Sinister secrets of Bedlam - London's oldest psychiatric hospital

Sinister secrets of Bedlam - London's oldest psychiatric hospital

Categories: Health and Medicine | History

There is always an atmosphere of mystery and fear around psychiatric hospitals. Often the stories associated with them are just figments of the imagination. But among these clinics there are special ones with many real horror stories associated with them. One of them is Bethlem Royal Hospital in London. This is the oldest institution for the mentally ill in England, enjoying notoriety almost from the moment of its foundation.

Sinister secrets of Bedlam - London's oldest psychiatric hospital

Bethlem Hospital was opened in the 13th century. It was to become a refuge for the mentally ill and a home of Christian charity. But soon this hospital gained fame as the most terrible medical institution in Britain. Its staff was incredibly cruel, and patients became victims of unimaginable torture and inhumane experiments.

Sinister secrets of Bedlam - London's oldest psychiatric hospital

The Londoners called the hospital "Bedlam" and the word soon became a household word for dubious medical institutions. The history of the London “house of sorrow” formed the basis of many literary works and cinematic scripts. How did it happen that an institution designed to care for hopelessly ill people turned into a place that was feared more than prisons or hard labor?

The order to build a hospital for the mentally ill in London was given in 1247 by the city sheriff, Simon Fitz-Mary. As was customary, the clinic was given a noble name - the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem. The hospital was supposed to become a refuge for the homeless, lonely old people, as well as the city's madmen. At first, monks worked there, trying to alleviate the plight of disadvantaged patients and instill Christian values in the lost.

But in the 1370s, the hospital came under the control of city officials. From this moment the terrible story of London Bedlam began. The main source of funding for the institution was voluntary donations from people. The hospital's leaders accepted money, clothing, and food from benefactors.

Sinister secrets of Bedlam - London's oldest psychiatric hospital

But all this was used at the discretion of the leaders of Bedlam and the responsible city officials. Half of the gifts were immediately stolen, and half were offered to patients to buy for money or even sold on the side. Not all the inhabitants of Bedlam had money or compassionate relatives, so most patients were deprived of basic things and were constantly hungry.

The corruption flourishing in Bedlam worsened the situation of the patients every year. Many of them had no clothes, the patients slept on armfuls of rotten straw, drank water from puddles and ate scraps. Commissions regularly visited the hospital to record the plight of the inhabitants of Bedlam. But in this scheme, everyone was tied to financial interests and therefore no measures were taken to eliminate the comments. So the name Bedlam became synonymous with chaos and destruction.

Sinister secrets of Bedlam - London's oldest psychiatric hospital

Centuries passed, but nothing changed in the hospital. In the 1670s, London authorities carried out a large-scale reconstruction of it. Several extensions were added to the main building to accommodate hundreds of patients. The new buildings quickly filled with residents. But not all of them were mentally ill. Many ended up in Bedlam at the behest of relatives who simply wanted to get rid of them. Women were often diagnosed with “acute mania” and this became a death sentence.

As the hospital expanded, the situation for its patients only worsened. Greedy officials constantly came up with new ways to make money from the sick. At the end of the 17th century, a disgusting attraction was staged in Bedlam. Anyone could visit the hospital for a small fee and observe its unfortunate inhabitants. The human zoo was popular and brought good income to the organizer. One of the visitors to Bedlam described the “excursion” as follows:

Many guests of Bedlam were amazed at the devastation that reigned inside, as well as the terrible condition of the sick. Many patients were completely naked, their bodies were covered with bruises, abrasions and ulcers. People coughed and sneezed, and some could only move by crawling. The roof of the hospital was leaky and the sky could be seen through it, and mold covered the walls.

Sinister secrets of Bedlam - London's oldest psychiatric hospital

In the wards of the hospital there was not even a hint of beds, not to mention heating and basic amenities. Despite the fact that the chaos of Bedlam impressed the visitors, they did not feel pity for the sick. At that time, mental disorders were considered God's punishment for a sinful life. Advertising leaflets that were printed specifically for hospital visitors reminded us of this:

After some time, the leaders of Bedlam stopped organizing excursions. But this did not affect the situation of the patients at all. The hospital staff, having lost a good source of income, became angry and began to mock the unfortunate people even more. But no one even suspected that the situation could worsen even further.

Very terrible times for patients came in 1790 with the appointment of surgeon Brian Crowther as chief physician of Bedlam. He was involved in post-mortem research on the human brain. As soon as he took office, the doctor set to work with enthusiasm. Crowther instructed the staff to take the lives of patients by any means available. The inhabitants of the hospital were starved and thirsty, and sometimes simply beaten to death.

But is there a limit to the torment of the unfortunate? After Crowther, the situation worsened. The hospital was headed by Dr. John Haslam, a passionate supporter of punitive psychiatry. He believed that madness could literally be “erased” from a person using physical and psychological pressure.

Sinister secrets of Bedlam - London's oldest psychiatric hospital

Now death no longer frightened patients so much. Haslam subjected people to torture, which his sophisticated mind tirelessly came up with. The unfortunates were doused with ice water, kept in cold baths, electric shocks passed through them and exhausted with bloodletting.

The sadistic doctor’s special pride was the centrifuge he invented, in which patients were spun up to 100 revolutions per minute. After that, they suffered from dizziness, vomiting, and sometimes hallucinations. Sometimes patients were chained to the walls of the wards or fixed in unnatural positions for long periods of time. Often such “procedures” ended in death.

This continued until the famous London philanthropist Edward Wakefield became interested in Bedlam. In 1814, he managed to enter the hospital by posing as a relative of one of the patients. Wakefield created a fuss about the institution and its leadership was removed. The man described in detail what he saw within the walls of Bedlam and shocked the public with his articles.

Sinister secrets of Bedlam - London's oldest psychiatric hospital

After the scandal caused by Wakefield, life within the walls of Bedlam improved significantly, although it was still difficult to call the hospital a resort. In 1930 the hospital became the property of Lord Rothermere. He liquidated the hospital and turned its buildings into a museum and the territory into a park. After some time, the clinic opened again, but not a trace remained of the past nightmares.

Sinister secrets of Bedlam - London's oldest psychiatric hospital

But the notoriety of the Bethlem Royal Hospital has not gone away. Until now, this place is considered ominous and mystical. Stories are told of ghosts wandering hospital corridors, strange sounds and paranormal activity. It's no surprise that Bedlam has inspired countless horror films by writers and directors.

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