This blog post is from the Bethlem Museum of the Mind as part of a series of posts on the theme of ‘Human Discovery: Experiencing Science’ for History Day 2022

An engraving of the front elevation of Bethlem Royal Hospital from the eighteenth century

Bethlem Royal Hospital was itself a first in the history of science and medicine- the first specialist psychiatric hospital in the United Kingdom, and possibly the world. From 1400, the site of the former Priory of the Order of St Mary of Bethlehem, just outside of Bishopsgate beyond the walls of the City of London, specialised in the care of those with mental health issues. ‘Bethlehem’ became ‘Bethlem’ in the Hospital’s title, but it also became known by a different word to the Londoners living around it- ‘Bedlam’, which has been passed down as synonymous with madness and confusion. 

The building the Hospital moved to around the corner near today’s Moorgate station in 1676 was the first purpose built psychiatric Hospital in the country, and was also the first place to appoint trained medical doctors to help people with mental health issues. It was built as an impressive, striking building with Caius Cibber’s statues of ‘Raving and Melancholy Madness’ at the front- two of the earliest representations of mental health issues or illness in existence. Their purpose was to advertise, as the Hospital was a charity dependent upon donations, but they did nothing to dispel the public perception of ‘Bedlam’. Bethlem remained the only public psychiatric hospital in the country until Bethel Hospital in Norwich was opened in 1713. 

For Bethlem we hold governance records dating back to the mid-1500s and patient admission records from 1676. The first case books, which record detailed information, date from the second move of the Hospital in 1815. See our archives page here for more details, information leaflets and links to our catalogue-  . We also still have the statues of ‘Raving and Melancholy’, who greet all of our visitors in our lobby. 

Statues of 'Raving and Melancholy' either side of a staircase in the lobby of the Museum of the Mind

The Maudsley Hospital in contrast was one of the first hospitals designed to treat acute mental illness. Built thanks to a donation from Henry Maudsley, the hospital opened to the public in 1923 with the idea that it could treat people at an earlier stage of their illness and thus take the pressure off the overcrowded asylum network. The Maudsley was run by the London County Council, and these distinctive and evocative drawings showcase the high hopes the Asylums Committee had for the Hospital. 

Drawings of the Maudsley Hospital

We hold administrative records and patient records of the Maudsley up to 1948, when it came into the NHS in partnership with Bethlem, and in fact we are still part of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, the successor organisation of the old Joint Hospital. Today the Museum not only records the history of the hospitals, but also seeks to promote awareness of the issues around mental health and the achievements of our service users and staff. You can find out more on our website here-