On this Day in London's History
1247 Bedlam founded. The world's oldest institution for the mentally shortchanged had its origins on this day 759 years ago, when some religious bloke from the holy land declared the new priory of St Mary Bethlehem open. By 1330, the priory had sprouted its very own hospital, which soon specialised in the treatment of the insane. And by 'treatment' we mean a special flavour of appalling, inhuman treatment. Inmates were often left to wallow in there own filth, and were put on show to paying customers...who were encouraged to poke the poor souls with sticks. By this time, the name 'Bethlehem' had been contracted to Bedlam, which is now a common term for anywhere that chaos reigns.
The hospital has jumped around over the years. The original was built on the site now occupied by the Great Eastern Hotel, off Bishopsgate. From there, it hopped to Moorfields in 1675; Lambeth in 1815 (in the buildings now housing the Imperial War Museum); and thence to Beckenham in 1930. It continues as a working hospital today, providing treatment for drug abusers.
The roll-call of Bedlam's inmates includes a would-be royal assassin - James Hadfield. In 1800, Hadfield attempted to shoot George III in a theatre (what is it with theatres and assassinations?). After missing the king by more than a foot, Hadfield barked, "God bless your royal highness; I like you very well; you are a good fellow". He was quickly arrested and tried, but avoided the death penalty by pleading insanity. After taking into account the defendant's history - which included a series of sabre blows to the head, and involvement with a religious cult - Hadfield was acquitted and sent to Bedlam, where he endured for over 40 years. George III, of course, was himself no stranger to madness. The monarch was confined under slightly better conditions, however, remaining at Windsor Castle during his deep bouts of insanity.
Londoner of the Week
Heff is the new Hoff?
One thing you should do in London this week
With Hallowe'en almost upon is, it's time once again to make like a zombie and...drink lots of beer. Crawl of the Dead 3, billed as 'The Rise of the Dawn of the Evil Living Zombie Dead' is a chance to hang out with other like-minded, and mind-liking, zombie folk as you shamble from pub to pub. Next Saturday.