Posts Tagged 'maudsley hospital'

Telling Admissions 1

This new thread, to which we intend to post in alternate months throughout 2013, is devoted to first-hand accounts of what it was like to have been admitted to a psychiatric hospital (‘sectioned’) under the UK Mental Health Act in the twenty years between 1975 and 1995. Many such accounts have been written, some by people in the public eye, others not. Their willingness to have details of their contact with mental health services in the public domain forms a powerful counter-weight to the secrecy, shame and stigma with which issues of mental ill-health are usually treated. This thread will highlight in turn a poet, a pop singer, an occupational therapist, a political advisor, a psychiatrist and an actor, all of whom have ‘gone public’ with their stories. It has been inspired by the remarks published on this blog in 2011 of someone who regarded her admission to Bethlem as “harder” and “a greater achievement…than getting into university”.

The first story, which we reproduce here without further comment, is that of the poet James Bellamy, who in the mid-1990s “was…sectioned at the age of 21 after nearly two years without treatment” for psychotic symptoms.

“When the psychiatrist and social worker arrived to take me away I was terrified and refused to co-operate. The fear that this day would come had haunted me for months, so I ran out of the house and managed to evade them. Two days later, they returned with two policemen and I remember being put in handcuffs, shut in a meat wagon and taken to the Maudsley Hospital. As I was carried away I was screaming, ‘What’s going to happen to me?’ and ‘What about my poetry?’ One of the reasons I shied away from treatment for so long is because I was scared I’d be shut away forever. Far from being locked away for good, I was told early on I would only be in hospital for a matter of weeks. This helped reassure me and start to trust the Maudsley, which I still do to this day.”1

1 Hannah Cordle et al, Psychosis: Stories of recovery and hope (Quay Books: London, 2011), p. 106.


Biography & Psychology VII: Henry Maudsley (1835 – 1918)

Henry Maudsley’s name is best remembered today – within the South London and Maudsley Trust, at least – for the Hospital he founded. In 1907, Maudsley offered £30,000 to the London County Council to set up a research hospital for the treatment of acute psychiatric cases. In the event, the Maudsley Hospital was not opened for civilian purposes until after its founder’s death, although it was used as a “Neurological Clearing Hospital” during the First World War.

Much has been written about Henry Maudsley, who was a prolific writer and highly regarded theorist within the nineteenth-century asylum movement. Born into a farming family, near Settle in the Yorkshire Dales, he later went into medicine and graduated from the University of London. The young man apparently contemplated becoming a surgeon and entering the Indian Medical Service but, on taking an appointment at the Essex County Asylum in order to gain experience of mental health services (required for work in the Indian service), he subsequently decided to specialise in the field. His textbooks on the Pathology and Physiology of Mind went into a number of editions, and Maudsley was one of the most well-known psychiatrists of the second half of the nineteenth century, both within asylum psychiatry and beyond.

Henry Maudsley was known personally by doctors at Bethlem, and it was his contemporary and former Bethlem superintendent George Savage who penned an obituary of the great thinker for the Journal of Mental Science. Savage’s article is both intriguing and amusing, claiming to provide a view of Maudsley as he was, as he appeared to others, and as he appeared to himself. The obituary has often been taken to suggest a deeper enmity between the two gentlemen, who certainly argued over a number of issues, not least that of mechanical restraint. But there nonetheless does remain a strong note of friendship within Savage’s text, littered as it is with minor anecdotes about Maudsley’s character: his pride in his appearance which apparently encouraged scrupulous care of his hands, a love of cricket that resulted in a trip to Australia to “see the best of [… it] in its best home” and his “Gladstonian” habit of sending critical postcards, of which Savage had a personal collection he had headed “Maudsley’s Fire”!

Savage regarded Maudsley as a great humanitarian, who, in pursuing grand causes, had little time and inclination to relate to individual men around him. This was the complete opposite of Savage, described by friends as the “most clubbable man I ever knew” (i.e. shown to be popular by his membership of large numbers of social and professional societies). This opposition was reflected in the approaches of the two to psychiatric treatment. Maudsley, who left asylum psychiatry early in his career, preferred a theoretical understanding of mental illness, emphasising universal benevolence and the principles of non-restraint on the one hand and a pessimistic biological view of illness on the other (if insanity was inherited, cure might be a hopeless task). Savage, meanwhile, tended towards an individual approach, taking into account the wide variety of social and environmental factors acting on each patient, while insisting that, in some cases, mechanical restraint was absolutely necessary.

