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Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives and Museum, Beckenham. Photo by Shana Niccum
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The Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives and Museum showcases the amazing creativity of those who have suffered mental illness over the years - and gives us an unwelcome glimpse of the Victorian ways of treating it.

The word bedlam has long been applied to any place or scene of wild turmoil and confusion. It actually derives from the Bethlem Hospital - originally a priory, it became a hospital at the turn of the 14th century and is the oldest institution for the care and confinement of the mentally ill in England, and one of the oldest in Europe.

The Victorian building that houses the hospital now contains a small museum of pictures by artists who have suffered a mental disorder - including Richard Dadd and Jonathan Martin. Dadd continued to paint through 42 years of confinement in criminal lunatic asylums, and Martin's prophetic dreams inspired him to set fire to York Minster in 1829.

There are other materials that provide an insight into former methods, often cruel, that were used on those "disturbed of mind". If you can't make it inside, the statues at the 17th-century gates are fascinating work - entitled Raving and Melancholy Madness, by Caius Gabriel Cibber. Other artists may not be so well known, but their images are often powerful, disturbing and surprisingly witty.

It's essential that you check whether the archives and museum are open before you plan a visit, as there are occasional closures.

Content provided by Frommers Unlimited, copyright © 2014:
Whatsonwhen Ltd, John Wiley & Sons, Inc

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