The Bethlam Royal hospital was founded in 1247 and originally called The Bedlam Hospital. This is where the modern term 'Bedlam' came from and it's believed to be the world's oldest mental health institution.
Recently, thanks to Lottery funding, they updated their museum and art exhibition, moving it to a single building. The hospital itself is still in operation and the museum sits on the grounds, which are expansive and not unlike a university campus - full of brick buildings spaced far apart - with the noticeable exception of security fencing around certain areas.
Bedlam had a reputation and mental institutions of old are 'known' for being archaic in their treatment of mental illness - but the modern-day hospital has left those days behind. Patients are far more involved in the treatment they get and the hospital fosters an environment of self-expression. One way they do this is by offering space for patients to create art and the Bethlem Museum has an exhibition of work by current and past residence.
The museum part of it documents the rather sordid history of mental illness care but not in some gruesome way. It's very enlightening to see how far we've come and consider that, whilst stigma is still rampant and mental illness still compartmentalized as separate from physical illness, we have a far better understanding of how the mind works. There is also a humbleness and awareness of how little we do understand and that mental health needs to be approached holistically and on an individual basis.
The entire place was really incredible to explore and I, personally, feel it is one of the best museums I've ever seen.
|Sketches by artist Steph Bates|
|Various sketches over many years by artist Dan Duggen|
|Sculptures and sketchbooks by Sue Morgan|
|Statue on the ground floor leading to the museum|
|Artist not identified - incredibly detailed and fascinating painting|
depicting a skull come 'unstitched' with interesting 'memories' or 'experiences'
captured in the different compartments.
|Stunning and intricate piece by Vonn Strop. |
Would love to have it in my own home. The sort of thing one could get lost in for hours.