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Bedlam: London and its Mad

Stephen Halliday looks at an account of the treatment of mental illness at Bedlam

Published: September 21, 2009 at 6:33 am

Reviewed by: Stephen Halliday
Author: Catharine Arnold
Publisher: Pocket Books
Price (RRP): £7.99 (paperback)


The word ‘Bedlam’ has entered the language as a synonym for chaos, and Catharine Arnold’s latest book reminds us that it began life as a shortened version of the hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem, founded in 1247 to care for the sick. The original hospital was somewhere near Bishopsgate (the precise location is not made clear) moving later to Moorfields and then to Southwark. Its buildings are now occupied by the Imperial War Museum.

In 1377 it became specifically associated with mental illness, its functions in that respect now being discharged by the Maudsley hospital in Beckenham. The author is sometimes distracted by subjects (such as the madness of George III) which, though interesting, are of marginal relevance to an interesting account of the treatment of mental illness in general. Nevertheless this is an informative, if often depressing, account of a subject which is never far from the headlines.


Stephen Halliday is the author of The Great Filth (Sutton, 2008)


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