Posts Tagged 'Georgian Bethlem'

Location, Location 2

Whereas “old Bethlem was built over a regularly blocked common sewer”, as we reported on this thread in January, new Bethlem (built in 1676 half a mile to the west at Moorfields, on the south side of what is now Finsbury Circus) “suffered from subsidence upon the site of the old city ditch, used as a dump for rubbish and waste”.1 Yet this unpromising fact was invisible to the building’s first admirers. Robert Hooke’s Bethlem Hospital at Moorfields was “London’s first great public construction in half a century [after the Royal Exchange and the Custom House]… surpassing the other two in size, stylishness, ornament and, not least, superb siting”, 2 the Moorfields area then being known for the relatively pure (and, it was supposed, restorative) quality of its air. It was built on a strip of land 740 feet wide and 80 feet deep, which Bethlem’s Governors had secured on a 999-year lease at a nominal rent from the City of London. “Most fundamental to understanding” its architectural grandeur, according to the historian Christine Stevenson, “is the [Bethlem] Governors’ conception of Hooke’s building as the home of an ancient Christian charity, one all the more noble because [it was thought that] its recipients could not be grateful nor, indeed, comprehend the nobility of the building”.3 The irony of this was not lost on seventeenth century commentators, one of whom wrote cynically:
“Bedlam is a pleasant Place, that it is, and abounds with Amusements; the first of which is the building so stately a Fabrick for Persons wholly unsensible of the Beauty and Use of it: the Outside is a perfect Mockery to the Inside, and Admits of two Amusing Queries, Whether the Persons that ordered the Building of it, or those that inhabit it, were the maddest?”4
However dramatic the siting of the building, however admirable its architectural aspirations, by the end of the eighteenth century considerations such as these had been overtaken by pressing engineering concerns. “Want of skill or attention are obvious in the carpentry of the walls and floors, below the roofs; there being no bond, or tyes, between the several parts, which should have been strongly connected”, wrote James Lewis, the Hospital’s Surveyor, in 1800 – or, as Christine Stevenson puts it, “Nothing aside from the tie-beams…actually joined the front to the back. No floor was level, no wall upright.”5 In the opinion of Lewis, “the present condition of the building is not in such a state as to warrant any other repair to be made thereto, than to preserve it…by such works as may be requisite…it is incurable.”6 With over 85% of their 999-year tenure remaining, Bethlem’s Governors were obliged to contemplate another move.
1 Jonathan Andrews et al, The History of Bethlem (Routledge, 1997), p. 206.
2ibid., pp. 230-231.
3ibid., p. 252.
4 …cited in ibid., p. 232.
5ibid., p. 252.
6 James Lewis, Report respecting the present state and condition of BethlemHospital (London, 1800).

 photo NewBedlaminMoorfieldsinnewbed_zps85671feb.jpg


Chance Encounters in the Museum 4

Here we resume a series of posts detailing some of the unanticipated intersections of interest that museum visitors bring to our notice from time to time. Regular readers may recall that the first in the series concerned a scholar who came a considerable distance solely to see Cauis Gabriel Cibber’s statues of ‘Raving and Melancholy Madness’. Many others have beaten a path to our door for the same reason, among them Nicholas Roe, Professor of English at the University of St Andrews. His new biography of John Keats is published this month by Yale University Press.

The publisher’s blurb states that “Roe is the first biographer to provide a full and fresh account of Keats’ childhood in the City of London and how it shaped the would-be poet”, and that “the mysterious early death of Keats’ father, his mother’s too-swift remarriage, living in the shadow of the notorious madhouse Bedlam – all these affected Keats far more than has been previously understood”. Readers of the biography will discover that Professor Roe locates the intersection between the life of the poet and the life of the Hospital precisely at the foot of Cibber’s statues, in the shadow of which Keats spent his childhood, and which (according to Roe) “lingered deep in his memory as gigantic embodiments of anguish, awaiting their summons to reappear as the fallen Titans in Hyperion”.1

 “Instead of thrones, hard flint they sat upon,
Couches of rugged stone, and slaty ridge
Stubborn’d with iron.

Dungeon’d in opaque element, to keep
Their clenched teeth still clench’d, and all their limbs
Lock’d up like veins of metal, crampt and screw’d;
Without a motion, save of their big hearts,
Heaving in pain, and horribly convulsed…”2

Those who are captivated by Cibber’s statues will be interested to know that our Archivist is delivering a public lecture about them at St Bartholomew’s Hospital Pathology Museum on the evening of Wednesday 14 November (the talk is sold out, but demand has been such that we aim to offer a similar session in our Saturday lecture series for 2013); and those who are equally captivated by Keats may visit the Facebook page for the new book.

1 Nicholas Roe, John Keats. A New Life (Yale University Press, 2012), p. 16.

2 ibid., p. 273.

John Keats - Wellcome Library London

In the Spotlight: John Robert Cozens and Bernardo Amiconi

This month we feature two artists, only one of whom was ever a Bethlem patient, the other being widely (and mistakenly) reported to have been such. One was a pioneer watercolourist of Georgian England; the other was an Italian artist of the Victorian age whose biography has been forgotten to such an extent that all our efforts at research have so far ended in frustration.

