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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mad as a Hatter

bed⋅lam [bed-luhm]
1. a scene or state of wild uproar and confusion.
2. Archaic. an insane asylum or madhouse.

In 1247 the Sisters of the Order of the Star of Bethlehem founded a priory on the site of what is now London Liverpool Street Station. The hospital was refered to as Bedlam which turned into a word to mean [see above] and that's exactly how the old Bethlam was. The screaming and noise that came from the building was said to drive anyone who heard, "so hideous, so great; that they are more than able to drive a man that hath his writs rather out of them."

Because insanity or mental illness were misunderstood throughout much of history the people who suffered from these conditions were usually mistreated. This also meant those with mental handicaps were thought to be "mad" as well. These unfortunate souls would be put in madhouses, hidden away from public view where they spent their lives being beaten or even killed.

As a means of generating more funding, you could pay a penny and view the "lunatics." Crowds peered through iron bars hoping to get a glimpse of the patients unusal looks and behavior, especially if their antics included anything of a sexual nature or violence. They were even allowed sticks to prod the poor patients. Asylum conditions were improving but they still had a long way to go. It was a Royal hospital, but controlled by the City of London after 1557, and managed by the Governors of Bridewell.

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