Thomas More once observed that London itself was one large madhouse. As counsellor to Henry VIII, he knew a thing or two about lunatics. He had a point, too. You don't need to travel far in London to see some poor soul muttering to himself, conducting imaginary conversations, or ranting out loud, and that's just in the Houses of Parliament (ahem.) The city seems to attract the lost and the befuddled, and probably creates many more.
Bedlam still exists, known as the Royal Bethlem Hospital in Bromley, Kent, though thankfully it has managed to shed much of the stigma attached to it, in the same way society has with mental illness, up to a point at least. It has been always been a portable institution. It first opened as a priory in Bishopsgate - now home of Liverpool Street Station - in 1247 and started admit the mentally ill from 1357. Over time it gradually admitted more until its sole purpose was a psychiatric hospital. A pretty disgusting one. Stories of the depravities inflicted upon the inmates are legion, but some of them were allowed to come and go and wander the streets where they were viewed with dread as well as pity and forced to wear a tin badge to mark them out. Inside the walls, one witness wrote, the screams and moans were 'so many, so hideous, so great; that they are more able to drive a man that hath his wits rather out of them.'
|An image of the Bedlam built in Moorfields|
|An 18th century map showing the site of the Bedlam graveyard|
Dan - Friday