The works of landscape artist John Robert Cozens (1752-1797) exerted a remote but formative influence on English Romantic painters such as J.M.W. Turner and John Constable, and were the subject of a documentary on watercolours recently shown on BBC1. The documentary’s narrator recounted what has come to be the received version of Cozens’ final years:

A doctor diagnosed him as suffering from ‘a decay of the nervous system’. Today, we’d call it a breakdown. At the age of 42, he was committed to the lunatic asylum, Bedlam. There is a final, bittersweet twist to Cozens’ story. The doctor that looked after him in Bedlam happened to be an art collector, and recognising Cozens’ brilliance, he bought up his pictures, and used to hold get-togethers of up-and-coming young artists, and he would sit them down and suggest that they copied Cozens’ work. Thus it was that a future generation of watercolourists were inspired by a man languishing in an asylum.

This is the received version, but it is incorrect in one important particular. John Cozens certainly was a patient of Thomas Monro, Bethlem’s physician from 1787 to 1816, but he was never a patient at Bethlem. Admissions to the eighteenth-century Hospital were not only restricted to those whose prognosis was promising – as previously noted on this blog – they were overwhelmingly constituted of paupers and the ‘middling sort’. Gentlemen suffering ‘a decay of the nervous system’ would consult ‘mad doctors’ such as Thomas Monro in a private capacity, if at all. This seems to have been exactly what happened to John Cozens: in February 1794 he was received into Dr Monro’s private care, and December 1797 he died whilst still in it. 1

By contrast with Cozens, whose life and works have been the subject of much comment and criticism, the London-based Italian artist Bernardo Amiconi seems to have left little biographical trace, at least online. We can say that Amiconi was brought to Bethlem Hospital at the age of 48 in mid 1877, fresh from being apprehended by police in the course of attempting to enter Buckingham Palace. Apparently he had claimed not only an appointment with Her Majesty, but a shared nuptial understanding. Within six months, he had died in the Hospital, the inevitable outcome of so-called ‘general paralysis of the insane’, a terminal neurological condition for which no pathological description, let alone cure, was available in the nineteenth century. Why (in the light of Bethlem’s restrictions on admission) was he allowed into Bethlem in the first place? Those suffering from general paralysis “would not be admitted if the Committee acted strictly within the limits of the regulations”, wrote the Hospital’s Physician Superintendent  in 1883, but “if [GPI] be not studied in a hospital like Bethlem, which is essentially a hospital for cure and alleviation, I do not see much prospect for its future relief”. In short, Bethlem made an exception to its rules of admission for patients suffering from general paralysis (and then only for those whose families were able to pay for their hospital care). A cure for GPI was eventually found, but not at Bethlem and in any case not until the twentieth century, too late for Bernardo Amiconi and many others like him. To our knowledge, the world awaits a connected narrative of Amiconi’s life and works. We would be glad to hear from anyone who can supply reliable sources on the subject.

1 A.P. Oppé, Alexander and John Robert Cozens (London: A&C Black, 1952), pp. 116-119.

Getting into Georgian Bethlem 3

In previous posts we described the restrictions placed on admissions to Bethlem Hospital, and to its ‘incurable’ ward, in the eighteenth century, and told the first of two stories of attempts made to gain admission for a patient. The second concerns Sarah Lufkin of Little Bentley near Manningtree, Essex, who came into the Hospital on 16 February 1782, and was discharged uncured on 15 February of the following year, in strict accordance with the previously-described rules governing admission and discharge. Mrs Lufkin was considered a ‘fit Object’ for transfer to Bethlem’s ‘incurable’ ward, but had to go on the waiting list for a vacancy. It took seven years for her to be offered a place, and a letter written to the Hospital by Sarah’s son John Lufkin is preserved in the archives.

‘My Brothers, Sisters and myself have Deliberated on the matter,’ John wrote, ‘and although her who has been one of the tenderest Mothers still continue in a state of Insanity, I leve [sic] you to judge from your own feelings if it would not be a heard, very heard work for us to part from her and perhaps never to see her more.’ This was no exaggeration on John’s part. Little Bentley was at least two days’ coach journey away from London in the eighteenth century, and the fare was not cheap.

By 1790 Sarah Lufkin’s children had been seven years without Bethlem’s assistance in caring for her. ‘Ever since she left London she has been in a very Creditable Famaly [sic] where she is treated with the greatest kindness and has every Indulgence a person in her Situation can have, and where we can see her as often as we please as the Distance is only half a mile from our own Famaly.’ What would they do, then, with Bethlem’s renewed offer of help?

