Description

Bethlehem Hospital (Bedlam) moved to London’s Moorfields in the 1670s as a respite home for ‘poor senseless creatures’. Designed on a grand scale of Portland stone by the city surveyor Robert Hooke, the new building was originally intended to publicise the benevolence and patronage of the City of London in its care for psychiatric patients. Housing around 100 inmates, the new hospital initially attracted casual visits from friends and relations of the residents, but soon began to draw a more regular patronage from among the general public. Entrance to the hospital was by donation only and visitors’ fees represented a substantial income of over £300 each year, until visiting was curtailed there in the 1770s.

Visitors were believed to be of help to patients at Bedlam by introducing ‘jollity and merriment’. In return, a moral lesson on the dangers of immorality was presented to those who came, as madness was considered to be a product of vice. Nevertheless, open days at the hospital frequently developed the air of a fair or freak show, with beer and nuts on sale to visitors as they peered at the afflicted. This image shows Bedlam hospital in 1735, as illustrated in an engraving by William Hogarth, and shows such a scene.

Transcript