talk on the life and legacy of Edward Adamson on 11 September, a lecture by Maureen Park on the nineteenth-century collection put together by W.A.F. Browne at the Crichton Royal Institution on 18 September, and Nicholas Tromans on Richard Dadd on October 16th.

Finally, in October, the UCL Centre for the History of Psychological Disciplines will host a three-day conference on the history of psychotherapeutics, from moral treatment to psychological therapies. The conference programme is soon to be announced, at

Food for Thought: Wellbeing walks at the Science Museum

The Heritage Lottery Fund’s All Our Stories funding stream has led to some excellent community mental health projects, several of which have taken place in the London area. Mental Fight Club’s series of events exploring Southwark has sadly finished, although The Dragon Café’s excellent programme continues, of course, to run every Monday at St George the Martyr Church in Borough.

There is more great stuff to come, however, from CoolTan Arts, in their project to reinterpret the Science Museum galleries. CoolTan believes mental well-being is enhanced by the power of creativity, and one group of volunteers is bringing this creativity to the Science Museum in a series of guided walks at the museum’s Lates series. Tomorrow’s session is entitled Food for Thought. As the group notes:

Everyone is probably familiar with the saying “you are what you eat”, but is there such a thing as happy food? Perceptions of healthy food and drink depend, among other things, on the time, the environments we live in and the religious and moral beliefs we uphold.

This Wednesday, 28 August, you can join CoolTan volunteers on a guided walk around the Wellcome gallery at the Science Museum to explore the relationship between food and mental wellbeing from the 19th century onwards. Walks will start at 7.30 and 8.30pm, meeting at the entrance to the Health Matters exhibition. Further events are planned for future Lates, including a drop-in photography studio in September.

Science Museum Lates take place on the last Wednesday of each month. The museum is only open to adults on these evenings, from 6.45 – 10pm, with a host of themed events on varied topics and DJs and bars around the museum.

held: Restraint Symposium at the Institute of Psychiatry

This week, as part of Jane Fradgley’s held exhibition at the MRC SGDP Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry, a public symposium focused on the difficult topic of restraint in mental health care. This was inspired, in part, by a focus group held last year at the Bethlem Gallery, in which service users, artists and doctors discussed the different ways in which restraint might be understood and experienced. Indeed, as one participant in the earlier discussion reflected, the very visible historical garments offered a useful focus to reach into less tangible modern encounters: rapid tranquilisation or physical holding, for example. A sedated person is less obviously restrained to those around them than someone in a canvas dress, although the person constrained might well not see this distinction.

Speakers ranged across the spectrum, looking at clinical practices, historical debates and personal experiences to reflect on the topic, questioning the very use of restraint, as well as the way it is managed. Particularly striking was the suggestion of one psychiatrist that, prior to being invited to speak, restraint had not been something he had really reflected on, although aware that it occurred in the unit in which he practiced. The way in which restraint was reported and understood was noted to be a shaky area: often being seen as a response to an event, rather than an episode that, in itself, requires to be understood, in particular allowing patients an opportunity to respond and explain their feelings. Acknowledging that restraint – even where it seems to be the only course of action – may nonetheless have important consequences for vulnerable people was agreed to be an important step forward. Guidelines, in particular, were shown to be inadequate: something highlighted in the recent Mind campaign on physical restraint in crisis care.

Today, The Lancet published an online editorial reflecting on some of the issues raised by the panel, who had a variety of different perspectives and experiences of mental health care. Some felt that restraint was entirely avoidable, and the ‘No Force First’ movement in North America was raised as a possible model for removing restraint from mental health care. Others insisted that restraint was inevitable in a system in which confinement occurs, and that other aspects of psychiatry might be more unpleasant for patients than physical restraint. All agreed, however, that it was an important discussion to have, and that the views and suggestions of patients on their experiences of constraint and how it might be avoided as well as best regulated – the impetus for the exhibition and symposium in the first place – was vital.

Maudsley Debate: Enabling or Labelling?

The 48th Maudsley Debate took place earlier this month, to a packed audience at the Institute of Psychiatry. Indeed, the event was so busy that two rooms were required: the main lecture hall had some 250+ attendees, while the spillover room in which the debate was shown on a live feed was also verging on full, with latecomers sitting on the floor around the door! The topic was obviously one of immense interest: given the debate on Twitter and the questions asked, clinicians, trainees and service users were all well represented.

The motion read that: “This house believes that psychiatric diagnosis has advanced the care of people with mental health problems”. Professor Tony David began the session by speaking for the motion, although stating that diagnosis is not a rigid medical paradigm but a social process. However, he regarded reductionism as a necessary first step in understanding the world, and diagnosis thus assists scientific research and advances in treatment.

