Posts Tagged 'museum'

The History of the World in 100 Objects

As the British Museum gears up to reveal their 100th object today, we have added several items from our collection to the History of the World site, incorporating elements of the history of madness and mental health treatment from the Hospital’s founding in 1247 up to the present day.

The life-size statues of “Raving and Melancholy Madness,” were displayed at the entrance to Bethlem Hospital from 1676, have already been mentioned on this blog (here and here). As significant London landmarks of their time, these statues became symbolic of “human mental misery” (as a nineteenth century news reporter described it) for visitors from around the globe. As one German travel writer wrote in the late eighteenth century, “These two figures show so much truth and expressiveness that they equal the best sculptures in Westminster Abbey.”

More difficult to present, perhaps, are the eighteenth century restraint devices pictured below: nonetheless, these form a significant aspect of the history of mental health treatment in many areas of the world. Until the Victorian era, hospital patients that threatened violence against themselves or others were physically restrained from acting on their threats by a panoply of devices and garments engineered for the purpose, usually applied temporarily but sometimes for prolonged periods. These gradually fell into disuse upon the advent of the non-restraint movement, which swept the public asylums of England in the 1840s, and were banned altogether from Bethlem in 1853. Interestingly, Bethlem retained what it had come to regard as the “revolting instruments of mechanical coercion” as material evidence both of its history and of its progress. Today, these objects remind of the ongoing debate concerning involuntary detention, seclusion and chemical restraint.

Find us on The History of the World website.

Iron Belt and Wrist Manacles with Keys


Inquisitive Londoners

In mid-May we told you how the Archives & Museum’s Registrar uses her spare time: studying for a degree in Museum Studies, and curating a student exhibition. That exhibition passed off successfully, as did another the Registrar developed for the Bethlem Gallery. She is now working on a new one.

Not to be outdone, last month the Archivist made a bid to comprehend the world of museums from the sister world of archives by participating in a two-week seminar on London museums, co-ordinated by Johns Hopkins University and hosted by the University of Westminster. The seminar comprised visits to many of London’s major museums and galleries, discussions with professional colleagues concerning various aspects of museum practice, and collaborative project work.

While impressed by the scope and reach of the museums surveyed, the Archivist was curiously reassured to find evidence of problems as well as successes there, and was moved to write in retrospect: ‘I have not lost my belief in all that small museums in general, and my museum in particular, are positioned to do in a way the big nationals cannot.’ It appears that the Archivist is not alone in this. When readers of the Evening Standard were recently asked to choose a favourite London attraction, one response read as follows: ‘My nomination goes to the museum at Bethlem Royal Hospital, the original Bedlam, south of Beckenham, which holds a magnificent collection of art and artefacts. Realistically, I can’t imagine Visit London bothering to promote such a remote attraction; but inquisitive Londoners will be glad they made the effort.’

Photo by Marilyn Sklar

Monthly Saturday Openings From August 7

From next weekend, Saturday 7 August, visitors will have a chance to view the Museum collection on a Saturday, thanks to our new volunteer team. No doubt this will be welcome news to all those who, like us, work 9 to 5 during the week. What’s more, Saturday openings will coincide with those of the Bethlem Gallery, giving visitors a chance to view every exhibition, including those of current service user art and historical exhibitions curated by the Archives & Museum.

The Museum will be open from 11am – 6pm on the following Saturdays in 2010 (generally the first of the month):

7 August
4 September
9 October
6 November
4 December

For more information about our collection, and how to find us, visit our website. For more information about the Bethlem Gallery, visit the website. The Gallery and Museum are located close by each other on the Hospital site, and staff will be happy to direct visitors.

Visit the Bethlem Sunfayre 2010 on Saturday 10 July

It’s getting close to the 2010 Bethlem Sunfayre and, given the beautiful weather, it seemed the perfect time to let you know what’s going on on the day. If you’re interested in art, history, your local area or simply want a day out with a difference, put the date in your diary now!

The Archives and Museum staff will be out in force throughout the Sunfayre. There’ll be an exhibition on “the cats of Louis Wain” in the Museum (along with our art and historical displays) short talks on “Bethlem Patients in the 1850s” in the Education Room, visits to the Historic Board Room, and regular guided walks through the grounds. There’s also a chance to see the current Bethlem Gallery Exhibition – Consulting the Collection, an exhibition of work by contemporary Bethlem Artists alongside artworks and objects from the Bethlem Museum’s collection in the Bethlem Gallery; some of the artists involved will be running art workshops throughout the afternoon.

In addition to our activities, the Bethlem Hospital site will host art and craft stalls, refreshments, children’s entertainment (rides, slides and face painting), complementary therapies and live music – as well as chance to witness teams of staff and local residents battle it out on giant inflatables in It’s a Knockout!

The Bethlem Sunfayre takes place on Saturday 10 July, from 12 – 5pm, at the Bethlem Royal Hospital, Monks Orchard Road, Beckenham. The nearest station is Eden Park. For directions to the site, and a map, see our website.


Chance Encounters in the Museum 1

Earlier this month this blog encouraged people to come to the Archives & Museum to see Caius Gabriel Cibber’s statues of Raving and Melancholy Madness for themselves. Well, last week we welcomed an impromptu visit from a scholar who had come over 8000 miles to do just that, following in the footsteps of Johann Wilhelm von Archenholz, a German travel writer of the eighteenth century whose memoirs she is translating into English for publication.

We got to talking in the Museum, and I discovered that Archenholz’s impressions of the Hospital, then at Moorfields (but nothing to do with the Eye Hospital), were published in 1785. “The mad hospital, Bedlam, has no equal in terms of its conveniences and provisions for this unfortunate category of people,” he wrote. “Its entrance is adorned by two statues by an English sculptor named Cibber that are among the greatest works of art in England. One is the image of a man in the deepest melancholy; the one opposite represents a raging person lying in chains. These two figures show so much truth and expressiveness that they equal the best sculptures in Westminster Abbey.” (Johann Wilhelm von Archenholz, England und Italien Vol. 1 (Leipzig: Verlag der Dikischen Buchhandlung, 1785), pp. 206f).

For those who can’t make the trip to the Archives & Museum, perhaps the next best thing is to go to, where other eighteenth-century accounts of visiting the Hospital (and much else besides) can be found.


Welcome to the Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives and Museum Blog

This blog has been set up by the Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives and Museum and will provide regular updates on the Museum Relocation Project and other activities of the Archives and Museum, written by the small staff team, as well as interesting historical notes from the archives – 450 years of mental health history, including personal accounts of mental illness before 1900 – written by staff and researchers.