Work end-of-summer celebration

Went for a nice meal out on Friday with work folks to celebrate the end of the busy summer period. We went to a lovely Italian on Goodge Street called Trattoria Mondello, which was unbelievably cheap for London: most of the pizza and pasta dishes were about six pounds or less. I had some creamy pasta followed by ‘Grandmother’s Cake’ which was basically a tart made with custard (not your standard thick custard, a lighter version) delicately flavoured with lemon and topped with pistachios.

The meal was lovely, but afterwards we were too full and sleepy to drink much so we only had a couple of drinks before leaving. Home by half past nine – I must be getting old!

The Olympic Park

I managed to get some last-minute Paralympic tickets – for the athletics, no less. I was pretty excited about seeing the inside of the Olympic Park.

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Welcome to the Olympic Park

The stadium is pretty awesome, and even though my seat only cost £10 I still had a really good view. The atmosphere was fantastic, and there was even a Mexican wave going! I got to see some running, wheelchair races, long jump, javelin and discus – the highlight of the morning was seeing Aled Davies win gold.

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The Park itself is huge. There are areas for lots of other sporting events such as BMX and swimming. There are a surprising number of green spaces too. You can walk around the stadium by the river, which is really lovely and peaceful, and there are lots of flowers.

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At the other end of the park there is a stage where live bands play. My friends and I were sitting on the grass with our drinks and who should make an appearance on the stage but Mandeville (the Paralympic mascot). The Olympic mascots scare me a little, but kids love them: they were jumping up and down waving the cuddly Mandevilles they’d obviously nagged their parents into buying for them. The experience was bizarre to say the least.

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Watch out, it’s Mandeville!

On Saturday I get to see some wheelchair fencing at the ExCel centre. I’m quite looking forward to it.

Bethlem Royal Hospital Museum and Archives

We all know the modern meaning of the word Bedlam, used to denote a place of chaos. This modern meaning has its origins in the Bethlem Royal Hospital of London, which was founded in 1247 and exists to this day. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was notorious as a place where visitors could go to stare and jeer at the inmates, but it has a rich and varied past that extends way before and long after this dubious period in its history.

I studied History at university, and one of the topics I studied was the history of medicine in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. One week we looked at insanity, and the different ways this has been interpreted and treated over the centuries. The role of Bethlem Hospital was significant in helping us to understand how madness was viewed and treated, and when I found out that there was a museum about the hospital, I knew I wanted to go.

Bethlem Royal Hospital Museum and Archives is located on the modern hospital site, at Beckenham, south London. It is open Monday to Friday, but only one Saturday a month. Visiting the museum is free, but you need to get the train to Eden Park from London Bridge, Waterloo East or Charing Cross. I like trains so enjoyed my journey; I always find it incredible that a short journey can take you into a suburban or even a rural area, away from the busy centre of the city.

The museum itself is tiny, but considering the lack of space a surprisingly large number of items are on show. The museum has too many objects and archival documents to be able to display them all, so if you want to see something in particular you will need to phone ahead; I, however, was just happy to browse. At the entrance to the museum room, a number of boards relate the history of the hospital; I found this particularly interesting, as beyond the little I found out during my studies, I didn’t know a great deal.

Bethlem Royal Hospital began life as the priory of St Mary of Bethlehem (the site of which is now covered by Liverpool Street Station), which was treating insanity by the fourteenth century.  Bethlem and Bedlam were interchangeable terms for Bethlehem, and were both used to describe the hospital. Refounded after the Reformation as one of five ‘Royal’ hospitals, Bethlem came under the control, and later the possession, of the City of London.

The hospital was in need of new premises by the seventeenth century: numbers had increased, and the old building was showing signs of wear and tear. The new building, designed by Robert Hooke, was opened at Moorfields in 1676. Galleries, which ran the length of the building, were where sightseers were able to view the inmates until such visits were stopped in 1770. At the time, Bethlem was the only public institution of its kind, though private madhouses did exist. It was largely designed for short stay patients, though an incurable wing did exist from the 1730s until 1919.

The third Bethlem site opened in 1815 – what remains of the building is now the Imperial War Museum.  Throughout the nineteenth century, restraint of patients was abandoned and patients were encouraged to work and enjoy recreation and entertainments. I found this interesting as the changing treatment of mentally ill people was something I had studied during my degree.

Bethlem has occupied its present site since 1930. Designed on a different system to the previous hospitals, it is made up of individual buildings containing its own ward, kitchen, dining room and garden. The hospital was joined with the Maudsley Hospital in Denmark Hill after the founding of the NHS in 1948.

Inside the museum itself, there were artworks created by former patients; often dark in tone, these were striking and unusual. Among the most interesting for me were pictures drawn by Jonathan Martin, the man responsible for setting fire to York Minster in 1829 and later incarcerated in Bethlem. He was the brother of John Martin, the famous popular painter of dramatic Biblical scenes whose work was recently exhibited at Tate Britain. Despite studying in York for three years I hadn’t realised that this had occurred!

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There were some fascinating objects on display, including fearsome-looking restraint devices and a number of alms-boxes, one bearing the pleading message, “Pity the poor Lunaticks”. Dominating the small room were the two stone figures, carved by Caius Gabriel Cibber, from the gates of the seventeenth century hospital. These are known as “Raving” and “Melancholy” madness, meant to represent the two ways in which insanity was chiefly classified at this time.

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“Melancholy” madness
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“Raving” madness

I also enjoyed looking at the archives on display, such as a book of instructions for those working at the Hospital in the eighteenth century. I think it would be really rewarding to study these archives properly and find out what life was like for mentally ill patients and those who cared for them in the past.