Different as the two men were, they appear to have remained in touch well beyond Maudsley’s asylum days, and Savage concluded his obituary on a sentimental note. With Maudsley’s death, he felt:

“So there passes from our sight a powerful and graceful influence, one with deep human sympathy, masked, to some extent, by reasonable cynicism. His influence was wholly for good, though one feels, with all the poetry and beauty of his writings, there is a want of some definite faith … And so we leave his influence to spread, as were his ashes, on the land he loved.”1

1 George Savage “Henry Maudsley” Journal of Mental Science, 64 (1918), 117-123

Henry Maudsley

Image: Wellcome Library, London

In the Spotlight: Relatives 1

We are about halfway through our 2011 series of blog posts that put former patients of note In the Spotlight. This month and next we are taking a slight detour from the original rationale of the series in order to highlight a number of Bethlem patients who are rather less well known than one or more of their relatives. Their ‘celebrity’, such as it was, was unsought, and theirs was a reflected glory. This month we focus on relatives of four people associated with Bethlem or the Maudsley; next month we turn our attention to relatives of people who were otherwise in the public eye.

George William Dadd was admitted to Bethlem in the same year (1843) as his artist brother Richard, Richard being of course one of Bethlem’s most notable patients, the subject of an ongoing exhibition at Orleans House Gallery in Twickenham and a new book by Nicholas Tromans. Like his brother, George spent the remainder of his life in hospital, dying in 1868; unlike him, he had committed no crime and was not confined in Bethlem’s Criminal Lunatic Department. Security was such in this ward that it is unlikely that the brothers ever met in hospital, despite being under the one roof.

Anna Maria Haydon was admitted as a Hospital patient in 1866 and, like the younger Dadd, stayed there until her death in 1899. She was the sister of George Henry Haydon, long-serving Bethlem Steward, one-time colonial explorer and author of Five Years in Australia Felix (London, 1846). Anna’s thirty-three year stay in an institution that divested itself of most of its uncured patients on after twelve months is probably an index of the esteem in which her brother was held throughout the Hospital. There is more about Haydon (George, that is) in the Australian Dictionary of National Biography.

Frances Ada Hood, daughter-in-law to Dr W. Charles Hood, Bethlem’s reforming Resident Physician of the 1850s, was brought for admission to the Hospital by her husband Basil Hood on 31 December 1887. Like Anna Haydon, she did not recover at Bethlem. Unlike her, however, she did not remain there. Despite representations made by the Lunacy Commissioners for an extension to her stay in consideration of the services her father-in-law had rendered to the Hospital, she was discharged uncured after twelve months, and transferred to Berry Wood Asylum in Northamptonshire, staying there 26 years before a further transfer to Coton Hill Hospital in Stafford.

Mary Mapother was a Bethlem patient for two months at the age of thirty-five in 1908, and for a later three-year period. She also had periods of residence in Burgess Hill Hospital in Sussex and Coton Hill Hospital in Stafford. Her 1908 admission papers were signed by her younger brother Edward, then a medical student at University College Hospital. Later that year, Edward joined the staff of Long Grove Asylum, where he worked until the outbreak of the First World War. After distinguished service in the Royal Army Medical Corps, Edward was appointed by the Ministry of Pensions to run the Maudsley Hospital, which had been requisitioned by the military. Then, when the Maudsley was turned over to civilian use in the early 1920s, he was re-appointed by London County Council as the Maudsley’s medical superintendent, a post which he held throughout the remainder of that decade and the entirety of the one that followed. Edward Mapother is generally credited with setting the new hospital on a course which led to an international reputation for excellence in psychiatric research and teaching as well as clinical practice. The fact of his sister Mary’s admission to Bethlem in the closing months of his medical training raises the intriguing possibility that the experience of mental distress within Edward’s own family had some bearing upon the trajectory of his eminent medical career.

