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Bedlam

Bedlam (Bethlem, or Bethlehem Hospital) is the world's oldest psychiatric hospital or madhouse. It has been a part of London since 1247, first as a priory for the sisters and brethren of the order of the Star of Bethlehem. Its first site was in Bishopsgate Street. In 1330 it is mentioned as a hospital, and it is documented that in 1403 some of the first lunatics were there. In 1547 Bedlam was handed over by Henry VIII with all its revenues to the city of London as a hospital for lunatics. It became famous and afterwards infamous for the brutal ill-treatment meted out to the insane. In 1675 Bedlam was removed to new buildings in Moorfields[?], outside the City boundary. In the 18th century people used to go there to see the lunatics. For a penny one could peer into their cells, view the freaks of the "show of Bethlehem" and laugh at their antics. The lunatics were first called "patients" in 1700, and "curable" and "incurable" wards were opened in 1725-34. In 1815, Bedlam was removed to St George's Fields[?], Lambeth[?]. Finally, in 1930, the hospital was moved out of London, to Eden park near Beckenham, Kent.

Bethlem was most notably portrayed in a scene from William Hogarth's A Rake's Progess (1735), the story of a rich merchant's son whose immoral living causes him to end up in a ward at Bethlem. This reflects the view of the time that madness was a result of moral weakness.


Scene of Bethlem Hospital from Hogarth's A Rake's Progress

The word "Bedlam" has long been used for lunatic asylums in general, and later for a scene of uproar and confusion.

Notable patients of Bethlam hospital

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