Bedlam - Encyclopedia


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Medical warning!
This article is from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica. Medical science has made many leaps forward since it has been written. This is not a site for medical advice, when you need information on a medical condition, consult a professional instead.

BEDLAM, or Bethlehem Hospital, the first English lunatic asylum, originally founded by Simon FitzMary, sheriff of London, in 1247, as a priory for the sisters and brethren of the order of the Star of Bethlehem. It had as one of its special objects the housing and entertainment of the bishop and canons of St Mary of Bethlehem, the mother-church, on their visits to England. Its first site was in Bishopsgate Street. It is not certain when lunatics were first received in Bedlam, but it is mentioned as a hospital in 1330 and some were there in 1403. In 1547 it was handed over by Henry VIII. with all its revenues to the city of London as a hospital for lunatics. With the exception of one such asylum in Granada, Spain, the Bethlehem Hospital was the first in Europe. It became famous and afterwards infamous for the brutal ill-treatment meted out to the insane (see Insanity: Hospital Treatment). In 1675 it was removed to new buildings in Moorfields and finally to its present site in St George's Fields, Lambeth. The word "Bedlam" has long been used generically for all lunatic asylums.

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