Charles Hood

Photograph of Sir William Charles Hood

Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives & Museum

In the Frame for June 2011

For this month’s In the Frame we have chosen William Kurelek’s Out of the Maze, the rarely-seen sequel to one of the best known artworks on exhibition in Bethlem Museum, The Maze. Born and bred within Canada’s Ukrainian community, William Kurelek (1927-1977) spent seven of his most formative years in England. He arrived while in his mid-twenties in 1952 with “two express purposes”, as he later put it. “One was to complete my art schooling – at that point in my life I was already convinced my vocation was to be an artist – the other was to get into a [psychiatric] hospital where I might find a cure for my chronic depression and my inexplicable eye pains”.1 The day after his arrival, he admitted himself to the Maudsley Hospital in London, having read of its reputation in a Montreal library prior to embarking on his travels.2 The Maze was a product of Kurelek’s time at the Maudsley. It depicts the artist lying partially decapitated in a wheat field, his skull flipped forward to reveal a series of compartments containing various memories, fears and obsessions. A white rat lies trapped and senseless in the centre of the picture.

Many years after his recovery from psychiatric illness (which he attributed not to his hospital treatment but to his conversion to Christianity and his reception into the Roman Catholic Church), Kurelek – by then an artist of some repute in his native country – executed a sequel to The Maze and returned to the Maudsley to present it as a gift. Out of the Maze displays a narrative sequence which takes up where The Maze left off. In left foreground, a bisected skull lies abandoned in the Canadian prairie, its unwilling occupant having long since escaped. In the middle distance, a young family has found a picnic spot, and are saying grace together. Kurelek has placed his own family into this idealized scene: himself, his wife Jean, and his four children. He is truly at home now, patently at peace with himself, his family, his native landscape, and with the God to whom he prays.

Nevertheless, the scene is not altogether idyllic. A mushroom cloud at the top right of the picture presages impending disaster. It should be remembered that Kurelek lived all his adult years in the shadow of the Cold War. His belief that the earth would be shortly ravaged by nuclear conflagration, and its beauty destroyed, was at least plausible in its time. His particular sense of vocation as an artist grew out of this conviction, as if  in response to a call issued by Dr Morris Carstairs, formerly his doctor at the Maudsley, in an article on art and psychiatry:

“A few years ago [wrote Carstairs] the writer had occasion to treat a young, self-taught Canadian painter, whose pictures showed certain affinities with those of Bosch, except that where Bosch was obsessed with the imminent destruction of humanity, this patient was for a time preoccupied exclusively with his own tortured ruminations, his own nightmarish fantasies and his sense of being trapped and helpless…Where, I wonder, is the contemporary artist who can turn his innocent eye upon the nightmare realities of this era with its threat of nuclear annihilation? We need a Goya or a Hieronymous Bosch today to quicken our sense of urgency of the human predicament before it is too late.”3

Last month Out of the Maze went on display in the Museum alongside The Maze and Nightmare, where it is likely to stay until at least October 2011. Die-hard Kurelekistas may want to start saving their pennies in order to visit the major Kurelek retrospective exhibition planned to open in Canada in 2012.

[1] Kurelek, Someone With Me (McClelland and Stewart: Toronto, 1980), page 7.

[2] Kurelek, Someone With Me (Cornell University Press: Ithaca NY, 1973), page 289; (McClelland and Stewart: Toronto, 1980), page 8.

[3] Kurelek, Someone With Me (Cornell University Press: Ithaca NY, 1973), pages 521-522; (McClelland and Stewart: Toronto, 1980), pages 174-175.

Out of the Maze

Art and the Imagination

Blog readers may be interested in one or other of the following two events.

First, a premiere screening of Thou Art, a film on community outsider art practice produced in partnership with the Bethlem Gallery, will take place at Tate Modern on Friday 10 June at 2.30pm. It will be followed by a panel discussion on the status of outsider art, with opportunity for audience participation.

Second, the Royal College of Art’s conference entitled Imagining Imagination will take place in London on 10-11 June. Readers may remember Phantasmagoria, a temporary exhibition curated last year for the Bethlem Gallery which featured artworks created as part of a series of deliberate experiments at the Maudsley Hospital in the 1930s into the hallucinogenic effects of the drug mescaline. If so, they will be interested to know that the conference will feature a paper comparing and contrasting these works with the output of contemporary artists whose unforced visionary experiences have formed part of their creative subject matter. This paper will be co-presented by the Gallery Co-ordinator, who will be doing her best to be in two places at one time, as she is also involved in the event at Tate Modern!


