Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bethlehem, Psychatric Hospital was horrible.


Bethlehem (Bedlam) "Madhouse"

Operated from1329-1948

Eventually known as Bedlam

Nuns took in the sick, i.e. lepers, frail old women, etc.

1375, seized by the Crown

1403, royal edict turned it into “mad house.”

The Hospital became famous and notorious for the brutal ill-treatment meted out to the mentally ill. In 1675 Bedlam moved to new buildings where the playwright Nathaniel Lee was incarcerated there for five years, reporting that: "They called me mad, and I called them mad, and d*** them, they outvoted me."

The inmates were first called "patients" in 1700, and "curable" and "incurable" wards were opened in 1725-34. Visits by friends and relatives were allowed. Indeed, for poor inmates it was expected that those connected to them would periodically bring food and other essentials for their survival. (Jonathan Andrews)

In 1817 it was reported that “the basement is appropriated for those patients who are not cleanly in their persons, and who on that account have no beds, but lie on straw with blankets and a rug; but I am sorry to say it is too often made a place of punishment to gratify the unbounded cruelties of the keepers.” (The Interior of Bethlehem Hospital, by Urban Metcalf, 1817.)

James Norris (17??-1814), once an American seaman, now chained to his bed. Norris had been admitted in 1800 and so terrorized the small staff that in June 1804 he was permanently confined in an iron harness.

Ten years later when Wakefield visited, Norris was still in the same spot!

Norris’s isolation and constraints were described at the time:

A stout iron ring was riveted round his neck, from which a short chain passed through a ring made to slide upwards and downwards on an upright massive iron bar, more than six feet high, inserted into the wall. Round his body a strong iron bar about 12 inches wide was riveted; on each side of the bar was a ring; which was fashioned to and enclosed each of his arms, pinioned them close to his sides.

Norris was removed from his shackles but died within a few months. Bedlam was closed.

Visitors/ gawkers/pitiless spectators

As late as 1815, Bethlem Hospital showed its lunatics every Sunday for one penny. People would pack lunches and bring the family to gawk at the patients who were naked or near naked. The people found it amusing to watch them shriek, howl, sing, and tear at their hair and bodies. The annual revenue from those visits amounted to almost 400 pounds which means that an astonishing 96,000 visitors came to see the mad each year. (Michel Foucault)

Bedlam Hospital housed the very disturbed and troubled; Donald Lupton in the 1630s described ‘cryings, screechings, roarings, brawlings, shaking of chains, swearings, frettings, chaffings.'

Hospital General in Paris 1600’s

A visitor wrote “the unfortunate whose entire furniture consists of a straw pallet, lying with his head, feet and body pressed against a wall, could not enjoy sleep without being soaked by the water which trickled down from that massive stone.”

Winter was worse. When “the waters of the seine rose, those cells situated at the level of the sewers became not only more unhealthy, but worse still, a refuge for a huge swarm of rats which during the night attacked the unfortunates confined there and bit them wherever they could reach them. Madwomen have been found with feet, hands and faces torn by bites, which are often dangerous and from which several have died.” (Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization).

Nellie Bly (May 5, 1864 – January 27, 1922) was the pen name of American pioneer female journalist Elizabeth Jane Cochrane. She wrote an expose in which she faked insanity to study a mental institution from within.

From the moment I entered the insane ward on the Island, I made no attempt to keep up the assumed role of insanity. I talked and acted just as I do in ordinary life. Yet strange to say, the more sanely I talked and acted the crazier I was thought to be by all except one physician, whose kindness and gentle ways I shall not soon forget.”

This was part of a seminar that Robyn and I gave at Rush Creek Bible Church.  It is called Mind, Mood and Faith. If you would like us to present this seminar or others that we conduct, please contact us at
We also are working at getting our CD  that was recorded at Rush Creek Bible Church edited and available for sale.  Please pray for us that we would find someone to help us.
If you would like to see some reviews on our book, Broken Minds Hope for Healing When You Feel Like You're Losing It,  you can see them at