Archive for the 'News' Category

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.

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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!


First Person Narratives 5

In August and September we published a string of posted entitled First Person Narratives. Today we present a short coda to this sequence; although in truth a series like this could go on and on. Last weekend’s Guardian drew attention to the story of the painter Kim Noble, the woman with 100 personalities. She has written a book charting her experience of dissociative identity disorder, one of the most contested psychiatric diagnoses of the nearly 300 that appear in the fourth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. ‘I don’t ever know if I am coming or going’, she told the Guardian journalist. ‘I could switch [identities] at a door, like at the doctor’s surgery, and think, ‘Have I just been in?’

Coming or Going Man is the poignant title Kim (or ‘Abi’) gave to one of the works of art she contributed to the Outside In exhibition at Pallant House Gallery in 2009. It has since come into our collection here at the Archives & Museum. All of Me: My Incredible Story of How I Learned to Live with the Many Personalities Sharing my Body is published today by Piatkus Books.

Staff Change at the Archives and Museum

Our visit to the Imperial War Museum’s Dome Chapel a few months ago ago marked a major change in the life of the Archives and Museum: the retirement of the Head of Archives and Museum, J. Michael Phillips. Michael has headed the museum for over seven years, leading us through an increase in visitor numbers, education and outreach services, and ensuring the Archives and Museum became fully integrated into the Hospital’s efforts to increase public understanding of, and destigmatise mental illness.

Michael has also headed the Archives and Museum’s relocation Steering Group, raising funds for the new Archives and Museum. His successor, Victoria Northwood, will take over this project as we move towards our fundraising target and develop plans for the new museum. Victoria has previously worked at the Globe Theatre, where exhibitions around last year’s Bedlam play explored links between art, theatre and mental health. We are sorry to see Michael leave, and wish him a long and happy retirement, but look forward to a new and exciting era, with the relocation now seemingly in sight.

In the Dome, Michael kindly presented the Archives and Museum with a new addition to the collection – one of the few artists from the Hospital’s history not already represented – a sketch, by Dr Thomas Monro, which may appear in a future In the Frame post. Monro, the third of his family to occupy the position of Bethlem Physician, was physician from 1787 until his resignation in 1816, following the investigation of the Select Committee into Bethlem the previous year. However, Monro was also well-known as an art collector, being a patron of many well-known artists, as well as an amateur artist himself.


Dr Thomas Monro (1759 – 1833)

A Temple by a River

Bethlem in the News… and an Open Day at Warlingham Park

The history of Bethlem, in relation to two of the Hospital’s former sites, has appeared in the news on several recent occasions. Many of our readers will, I’m sure, have seen the reports in early April on the discovery of as many as a thousand skeletons, unearthed by archaeologists close to Bethlem’s original site on Bishopsgate, outside the City walls. The Hospital was located here from 1247 until it moved to a new building in nearby Moorfields, designed by Robert Hooke, in 1676. This grand baroque building dominated the area until its closure in 1815

The BBC posted a map showing an area labelled “Bethlehem Churchyard,” located to the side of Moorfields (an unlabelled space between Moorfields and the red circle on the (later) map below), indicating this to be the site where the skeletons were found. While it was suggested that this formed the Hospital’s burial ground, this was not, in fact, the case. Research on the first Hospital, the Priory of St Mary of Bethlehem, has indicated that this relatively open site was closely connected with the surrounding parish, which was built up around it. In Chapters in the History of the Insane (1882), Daniel Hack Tuke cites the creation of a new churchyard from part of the hospital’s grounds, on the Moorfields side, in 1569. This churchyard was used “for burial in case of such parishes of London as wanted ground convenient”: lack of space in City churchyards was a common problem by this time. Patients admitted to Bethlem were usually recommended by their local parish officer: that parish (or the patient’s family) was thus responsible for the burial of those who died in the Hospital. Although it is not impossible that some of these individuals were buried in the “New Churchyard near Bethlem” (as it was initially named), they were no more likely to be buried here than any other London resident. Moreover, the number of patients in the early Hospital was tiny: in 1598, there were just twenty inmates, so a thousand skeletons would be a somewhat surprising legacy!

The Hospital’s move in 1676 allowed for an expansion, with about 80 patients now admitted per year (there was always a waiting list, between about 200 and 320 patients). An article in The Australian recently suggested, rather misleadingly, that “England’s oldest psychiatric institution is up for sale.” The article refers to the sale of Salisbury House, built in 1901 on the side of Finsbury Circus, formerly the new Hospital in Moorfields. Having moved twice more since the early nineteenth century, Bethlem Hospital has, however, not been sold off, and remains in its current location in Beckenham, Kent.

What is not true of Bethlem – that it maintained a cemetery for its patients, and that it has been closed and sold off – is, however, true of one of its sister institutions, Warlingham Park Hospital. This hospital was opened in 1903 to accommodate the Borough of Croydon’s ‘pauper lunatics’, and closed in March 1999, by which time responsibility for Croydon mental health services had passed to the (then) Bethlem and Maudsley NHS Trust. Residential housing now occupies the site of the hospital, but not of the cemetery, which is now disused. This is not the place to recount the history of Warlingham Park Hospital – we hope that by the end of this year there will be a section of the Archives & Museum website devoted to doing just that – but blog readers may be interested to know that next Sunday, 15 May 2011, there will be an Open Day at Warlingham Park’s cemetery.

Bethlem sites 1 and 2 map

The Book of the Series

UK-based blog readers may be interested in the Woman’s Hour Drama to be broadcast each weekday next week on Radio 4 at 10.45am (repeated at 7.45pm, and available for a limited time thereafter on iPlayer). It will be based on extracts from two limited-edition books compiled by David Clegg of The Trebus Project from interviews with dementia sufferers. The first print runs of Ancient Mysteries and Tell Mrs Mill Her Husband is Still Dead are almost sold out – they might be collectors’ items by this time next week – but readers of this blog who are quick to contact the author using the details available on The Trebus Project website  may not have to wait for the reprint. The alternative, of course, is simply to tune in to the dramatised broadcasts for a series of narrative insights into living with dementia that promises authenticity and poignancy without heavy-handedness.


Little did we know, when we recommended the Tate’s Watercolour exhibition earlier this month, that mention would be made of Bethlem Hospital on BBC1’s documentary Sheila Hancock Brushes Up: The Art of Watercolours (available to UK viewers via iPlayer). Regular returners to this blog may expect to read about two of the people Hancock mentions in connection with the Hospital (John Cozens and the mother of J.M.W. Turner) in our In the Spotlight series of posts later this year. In the meantime, be warned: the documentary is only available to view on iPlayer until this coming Sunday!

Our Corner of London

Those whose plans to visit the Archives & Museum (to honour their group booking or other appointment) were frustrated by the weather last week may like to know that a thaw is currently in progress, and that we are maintaining our usual opening hours of 9.30am to 4.30pm, Monday to Friday. The Affordable Art Fair continues on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, 11am to 6pm at the Bethlem Gallery – a great place to find a unique Christmas gift. Those who still have Christmas cards to buy and are in striking distance of the Archives & Museum may like to know that we are selling overstocks of our ‘Bethlem Chapel in the snow’ and ‘Christmas Sun’ cards at an extremely reasonable price. (We’re sorry, but it’s too late for us to accept email or telephone orders for these)

A word of warning, however: at the time of writing, side roads and pavements remain icy and extremely hazardous for drivers and pedestrians alike in our corner of London. Do take care, and call ahead if in any doubt.

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Bethlem Chapel cosseted in snow