If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, that path may well cut through the fetid halls of Bethlem Hospital. The institution began as a priory for the New Order of St. Mary of Bethlehem in 1247. As religious folks are wont to do, the monks there began to look after the indigent and mentally ill. The monks believed that harsh treatment, a basic diet, and isolation from society starved the disturbed portion of the psyche.
While their aim was pure, those who would succeed the monks were not so wholesome of purpose. What would follow was more than 500 years of madness and squalor. So awful was Bethlem, that its bastardized nickname “Bedlam” would come to be a universal synonym for lunacy.
Featured photo credit: SLaMNHSFT/Wikimedia
Bethlem began as a small institution, catering to only a handful of inmates at once. The original structure was built atop a sewer, which frequently overflowed, leaving patients to trudge through the foul muck. It accommodated approximately a dozen patients at any given time, and it featured a kitchen and an exercise yard.
Little is known of Bedlam during the intervening medieval period, but during this time, control of the facility transferred from the church to the crown of England, probably because the government foresaw a potential profit. By the 1600s, the original facility was a crumbling mess. A new building was commissioned in the late 17th century, an imposing structure whose entrance was flanked by two human sculptures wracked with suffering named “Melancholy” and “Raving Madness.” Melancholy appears blank and vacant, where Raving Madness is charged with fury and bound in chains.
Many of the patients locked therein weren’t what we today would consider mentally ill. Along with the raving schizophrenics and psychopaths were epileptics and those with learning disabilities. These souls were often forsaken by their loved ones, allowing for a wild medley of abuse.
Photo credit: Wellcome Trustees
One of Bedlam’s many controversial treatments, rotational therapy, does not seem particularly awful at first glance. Invented by Erasmus Darwin (grandfather to Charles), this therapy involves sitting a patient in a chair or swing suspended from the ceiling. The chair is then spun by an orderly, the speed and duration dictated by a doctor.
This low-rent carnival ride could rotate a dizzying 100 times a minute. Of course, carnival rides can be great fun, but it is their brevity which makes them manageable. Two minutes in defiance of gravity is a thrill—but can you imagine being stuck on the Zipper or the Scrambler for a few hours?
Countless patients were subjected to this treatment at Bedlam. Inducing vertigo did nothing to curtail the severity of mental illness. The results of rotational therapy included vomiting, pallor, and incontinence. At the time, these were seen as beneficial, especially vomiting, which was considered therapeutic. Oddly enough, rotational therapy would later provide valuable insight to scientists studying the effects of vertigo on balance.
Photo via Harry Lyttle
While the majority of Bedlam’s patients were sadly anonymous and lost to history, the facility housed a handful of famous inmates. These included architect Augustus Pugin, who designed the interior of the Palace of Westminster (where the parliament meets), a motley crew of would-be royal assassins, and legendary pickpocket Mary Frith (aka Moll Cutpurse).
Perhaps the most larger-than-life patient that ever roamed Bedlam was Daniel, who’d served as a porter for Oliver Cromwell. Daniel was reportedly 229 centimeters (7’6 “) tall, which would have been a shocking sight in the 17th century, when few men topped 6 feet in height. Per Cromwell’s instructions, Daniel was outfitted with his own library.
A religious fanatic and alleged clairvoyant, Daniel had his own “congregation” inside Bedlam, which would gather to hear him preach. Daniel’s ability to see the future supposedly enabled him to predict several terrible events, including a plague and the Great Fire of London in 1666, which destroyed much of the city.
There’s little doubt that art often walks hand in hand with mental illness; painters like Edvard Munch, Vincent van Gogh, and Michelangelo all seem to have had demons that sparked their work. So too has Bedlam Hospital done its part to inspire.
Bedlam is depicted as the ultimate ruin of a man named Tom Rakewell in a series of paintings by artist William Hogarth created in the 1730s. The series, titled “Rake’s Progress,” sees Tom inheriting a fortune, which he blows on gambling and prostitutes. In the last of eight paintings, Tom lies prostrate on the floor of Bedlam while society ladies look on and fellow patients suffer through their delusions.
