|Bedlam (Bethlehem Royal Hospital)|
In 1247 a Priory of St Mary Bethlehem was founded near Bishopsgate. Historical documents tell us that by 1330 the Priory had a hospital attached, and as long ago as 1377 it was recorded that 'distracted' patients were being cared for at the hospital.
Thus began the hospital's long association with the care of the insane. In the 14th century however, care for such patients was a far cry from today's standards. Patients were simply chained to a wall and whipped or immersed in cold water if they became unruly or violent. Unfortunately for many years the standards of care didn't improve much.
Under the Reformation in the 16th century the Priory was dissolved, but the hospital continued as an asylum for the insane under the name of Bethlehem Royal Hospital. In 1675 the hospital moved site to a new building near to the present day Moorgate tube station.
It was in the 17th century that the hospital was first open to the public, the unfortunate inmates being seen as a form of cheap entertainment. It was during the same period that the hospital became better known by its nickname Bedlam - a word that has entered the English Dictionary as meaning chaos and confusion.
Soon a visit to Bedlam became one of the most popular sights in London, and the numbers of visitors had to be restricted by a ticket scheme. Public viewings of the patients continued into the early 19th century until public opinion moved against the practise.
By the early 19th century the building was declared unsafe and so a new hospital (also called Bethlehem Royal Hospital) was erected south of the River Thames near Lambeth Road, and was opened in 1815. For a while the new hospital also housed the criminally insane, but in 1864 criminal patients were moved to Broadmoor hospital.
It wasn't until 1930 that Bedlam closed and the patients moved to other hospitals. In 1936 the various blocks of the hospital were demolished, leaving just the central building which is now home to the Imperial War Museum.
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