‘Although it is a very heavy Expence’, John Lufkin continued, ‘we hope with the Blessing of God to be able to support her till it shall please the Lord to release her from her heavy affliction, for can we do two [sic] much for a good Parent’? That John Lufkin’s filial devotion was shot through with practicality is evidenced by the next (and effectively last) line of his letter: ‘Sir, if we omit this opportunity and if at a futer [sic] time any thing unforeseen should happen so that we find the Expence more than we are able to support, could she then at a Vacancy be admitted’? No record survives of the answer given by the Hospital, but we may surmise that, if that it stuck by its rules, the answer would probably have been ‘No’.

Getting into Georgian Bethlem 2

Correspondence between two eighteenth century solicitors, currently being edited for publication by the Sussex Record Society, provides an unexpected insight into how the rules of admission to Bethlem Hospital (described in an earlier post) functioned in practice at that time. We are grateful to the editor of these letters for drawing our attention to this example, and for permission to cite it here.

On 12 November 1745, James Collier of Hastings wrote to John Collier ‘in relation to the unhappy affair of Mary Cousens, whom my uncle and I though a proper person’ for admission to Bethlem.

‘I shall be able I beleive [sic] to have some respite in regard to her removal, and when the committee are known, shall endeavour to get her minuted down for the ward of the incurables which depends principally upon the report of Dr Monro; and I am glad to find that our case, viz. a raving madness, is a circumstance that particularly induces the committee to send such poor people there.’

In seeking a place for Mary Cousens at Bethlem, Mr Collier was acting as a professional agent of the Hastings authorities legally and financially responsible for the care of all ‘pauper lunatics’ resident within their parish boundaries. His communications with Bethlem’s Physician, Dr Monro, seem to have been conducted via a third party. At any rate, he had been poorly advised. As noted in the previous post in this series, in the ordinary course of events patients were not admitted directly to the ‘incurable’ department, and people judged ‘incurable’ would not be admitted to the Hospital in the first place.

While he hoped for a Bethlem admission for Mary, James Collier did not put all his eggs in one basket. ‘By next post, I shall be able to acquaint you with certainty what will be done as to Guy’s hospital,’ his letter to John continues. ‘They never suffer anybody to enter there, who has once been in bedlam, and I am afraid private madhouses will be attended with great expence.’

How did matters turn out? From a second letter, written by James Collier to John nine days later, it appears that Mary lived under Bethlem’s roof while being assessed for admission, but was not in the event admitted. ‘Mary Cousens is not as yet removed out of Bethlem hospitall [sic], but it is impossible to get her continued there’, he writes. ‘Mr Alnright of Lambeth marsh will take her for one month upon trial for 8sh per week, but if her distemper is such as to require a more than ordinary attendance, he will have more.’ With an eye to parish finances, Mr Collier would have preferred Bethlem to relent, an outcome for which he continued to hope against hope. ‘I don’t despair at present of getting her minuted down in the list of persons who are to supply the vacancys in the ward of incurables.’ In the event, however, Mary Cousens’ name does not appear in any of the Hospital’s admission registers, incurable or otherwise. Where she went, we cannot say.

Getting into Georgian Bethlem 1

The restrictions on admission to and discharge from Bethlem Hospital in the eighteenth century often come as a surprise to first-time researchers. (So, incidentally, does the language in which these restrictions were expressed). ‘Mopes, Persons afflicted with the Palsy, or subject to Convulsive or Epileptic Fits, or such as are become weak through Age or long Illness are not proper Objects of this Charity,’ according to the Hospital’s printed admission regulations.

In other words, the Georgian Hospital wished to focus its therapeutic efforts on those patients it regarded as most amenable to recovery, and commonly discharged uncured those who had not recovered within a year of admission. For example, 60% of patients admitted between 1694 and 1718 stayed no longer than twelve months, and a further 16% stayed no longer than twenty-four.

To ameliorate the hardship sometimes caused by discharging patients uncured, the Hospital opened a new ward in the 1720s in which ‘incurable’ patients could remain. Those still unwell twelve months after admission were assessed as to whether they were ‘fit’ and ‘proper Objects’ for this ‘Charity’. Space in this ward was at a premium, however. The majority of uncured patients were judged ‘unfit’ upon discharge, and even the patients considered ‘fit Objects’ for transfer had to wait until a vacancy became available on the ‘incurable’ ward.

But here’s the thing: patients could not be admitted to the ‘incurable’ department directly; they arrived there only by internal transfer. So those considered incurable at the outset were not admitted at all. Here we see Georgian Bethlem striving hard to avoid becoming in reality what it was in uninformed popular imagination: a warehouse of human misery. Its primary strategy was to enforce its published strictures on entry. Admission petitions ‘will be laid before the Committee… who…will make an Order as soon as there is a Vacancy, for the Patient to be brought to be Viewed as Examined by them and the Physician, and to be then admitted, if [and only if] a proper Object’.

The published histories of the Hospital often turn attention to its famous (or infamous) patients. But in blog posts to follow, the Archivist will describe attempts to find places in Bethlem’s ‘incurable’ ward for two ‘ordinary’ people of the eighteenth century…attempts which, as we will see, soon ran into difficulty.

'New Bedlam in Moorfields' in newbed

Georgian Bethlem, in Moorfields