English artist Richard Dadd spent two decades as a patient in Bedlam. Likely a paranoid schizophrenic, Dadd became convinced that his father was the devil, and he stabbed him to death in August 1843. He fled to France to fulfill a lunatic plan to kill the Austrian emperor and the Pope (under the instruction of the Egyptian god Osiris, who he believed communicated with him). He was later captured when he attempted to attack another man with a razor on a train.
Dadd’s masterwork, “The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke,” was commissioned by Bedlam head steward George Henry Haydon. The painting, which Dadd spent nine years on before giving it away unfinished, is a window into Dadd’s disturbed mind. It is fantastical, yet filled with baroque details, Shakespearean context, and ties to folklore. It has inspired many over the years, including Freddie Mercury of Queen, who penned a song in honor of the painting.
Photo via BBC
Psychiatric treatments have come a long way since Bedlam first opened its doors to the mentally ill. Today, we have reliable pharmaceuticals and established paths of psychotherapy. But in the past, treatments could be decidedly more traumatic.
Bedlam was run by physicians in the Monro family for over 100 years, during the 18th and 19th centuries. During this time, patients were dunked in cold baths, starved, and beaten. William Black’s 1811 “Dissertation on Insanity” described the asylum thusly: “In Bedlam the strait waistcoat when necessary, and occasional purgatives are the principal remdies. Nature, time, regimen, confinement, and seclusion from relations are the principal auxiliaries.” He went on to describe the use of venesection (an archaic term for bloodletting), leeches, cupping glasses, and the administration of blisters.
Bedlam was so horrific that it would routinely refuse admission to patients deemed too frail to handle the course of their therapies. As early as 1758, the conditions and treatments in Bedlam were described as archaic by people like William Battie, M.D., who managed his own asylums.
MASS Graves Are Being Dug In New York, This Seems Straight Out Of A Dystopian Movie Plotline
Many patients did not survive their stay in Bedlam. In recent years, excavations for England’s new Crossrail system have uncovered mass graves in London, including those of asylum residents and plague victims. After patients died, their families often abandoned them, and the bodies were hastily disposed of without benefit of a Christian burial. Hundreds of skeletons from Bedlam were discovered on Liverpool Street, at a site which is slated to become a modern ticket hall. Before construction can begin, 20 archaeology digs must be completed to comply with planning regulations.
Many of the remains date back to the 16th century and are being studied at the Museum of London before being reinterred. History describes a burial ground next to the hospital whose keeper was charged to “smother and repress the stenches” from the corpses within. Among the bones, even more ancient finds have been made, including a golden coin nearly 2,000 years old, depicting the Roman Emperor Hadrian.
Photo credit: Otis Historical Archives
In the 18th and 19th centuries, anatomical studies were in vogue in Europe. Unfortunately, there was a vanishingly small supply of corpses to dissect; only those of indigents and executed criminals could be used for scientific purposes. This led to the grisly cottage industry of “body snatching”—raiding recently filled graves to sell the bodies to medical schools.
In the late 1790s, a man named Bryan Crowther was brought onto the staff of Bedlam as the chief surgeon. Crowther was tasked with attending to sick patients, but he was much more interested in them after they died. As mentioned, families were often uninterested in claiming their deceased relatives, allowing Crowther freedom to carve them up. He was particularly interested in dissecting their brains, searching for some physiological mechanism responsible for mental illness. Although his activities were highly illegal, even blasphemous, he was able to carry on with these experiments for some 20 years.
Photo credit: Cruikshank Collection
When control of Bedlam transferred from the church to the crown, a certain amount of corruption was inevitable. The majority of this vice was rooted in embezzlement. Donations of food and other provisions would be taken or otherwise sold by management, leaving patients on starvation rations.
