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  • Writer's pictureMarc Zakian

Bedlam - The story of a Madhouse

This British history podcast tells the story of Bedlam,  London’s famous and infamous hospital for “lunatics”.

Bedlam   British History Podcast

St Mary of Bethlehem was founded in 1247.  Opened as a religious order -  a medieval hospital where monks cared for the sick -   by the 1400s  the brothers were specialising in the caring for the insane.

Bethlem was much more than a mental asylum. It was a landmark on the edge of the City of London.

It moved to its new home in 1676, a building compared to none other than the Palace of Versailles.

This London landmark became famous, tourists would visit it alongside Westminster Abbey and the zoo. Bethlam was so notorious, the very name came to mean madness and chaos and it gained its terrible nickname: Bedlam.

Treatments for  insanity were crude and cruel:  purges to make the patients vomit out their sickness,  bleedings and beatings to drive out the evil spirits. And, of course, leaching,  bleeding patients into semi consciousness.

Bedlam inspired countless poems, dramas and works of art, including a sequence in Hogarths famous Rake’s Progress paintings

Rake's Progress painting  British History Podcast
The Rake's Progress

In our British history podcst we meet some of the hospital’s inmates.  Alexander Cruden who was kidnapped and treated by Bedlam’s merciless and greedy doctor,  James Monroe.

Lady Eleanor Davies, a prophetess and spell caster who believed she was on a devine mission inspired by a biblical vision

James Norris, an American soldier who was chained up for 12 years, and whose scandalous story led to mental health reforms.

Richard Dadd  Bedlam British History Podcast
Richard Dadd

James Tilly Matthews,  whose poor state of mind was documented as the first study of a psychiatric patient and description of paranoid schizophrenia.

Margaret Nicholson,  who tried to assassinate King George III at St James' Palace.

And Victorian artist Richard Dadd,  a brilliant painter whose delusions drove him to commit a brutal family killing.

Hear the story of Bedlam in our British history podcast:

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