29 May 2017 | 21.1 °C

Former Insane Asylum Converted Into Museum Of The Mind

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 12 months ago
Former Insane Asylum Converted Into Museum Of The Mind ★★★★☆ 4
The staircase flanked by raving and melancholy madness. Photo: Beth Elliott.
The staircase flanked by raving and melancholy madness. Photo: Beth Elliott.
The top of the art deco staircase. Photo: Beth Elliott.
The top of the art deco staircase. Photo: Beth Elliott.
The exhibition is laid out spaciously despite the large amount of items. Photo: Beth Elliott.
The exhibition is laid out spaciously despite the large amount of items. Photo: Beth Elliott.
Bethlem Museum of the Mind. Photo: Beth Elliott
The museum 's exterior. Photo: Beth Elliott
Art features strongly in the collection. Photo: Beth Elliott.
Art features strongly in the collection. Photo: Beth Elliott.
There's a gallery of contemporary art works on the ground floor. Photo: Beth Elliott.
There's a gallery of contemporary art works on the ground floor. Photo: Beth Elliott.
The museum's exterior. Photo: Beth Elliott

Londonist Rating:

★★★★☆

Bethlem Royal Hospital was set up in 1247 as Europe's first centre dedicated to the treatment of psychiatric illness. Moving between various locations in London — including at one point the building that's now the Imperial War Museum — its name is also at the root of the term 'bedlam', which is still used today as a synonym for disorder. In 1930 the facility moved to a location between Croydon and Beckenham and now part of this hospital has opened as The Museum of the Mind, displaying a collection of historic and modern art and artefacts.

The fantastic entrance to the collection is a staircase flanked by two statues representing raving and melancholy madness — one looking calm, the other in manacles screaming. We're glad this collection doesn't shy away from the often horrific manner in which mentally ill people were treated with a selection of restraints and strait-jackets on display. There are also examples of how phrenology (contours of the skull) and physiognomy (facial features) were used to diagnose personality types.

But the museum doesn't simply dwell on the past with more recent examples of psychiatric care including videos and voice-overs exploring how mental healthcare is treated today.

We were impressed with the art collection and especially representations of depression that are both extremely powerful and very dark. One striking painting by Marion Patrick shows a woman sitting with her head between her knees, the entire colour palette made up of different shades of grey.

This museum is located on the outskirts of London but it's well worth travelling out to, full of fascinating information and history as it is. It's also free and and set within acres of woodland, which will be great to explore during the summer.

The Museum of the Mind is now open at Bethlem Royal Hospital, Monks Orchard Road, BR3 3BX. Entrance is free. It is open Wednesdays to Fridays and the first and last Saturday of every month. A temporary exhibition of Brian Charnley's The Art of Schizophrenia is on at the museum until 22 May. For more background to Bethlem, listen to our fantastic podcast on this topic.

Last Updated 10 May 2016