Guest Post by Sherry Michaels Perry
Bedlam: The Dark Past
Bedlam or Bethlem Royal Hospital in England has a dark and gruesome past. Founded in 1247 by the Italian Bishop Goffredo de Prefetti and built directly over an overflowing sewer was initially intended as a place to collect alms. The monks who worked there would take in the poor, many of whom were mentally ill. It was first referred to as a hospital in 1330. In 1675 the facility moved to the Moorfields and conditions were so sorry the name was twisted to Bedlam. In 1728 the Monro Family dynasty took over the hospital, and new treatments were implemented. They included the “spinning chair,” which was suspended from the ceiling. The patient would then be twisted repeatedly until they vomited. It was considered healthy and a sign of potential healing when they vomited. The patients were also beaten, starved and dunked in icy cold water as part of their treatment. Straitjackets and “purgatives “were also common. Bloodletting using leeches, cupping glass and inducement of blisters was common. No wonder a multitude of mass graves have been found on the property.
Virgins and menopausal women were considered high risk for mental illness. Victorian physicians advocated applying leeches to the labia or removal of the clitoris. The medieval church equated health and madness with good and evil. Beatings, water torture, and isolation were thought to be methods to drive demons out of the patients.
And as if all of this wasn’t bad enough, wealthy Londoners would pay money to tour the facilities and observe the zoo like conditions and to laugh and poke fun at the patients. This was considered to be a major pastime.
Today the hospital, referred to by its rightful name Bethlem, is a much different place. The patients receive proper care in a proper environment.