In the Spotlight: Philip O’Connor

In last month’s In the Spotlight, we wrote of the oft-supposed link between ‘genius’ and ‘madness’ that “without ever coalescing into a testable hypothesis, …finds anecdotal support within both popular culture and academic discourse”. An example we might have cited is that of the bohemian writer and poet Philip O’Connor (1916-1998), who (in his autobiographical Memoirs of a Public Baby) admitted that at one time he had shared the “prevailing scientifically ignorant conception of neurosis as the unemployed, wasted part of imaginative talent”. O’Connor’s own experience of psychological imbalance and hospitalisation must have contributed to his eventual rejection of such an easy identification. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and admitted to the Maudsley Hospital at the age of twenty on 21 September 1936, declaring (according to his autobiography) that, whilst willing to be there, he had no hope of changing.


O’Connor despised his doctors: “I couldn’t believe them capable of understanding me, and certainly didn’t want them to…They appeared to me desperately on the outside of a world they’d give their world to enter; I treated them as unprivileged gate-crashers.” Yet of the Maudsley he wrote: “I liked the place very much, being allowed more or less to do as I pleased, painting, writing and not having to ‘work’; and certainly having my psyche seriously considered wasn’t, in a coarse way, unflattering”. The atmosphere on the ward he found “normal” but “heightened”. Of one memorable night, that of 30 November 1936, he wrote “I awoke as from a trance, and, in the glare of the Crystal Palace which was burning – we could see it from the veranda where we slept – I caught a snap-glimpse of other patients, some dressed, and felt them, from their clothes mostly, to be thrillingly contemporary, of today, absolutely, and I imagined an element of cure in this experience…”


O’Connor’s recovery, though sufficient to warrant his discharge on 20 March 1937, did not serve to lift his spirits. “I left…with the consciousness of having become a grubby, conventional ‘intellectual’; and that a thick glass pane, as is proper to such ‘intellectuals’, had been fixed between me and the world”. If the Maudsley was O’Connor’s university, he certainly rued his graduation. “I felt old, cynical, departmentalised, my mind in its sensory remove from the world working much harder and more consistently, but lacking the original spurts and ‘inspirations’, and on a thinner diet”.


Nevertheless, the Maudsley seems to have been the accidental crucible of O’Connor’s future career. On admission, his occupation was given as ‘painter’, and he is the one person included in this series of posts whose artistic work features in the collections of the Archives & Museum. As part of an experiment conducted by Drs Eric Guttman and Walter Maclay (which was recently the subject of a temporary exhibition at the Bethlem Gallery) O’Connor was given the drug mescaline and asked to represent its hallucinogenic effects in his art (an example of which is given below). Yet O’Connor’s first piece of published poetry was written while he was in hospital, and seeing his name in print set him on the literary course for which he subsequently became known.

There is more about Philip O’Connor in Andrew Barrow’s Quentin and Philip: A Double Portrait (MacMillan, 2002).

Lovely (2)

Letter to America 2

Continuing this earlier post.

The address given by Dr Weir Mitchell to the American Medico-Psychological Association, which was the occasion of Dr John Batty Tuke writing to him in 1894, was one of censure and admonition of his asylum doctor audience:

The whole asylum system is, in my opinion, wrong, and has been let to harden into organized shapes which are difficult to reform…

There should, I think, be in America somewhere one large, perfected hospital for the possibly curable insane, and it should of need, include a home for the education and uplifting of the chronic and hopelessly insane…

There [should be] no bars, no locked doors. … I see you smile. It has been tried, I believe, and has not been found impossible.

(The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, vol . 21, no. 7 (July 1894), pp. 432-434.)

Reading this address prompted Dr Tuke to (somewhat fawning) agreement and self-exculpation:

Reform is needed here as well as with you. As Hospitals our Asylums are useless. Let me remind you that twenty-five years ago I abolished all locks and keys in the County Asylum of which I was then Superintendent…

I shall send you soon a copy … of my evidence given before the London County Council, advocating the erection and maintenance of a Curative Hospital. It is Hospitals we want…

I may add that I have been well nigh ostracized by the Mad-Doctors in Great Britain.

Dr Tuke’s letter to America puts us in mind of earlier efforts made by others, including his namesake Daniel Hack Tuke, to familiarize themselves with best (and worst) asylum practice of continental Europe (efforts which have been the subject of previous comment, and are documented here). The sentiments shared by Mitchell and Tuke also find echoes in the establishment by London County Council of a pathological research laboratory at Claybury Hospital in 1895, and the joint efforts of Drs Frederick Mott (the laboratory’s director) and Henry Maudsley to establish a LCC hospital for early inpatient and outpatient treatment of acute mental disorder. Mott and Maudsley’s proposals, oulined in a document held here at the Archives & Museum (and pictured below), were at length successful, but that’s another story…