Perhaps the most sinister reign was that of John Haslam, who was appointed to head Bedlam in 1795. Haslam believed that mental illness could be cured but only after breaking the will of the patient. This was accomplished through any number of the aforementioned tortures. Haslam’s ugly tenure came to an end after a visit to the hospital by Quaker philanthropist Edward Wakefield in 1814. Knowing full well what a horror show they had on their hands and fearing bad publicity, Bedlam personnel tried to keep him out, but he eventually gained entry in the company of a hospital governor and a member of the British Parliament.
Wakefield witnessed horrifying conditions. He saw naked, starved men chained to the walls. The worst case was one James Norris, who was clad in a harness with chains running into the wall and into an adjoining room. When the staff saw fit, they would yank on the chains, slamming the unfortunate Norris into the wall. Wakefield inquired how long this had been going on, and Haslam told him between 9 and 12 years. This led to a long public inquiry of the goings-on within Bedlam. Haslam blamed the conditions on his chief surgeon, the butcher Bryan Crowther. Eventually, both men were let go, and Bedlam began taking steps toward more humane treatment of patients.
In 1863, Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum was opened, and it accepted Bedlam’s most infamous and criminal patients, including Richard Dadd. With that, Bedlam’s notoriety dipped considerably, and today, it operates as Bethlem Royal Hospital.
Photo credit: John Haslam
Reasons existed to lock people away at Bedlam besides the treatment of psychiatric issues. Certainly, there were few better ways of silencing an opponent than trapping him in a mental institution. Not only would the person be out of your hair, but the stigma of being a patient at an asylum would undoubtedly damage said enemy’s credibility if he were ever released.
One of the strangest figures in the hospital’s history was a man named James Tilly Matthews. In the wake of the French Revolution, tensions between England and France were mounting, and the possibility of war seemed imminent. Matthews traveled to France, seemingly of his own accord, in an effort to defuse the situation. He was soon locked up by the French on suspicion of being a spy, but after a few years, his claims convinced them that he was merely insane, and he was returned to England. He immediately accused Lord Liverpool, the British Home Secretary, of treason.
Matthews was locked away in Bedlam, where he unspooled a bizarre tale, claiming that he was a secret agent and that his mind was being controlled by the mysterious “Air Loom Gang.” This group used a machine to control his mind by way of a magnet implanted in his brain. Matthews claimed the gang was intent on forcing a war with France. His family believed the dark forces in play were all within Matthews himself, and they had two different doctors go to the hospital to examine him. Both claimed he was quite sane.
None other than the aforementioned John Haslam took a shine to Tilly, using him as the subject for his seminal work Illustrations of Madness. The treatise seemed definitive proof that the man was, in fact, insane and not the unfortunate victim of political scheming. By most accounts, this served as the first fully documented case of paranoid schizophrenia. However, with the exception of his claims about the Air Loom device, Matthews was extremely intelligent and well spoken. Some believe that he merely cracked under the pressure of being used as a pawn in the machinations of two governments.
Photo credit: Wellcome Library
The most notorious aspect of Bedlam was its availability to the public. It was expected that friends and family would drop in on patients, but for many years, Bedlam was run like a zoo, where wealthy patrons could drop a shilling or two to roam the fetid hallways. These visits were so frequent that they made up a significant portion of the hospital’s operating budget.
Wandering through a facility for the mentally ill was not without its attendant risks. While most patients were probably more of a danger to themselves than anyone else, there was also no shortage of psychopaths manacled to the walls. There was also always the chance that some poor, tormented soul might empty his chamber pot over your head.
Henry Mackenzie’s 1771 work The Man of Feeling described a visit to the hospital as follows: “Their conductor led them first to the dismal mansions of those who are in the most horrid state of incurable madness. The clanking of chains, the wildness of their cries, and the imprecations which some of them uttered, formed a scene inexpressibly shocking.”
Mike Devlin is aspiring novelist.
