Stress Driving You Mad?: St. Luke’s Hospital

Bedlam, or Bethlem, Hospital has achieved such historic notoriety, certainly most of us have heard of it. Here it was that pauper lunatics were sent up until 1751.

Now, the sad fact was that the 18th and early 19th centuries were not kind to lunatics. They were often treated little better than animals. If they were lucky enough to have wealthy relatives, somebody was paid to care and keep them out of the way. For the rest of them, Bedlam was designed specifically for the purpose. Perhaps most disturbing to modern sensibilities was the addition of galleries and methods so that visitors could go to visit Bedlam and laugh and jeer at the poor lunatics trapped there.

So, note to self: if I am trapped in Regency England and declared mad, St. Luke’s is the way to go. No provisions were made for laughing and jeering at the lunatics.

This picture, again from Microcosm of London, shows St. Luke’s Hospital, one of the galleries in the female wing. By historical standards, it was quite humane. The room is clean, some of the women are working, others take turns around the room. None of them are chained, and each lunatic is provided with a bed, blankets, and if “her habits were clean enough”, sheets. Yes, again I look to my tiny 1940 edition, and John Summerson’s helpful notes.

Summerson writes:

“The building is very like a prison and was, indeed, designed by George Dance, the architect of Newgate Gaol. Dance was an artist of extraordinary power and a grim theme sometimes drew out the best in him. This gallery, with its long thin windows, fantastically high cell doors and iron grilles, might be a stage set for the Duchess of Malfi. Compare it to Dance’s Chapel at Newgate [see Aug 16th post], another specimen of the art of being architecturally grim. Today we disapprove of architecture which deliberately dramatises unpleasant things. A madhouse which looked like a setting for the hallucinations of madmen would never do. It must look like a gentleman’s residence and must be called, not a mad-house, or even a lunatic asylum, but a ‘mental home.’” (- Summerson, 19-20, Microcosm of London, 1943)

I included the last bit because I found it rather amusing, his ascerbic notation – because in designing buildings today, we’re also conscious of making them more “friendly” for the most part. Of course, we also know (or think we know) that different environments have different effects on patients and inmates (depending on whether it’s a hospital or prison – often designed by similar people).

What do you think? Does this hospital look suitable for the mad? What improvements do you think we’ve made since then? What perhaps have we forgotten? Curious about anything else? Do leave a note – you know you want to. 😉

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