However, Dr Felicity Callard, senior lecturer in social science at Durham University (and one of the researchers in the university’s interdisciplinary Hearing the Voice project) was particularly compelling in her arguments against the motion. Indeed, until she pointed it out, neither I nor those I spoke with afterwards had noticed that the motion was in the past tense (thus suggesting the historical, and not the potential, use of diagnosis) and also specifically focused on care. The potential of diagnosis for clinicians to gain a shared understanding of mental health conditions (something for which Professor Norman Sartorius argued) was thus, Dr Callard stated, irrelevant to the discussion. Mental health care has, she went on, been advanced by a variety of changes in past decades, including community mental health provision, staff training, environmental improvements, peer support and crisis intervention, none of which rely on diagnosis.

Professor Sartorius countered that the problems that Dr Callard reflected on (the potential of psychiatric diagnosis to result in ‘civil death’: the loss of a person’s legal and civil rights) were simply caused by a ‘mis-use’ of diagnosis. Diagnosis, he stated, was a tool that (like any other tool) could be used well or badly. This drew importance to the impact of debates like this one within psychiatry: how else do we decide on how a tool is to be used? This was something Dr Pat Bracken (speaking against the motion) saw as a sign of scientific maturity in the discipline.

One could hardly imagine a similar debate in other branches of medicine, Dr Bracken noted. Psychiatry, however, is a field that demands debate, which cannot be carried out through using a causal model of classification. Although not against diagnosis in itself, he felt that this represented only a tiny portion of the work of a psychiatrist. Great advances in care had occurred despite the efforts of clinicians to force mental health into the biomedical model used in other fields of healthcare. In the future, he hoped, psychiatry would have the courage to stand alone, and accept that ‘the mind is not simply another organ of the body’.

The excellent points put forward by both sides testified to Dr Bracken’s faith in the importance of debate. Indeed, he and Dr Callard swayed some fifty members of the audience into the ‘Against’ camp (although this was still just under two thirds of those who stood by the motion). The discussion, we hope, will not end here. Our forthcoming Museum of the Mind will cover both perspectives under the heading of ‘Labelling and Diagnosis’ and we welcome your comments on either side of the debate.

A recording is now available online at: Meanwhile, Dr Callard’s ‘Storify’ covers the wealth and breadth of responses to the topic:

Mystical Bedlam: Museums at Night

Last Thursday, we opened up after hours for Museums at Night 2013. We managed to squeeze a record number of visitors into the small space to explore ‘mystical Bedlam’ in the late nineteenth century. This free talk focused on the late nineteenth-century interest in hypnotism (about which we have previously blogged) as well as the involvement of several psychiatrists associated with Bethlem and psychical research, including Daniel Hack Tuke, George Savage and Theo B. Hyslop.

In 1906, Hyslop published a ‘sort-of novel’ (in the words of his obituarist, and successor at Bethlem, W.H.B. Stoddart). Laputa, Revisited by Gulliver Redivivus, was a satire of the customs and habits of the early twentieth century, based on the return of Gulliver to Laputa and the changes that he found there since his previous visit. Although published anonymously, it may have been obvious to readers that the book was written by a psychiatrist, for a good third of the text takes place inside the Laputan asylum. Here, Gulliver attends a lecture entitled ‘The Moon v. Green Cheese’, in which Hyslop satirises most psychological approaches of the day. Scottish surgeon James Braid, for example (well-known for his work on hypnotism in the first half of the nineteenth century), becomes the ‘Past and Present Grand Master of Black and White Magicians’, while the Society for Psychical Research is characterised as the ‘Society for Psychical Spook-Spotters (British and Foreign)’.

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It might be tempting to conclude from this that Hyslop found hypnotism and psychical research as a whole to be something of a joke. Yet the Laputan lecture is equally scathing about biological (evolutionary and determinist) approaches to mind. Indeed, when the lecture was first published in Bethlem’s Under the Dome in 1896 (as a talk from the ‘Bethlem Association for the Advancement of Science’), Hyslop was himself an Associate of the Society for Psychical Research, a position he maintained until at least 1901. He corresponded with French psychologist Pierre Janet, and published on ‘double consciousness’, in which he used examples of altered states that he had encountered at Bethlem. His connections also encouraged him to develop an open mind about symptoms of mental illness, such as hallucinations, which the Society for Psychical Research had discovered were more common among the ordinary population than had been previously assumed.

We hope at the Archives and Museum that a historical approach to mental health care can encourage critical thinking and enable complex issues to be thoughtfully addressed. At Museums at Night, we took the opportunity to ask people about the designs for the new Museum of the Mind, and got some detailed and extremely useful feedback. For online visitors, we’ll be repeating this process over the coming weeks with a series of short questionnaires focused around specific elements of the planned displays. All comments will be gratefully received, and help us to ensure that the new Bethlem Museum reflects the broadest possible range of interests and experiences.

To begin this process, we’d like to invite you to help to choose the logo for the new museum, from three designs suggested to us. To record your thoughts, click on the link below.

 Click here to take survey