More Great Lists
- 10 Historical Facts About The Kings County Insane Asylum
- Top 10 Most Notorious Metal Bands Ever
- Top 10 Crazy Little-Known Facts About Bananas
- 10 Crazy Facts No One Ever Told You About The First…
- 10 Crazy Facts About Big Bird
- Police Arrest Squirrel, Just One Of 10 Crazy…
- Top 10 Crazy Facts About The Coronavirus Outbreak
- 10 Crazy Facts About Guns In The Usa
- Top 10 Crazy Facts About Working At Tesla
fact checked by Jamie Frater
What are some important facts about Bedlam? ›
Bedlam was mentioned as a hospital in 1329, and some permanent patients were accommodated there by 1403. In 1547 it was granted by Henry VIII to the City of London as a hospital for the mentally ill. It subsequently became infamous for the brutal ill treatment meted out to its patients.What is the history of Bedlam insane asylum? ›
Founded in 1247, it is Europe's first and oldest mental health hospital. Patients were subject to horrible medical practices throughout the psychiatric hospital's history. It began under the name Bethlehem Hospital, but over time it was abbreviated to Bethlem and then evolved into Bedlam Hospital.Who was the most famous Bedlam patient? ›
Margaret Nicholson: Born in 1750, Margaret went on to try and kill King George III in 1786. She approached the King in London while holding a dessert knife and made two lunges at his chest. She was apprehended and was declared insane and sent to Bedlam - where she later died.Why was Bedlam so bad? ›
There was, however, a darker period when the hospital became more conservative, secretive and, eventually, abusive in the treatment of its patients. This lasted for more than a century and, despite later reforms, has led to the permanent association of the term 'Bedlam' with anything that is chaotic or unruly.Why is it called Bedlam? ›
The rivalry has its roots in the schools' prestigious wrestling programs; OSU has won 34 NCAA titles, OU 7. The story goes that a newspaper reporter emerged from a wrestling match in OSU's historic Gallagher Hall (now Gallagher-Iba Arena) and said, “It's bedlam in there!”What was Bedlam original name? ›
In 1247 the Priory of St Mary of Bethlehem was founded, devoted to healing sick paupers. The small establishment became known as Bethlehem Hospital. Londoners later abbreviated this to 'Bethlem' and often pronounced it 'Bedlam'.What is the biggest insane asylum? ›
Georgia's state mental asylum located in Milledgeville, Georgia, now known as the Central State Hospital (CSH), has been the state's largest facility for treatment of mental illness and developmental disabilities.Where is the biggest insane asylum? ›
|Camarillo State Hospital and Developmental Center|
|Location||Camarillo, California, United States|
B., and the institution grew into the largest insane asylum in the world. A century after it opened, 200 buildings sprawled over 2,000 acres and housed up to 13,000 patients at what was then called Central State Hospital. But throughout Georgia, it was known solely by the name of the neighboring town: Milledgeville.What is Bedlam in the Bible? ›
The term bedlam comes from the name of a hospital in London, “Saint Mary of Bethlehem,” which was devoted to treating the mentally ill in the 1400s. Over time, the pronunciation of “Bethlehem” morphed into bedlam and the term came to be applied to any situation where pandemonium prevails.
