One of our New Years Resolutions this year is to explore London as much as we can and to do it as cheaply as we can.

Most things are fairly accessible in London’s myriad of underground and overground trains, comprehensive bus network and further out, the trams. Most Londoners have Oyster cards – a prepaid travel card which either gives the travel unlimited options (paid monthly) or heavily reduced fees (topped up as needed). So, as Martin has a monthly Oyster and I have a prepaid, travel costs don’t generally feature too heavily in our spending on days out, but there really is no such thing as a free day out in London. We are working on it though… maybe not free, but we’re getting pretty close!

Today we hopped on the 486 bus to West Croydon. We sat right at the front on the top level reading our books for the 50 minute journey with the sun shining through the window. The reason I mention this otherwise mundane fact is that it was a rare moment of warmth in this winter – you know how the car warms up when the sun bakes your skin through the window – it was kind of like that. A warm and vit D enriched bus ride. Lovely. :o) (Southern hemispherians just can’t understand!)

We arrived in Croydon and spent part of the afternoon walking around the much maligned Croydon high street looking at deals and doing window shopping. I did see and photograph some unexpectedly beautiful old buildings, fixtures, and chimneys on our hour long stroll from the bus stop to the Clock Tower.

Croydon doesn’t have a great reputation, and is definitely not known as the cultural capital of the South, but the aim for our afternoon mission was the Croydon Clocktower. Built as the third Town Hall of the town of Croydon in 1895, today it houses the Croydon Museum and art galleries, a cinema, library, Tourist Information Centre, the Braithwaite Hall and the Clocktower Café.

One of the art galleries are currently exhibiting a show called “Frames of Mind” – a collection of art works from patients at the Bethlem Royal Hospital. BRH is one of the hospitals that fall under the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM) umbrella, and I work for SLaM, so when I saw the poster I was very interested. A part of the exhibition was also the history of Bethlem (which has been around in some form or other since 1247, although it only started serving as a hospital for the mentally ill in 1357.)

There were about 50 artworks on display, done by patients of the hospital with a range of illnesses over the past 150 years. There was also an audio recording by a patient who used to live in Cane Hill hospital who now lives in community care, and he was explaining the difference in care. Something I found unsettling and disturbing is that mental health patients have only had ‘rights’ since about the 50s and it’s only since about the 70’s that asylum ‘guards’ have become registered Mental Health Nurses. In fact, it was only in 1984 that the MH hospitals in London became care facilities until then they had been asylums, little more than prisons or workhouses. There were some dreadful stories – a man kept in restraints so that he could only stand or lie down on his back for nine – fourteen years (the records are unclear). He was finally released when MP’s visited him and felt that the restraints were unnecessary. He died of tuberculosis soon after. Earlier than that, in the 1800’s wealthy ladies used to visit the asylum to be entertained by the ‘lunatics’. How horrific!! Thank God the hospital governors put an end to that! There was a book of records where a matron for the hospital kept the records of a 22 year old man who had been born with epilepsy was admitted to the facility. The entries his warden made refer to him in such terms as “idiot.still epileptic. violent.” “Two fits this week. Idiot is destructive and epileptic.” The young man died 3 years after his admission.

Historian Roy Porter has called the Bethlem Hospital “a symbol for man’s inhumanity to man, for callousness and cruelty.” Fortunately, as someone who now works with the people who work with these service users (we don’t call them idiots anymore!) I can not vouch enough for how things have changed – the care and compassion that some health care assistants and nurses show is phenomenal and whenever I’ve been on a ward or a residential unit I am amazed at the work these people do.

I guess what’s frighting is how many people who were inmates in the asylum are still in the system and as Martin said, how many wardens are now nurses! As long as they’ve changed with the system, they would really be interesting people to talk to!

One interesting fact and a non important claim to fame is that the word “bedlam” is actually a direct derivative from the various names of Bethlem, including Bethlehem and Bedlam.

Another interesting fact is that BRH moved to its current location in Beckenham from it’s previous location which is today Liverpool Street Station.

It really was a great exhibit, and if you’d like to be moved, touched and inspired I recommend you visit before the end of January 2009.

Museum of Croydon

Cost of this day out: £4.95! (drinks and bus fare!)

Categories: Around Town


Croydon Museum – Frames of Mind

  1. This sounds like a fascinating exhibition, shame that I missed out on it (moving house means zero social life I’m afraid!)

    Wasn’t Bethlem Hospital co-governed with Bridewell Prison for a period of time? Its crazy! (no pun intended)

    Thanks for an interesting write up on this.

    Lotsa love

    Laura xx

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