Bedlam is a term meaning chaos… hence the title of James Blunt’s album ‘Back to Bedlam’.
Its name derives from the ‘Bethlem Royal Hospital of London’ that used to occupy the site now occupied by the Great Eastern Hotel at Liverpool Street in the City of London. There’s a plaque on the wall near the hotel entrance.
The Bethlem Royal Hospital was founded in 1247, initially as a priory, became a hospital in 1330 and started to take mental patientsin 1357. Treatment was minimal, and in the 18th century the lunatics became a popular freak show. The ‘hero’ of Hogarth’s “Rake’s Prgress” series of prints meets his end in Bedlam.
Various well known patients, over the years include the artists Richard Dadd and Louis Wain (famous for his paintings of cats), and the playwright Nathanial Lee.
In 1815 the hospital moved further out from the City, to the leafy suburb of Southwark where a grand building was built to house its occupants. The hospital moved on in 1930 to Beckenham in Kent and the former building in Southwark now houses the Imperial War Museum.
Incidentally, another large lunatic asylum was housed outside London, to the east, attached to Barking Abbey; hence the term ‘Barking Mad’.
And finally, while we’re talking insanity, Victorian asylums and mental hospitals were often grand buildings, not unlike stately homes, built on the outskirts of the metropolis. To shield the general public from these buildings, and presumably to shield the occupants from the public, the buildings were accessed by a winding driveway, in contrast to the grand, direct driveways favoured by ‘real’ stately homes and grand houses.
These asylums were truly ‘round the bend’.