Where was the original Bedlam asylum? ›
Founded in 1247, the hospital was originally near Bishopsgate just outside the walls of the City of London. It moved a short distance to Moorfields in 1676, and then to St George's Fields in Southwark in 1815, before moving to its current location in Monks Orchard in 1930.How is the word Bedlam used today? ›
In time the name Bedlem or Bedlam came to refer to any home for the insane. Today we use bedlam for any scene of noise and confusion like that found in the early hospitals for the insane.What was the first mental hospital? ›
Virginia is recognized as the first state to establish an institution for the mentally ill. Eastern State Hospital, located in Williamsburg, Virginia, was incorporated in 1768 under the name of the "Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds" and its first patients were admitted in 1773.How many times has Oklahoma won Bedlam? ›
|First meeting||November 6, 1904 Oklahoma, 75–0|
|Latest meeting||November 19, 2022 Oklahoma, 28–13|
|Next meeting||November 4, 2023|
The Museum is open to walk-in visitors from 09:30 to 17:00 on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. There is no need to pre-book your visit; just turn up anytime within the Museum's opening hours!What language is Bedlam? ›
Phonologically, corruption of Bethlem, itself a corruption of Bethlehem (the Biblical town), from Ancient Greek Βηθλεέμ (Bēthleém) from Biblical Hebrew בֵּית לֶחֶם (bêṯ leḥem, literally “house of bread”).What was the treatment at Bedlam asylum? ›
“Treatment” at Bedlam included cruel experiments like inducing blisters, bloodletting, and “rotational therapy” in which patients were strapped to a chair suspended from the ceiling and spun around in 100 rotations per minute.What is Bedlam in psychology? ›
n. a state of frenzy or wild confusion. The term was actually coined from a place, the Hospital of Saint Mary of Bethlehem. A monastery-turned-asylum, it housed the insane beginning in 1547.How were mentally ill patients treated in the 19th century? ›
In early 19th century America, care for the mentally ill was almost non-existent: the afflicted were usually relegated to prisons, almshouses, or inadequate supervision by families. Treatment, if provided, paralleled other medical treatments of the time, including bloodletting and purgatives.Which nickname was given to the hospital of Saint Mary of Bethlehem because of its conditions? ›
This was Bethlem Hospital, more commonly known by its nickname (and the word adapted from it): Bedlam.
When was Bethlem built? ›Who was the youngest person in an insane asylum? ›
The youngest was Rosina Smith who was admitted aged just six. In the nineteenth century there was no age limit on admissions to asylums and no specialist children's services.Where do the criminally insane go in USA? ›
|Patton State Hospital|
|Lists||Hospitals in California|
Other names used are "rubber room", seclusion room, time out room, calming room, quiet room, or personal safety room.Does the US still have insane asylums? ›
Although psychiatric hospitals still exist, the dearth of long-term care options for the mentally ill in the U.S. is acute, the researchers say. State-run psychiatric facilities house 45,000 patients, less than a tenth of the number of patients they did in 1955.What was America's first insane asylum? ›
Eastern State Hospital has the honor of being the first public facility in the United States constructed solely for the care and treatment of the mentally ill.What ended insane asylums? ›
Gov. Reagan signed the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act in 1967, all but ending the practice of institutionalizing patients against their will.What is the white room in insane asylum? ›
White torture, often referred to as white room torture, is a type of psychological torture technique aimed at complete sensory deprivation and isolation. A prisoner is held in a cell that deprives them of all senses and identity.Who created the first insane asylum? ›
But the Friends Asylum, established by Philadelphia's Quaker community in 1814, was the first institution specially built to implement the full program of moral treatment.When God opens a door no one can shut it? ›
The scripture says, “God opens doors that no man can shut, and He shuts doors that no man can open.” God is your doorkeeper. Other people can't keep you out of your purpose; obstacles can't keep you from what God has ordained for you.
What is the cry of God? ›
It is a declaration of our helplessness and desperation. A cry embodies our unconditional surrender and a plea for mercy from an almighty God. It is a sign of our dependence on and trust in God; it is a confirmation of our faith in God's power, protection, guidance, and resources.Where is war cry in the Bible? ›
Ephesians 6:10-17 lays out even more powerful and purposeful tools — and an even more forceful war cry — to be deployed in spiritual battle with Satan and his demons, the most important being the sword of the Spirit, God's Word.What is an example of Bedlam? ›
a noisy situation with no order: It was bedlam at the football stadium after the game was suspended.What is a place where lunatics are kept called? ›
The Bloomingdale Insane Asylum (1821–1889) was an American private hospital for the care of the mentally ill, founded by New York Hospital. It was located in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City, where Columbia University is now located.Why were insane asylums closed? ›
Three forces drove the movement of people with severe mental illness from hospitals into the community: the belief that mental hospitals were cruel and inhumane; the hope that new antipsychotic medications offered a cure; and the desire to save money .Why are asylums abandoned? ›
Their doors were closed in the second half of the 20th century, following the development of medications used to treat mental illness and the shift away from permanent institutionalization and toward a community-based model of care.Where is Bedlam 2023? ›
Bedlam is on this year, falling on November 4. The game will take place at OSU.How long to beat Bedlam? ›
|Main Story||27||4h 57m|
|Main + Extras||14||6h 45m|
|All PlayStyles||58||6h 4m|
Quick Recap: Oklahoma State suffers 28-13 loss to rival Oklahoma in Bedlam.
Why is Bedlam so famous? ›
Bedlam was mentioned as a hospital in 1329, and some permanent patients were accommodated there by 1403. In 1547 it was granted by Henry VIII to the City of London as a hospital for the mentally ill. It subsequently became infamous for the brutal ill treatment meted out to its patients.Is Bedlam a movie? ›
Bedlam is a 1946 American horror film starring Boris Karloff and Anna Lee, and was the last in a series of stylish horror B films produced by Val Lewton for RKO Radio Pictures. The film was inspired by William Hogarth's 1732–1734 painting series A Rake's Progress, and Hogarth was given a writing credit.What is the former asylum in London? ›
Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum, as it was once known, was opened in 1851 as the second asylum for 'paupers' in Middlesex. At one point it held 2,500 patients and had the longest corridor of any British mental institution – it could take up to two hours to walk the wards.How old is Bedlam football? ›
A look at every score in the OU-OSU football rivalry.How many times has OSU won Bedlam football? ›
The Sooners have dominated the series with a 90-19-7 all-time record. Some would say that OU's overwhelming command of the football series hardly qualifies as a bona fide rivalry. The first game in this series was played in 1904, with Oklahoma winning 75-0. The Sooners' domination started right from the beginning.How were people treated in Bedlam? ›
Patients were routinely beaten, starved, and dunked in ice cold baths. One such doctor, William Black, wrote his Dissertation on Insanity in 1811 and said of Bethlem: "The strait waistcoat, when necessary, and occasional purgatives are the principal remedies."Where was the Bedlam in USA? ›
On May 6, 1946, Life magazine published "Bedlam 1946," an exposé of two state hospitals: Pennsylvania's Byberry and Ohio's Cleveland State. To a country shaken by recent revelations of Nazi atrocities, the pictures were deeply affecting. The crisis in state mental hospitals motivated Dr.What is the oldest football school? ›
Rutgers: 150 years (All college football fans know that Rutgers hosted in-state rival Princeton on November 6, 1869, making them “The Birthplace of College Football”.What is the oldest college football game? ›
The 19 oldest rivalries in college football.
The Bedlam Series is calculated by straight wins and losses in head to head competition. In sports where there is no head to head matchup, the Big 12 Championship final standings are used.
Will Bedlam happen in 2023? ›
In this story:
Another iconic rivalry is reportedly coming to an end as a result of conference realignment. The Bedlam Series between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will come to an end once the Sooners join the SEC in 2025, according to Brett McMurphy of the Action Network.
The University of Oklahoma Sooners have won the most championships with 14.What is the most famous asylum in the world? ›
The oldest psychiatric hospital in the country is the Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia, which was founded in 1773 and remains in operation today as a psychiatric hospital.Who won the first Bedlam? ›
|First meeting||November 6, 1904 Oklahoma, 75–0|
|Latest meeting||November 19, 2022 Oklahoma, 28–13|
|Next meeting||November 4, 2023|
The 2022 edition of the Bedlam rivalry will kick off next Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. on ABC.