Category Archives: Medical London

Bedlam

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On this day in 1669, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“I to  the office, while the young people went to see Bedlam”.

The Priory of St Mary of  Bethlehem (“Bedlam”) was originally founded just outside Bishopsgate in 1247, becoming a hospital  in 1329, a mental hospital of a sort in  1403, and  infamous for the shameful ill-treatment of its inmates by all and sundry thereafter.  It survived the Great Fire of 1666, but nonetheless required to be rebuilt  by Robert Hooke in Moorfields in 1675.  It was subsequently  rebuilt again at the junction of Kennington Road and Lambeth Road  in the Borough of Southwark in 1815, and finally relocated to the site of a former country house estate in Beckenham in the Borough of Bromley in Kent in 1930.   Corporation “Blue Plaques” mark  the two former City sites of the hospital (the Southwark also site survives to this day, and has housed the Imperial War Museum since 1936).  The Danish sculptor Caius Gabriel Cibber’s (1630-1700) extraordinary statues of figures representing “Raving and Melancholy Madness”, that used to stand outside the old hospital in Moorfields, may now be seen inside the museum of the new one in Beckenham.

Archaeological excavation work is currently ongoing on the  associated burial ground just outside Bishopsgate, originally established in 1569.  Among the 20000 or so Londoners  known from surviving records to have been laid to rest here are Robert Lockyer, a Leveller executed by firing squad during the Civil War, in 1649; and a number of people killed in Thomas Venner’s rebellion, in 1661.  Also  a large number who died in the Great Plague in 1665 (including one Mary Godfree, whose gravestone has recently been found).

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bedlam-1676-1815-copy

 

Flagellants attempt to ward off the Black Death (1349)

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Another in the occasional series on contemporary accounts of events in the history of London, this one written by Robert of Avesbury in 1349 …

“In that same year of 1349, about Michaelmas, over six hundred [flagellants]  came to London from Flanders … .  Sometimes at St Paul’s and sometimes at other points in the city they made two daily public appearances wearing cloths from the thighs to the ankles, but otherwise stripped bare.  Each wore a cap marked with a red cross in front and behind.  Each had in his right hand a scourge with three tails. Each tail had a knot and through the middle of it there were sometimes sharp nails fixed. They marched naked in a file one behind the other and whipped themselves with these scourges on their naked and bleeding bodies.  Four of them would chant in their native tongue and, another four would chant in response like a litany. Thrice they would all cast themselves on the ground in this sort of procession, stretching out their hands like the arms of a cross. The singing would go on and, the one who was in the rear of those thus prostrate acting first, each of them in turn would step over the others and give one stroke with his scourge to the man lying under him.  This went on from the first to the last until each of them had observed the ritual to the full tale of those on the ground. Then each put on his customary garments and always wearing their caps and carrying their whips in their hands they retired to their lodgings. It is said that every night they performed the same penance.”

St Anthony’s Fire and St Anthony’s Hospital

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St Anthony’s Fire, also known as ergotism, was a disease, common in Medieval times, caused by eating – improperly-stored – cereals contaminated by an alkaloid-secreting fungus.  Its symptoms included a rash, fever and delirium (sometimes taken as evidence of bewitchment).

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St Anthony’s Hospital, or the Hospital of St Antoine de Viennois, specialising in the treatment of the disease, was founded on the site of a former synagogue on Threadneedle Street in 1242.  It was later expanded so as to incorporate, in 1429, a hospice; in 1440, a school, where  Thomas More (1478-1535) studied; and, in 1550, a chapel, where Protestant Huguenots, fleeing religious persecution in Catholic France, worshipped.  It was burned down in the  Great Fire of 1666, and subsequently rebuilt, only to be demolished in 1840.

 

The leper hospital of St Giles in the Fields (1117)

Close up

According to John Richardson’s “Annals of London”, nine hundred years ago, in 1117, a leper hospital was founded by Queen Matilda at St Giles in the Fields.  The location of the hospital, quite literally “in the fields” in between the City of London and Westminster, was deliberately chosen so as to allow a degree of isolation, and yet at the same time to provide the opportunity for  the inmates to beg for alms from the occasional passers-by (there would be up to   fourteen inmates at any given time).  The hospital was administered by the City of London until 1299 (and by a “lazar house” in Leicestershire after that date).  It remained in use even after leprosy essentially died out in the later Middle Ages, but was closed down during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the post-Medieval period.  The chapel then became  a parish church, which was rebuilt in the eighteenth century (by Flitcroft).

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The Medieval Inns of Court and Chancery (John Fortescue, 1470)

Another in the occasional series on contemporary accounts and descriptions of the historic City of London,  this one on the Medieval Inns of Court and Chancery, written by John Fortescue in 1470 …

“In England, laws are learned in three languages, namely English, French and Latin [and] not in universities, but in a certain public academy situated near the King’s courts [in Westminster].  That academy is not situated in the city, where the tumult could disturb the student’s quiet, but in a suburb.  There are in this academy ten lesser Inns of Chancery to each of [which] at least a hundred belong.  These students are for the most part young men learning the elements of the law, who, becoming proficient as they mature, are absorbed into the greater Inns of Court, of which there are four in number, and to the least of which belong 200 students or more.

[I]n these greater inns there can no student be maintained for less expenses by the year than 20 marks.  And if he have a servant to wait upon him, as most of them have, then so much the greater will his charges be.  Now by reason of these charges the children only of noble men do study the laws … .  For the poor and common sort of the people are not able to bear so great charges … and merchant men can seldom find in their hearts to hinder their merchandise with so great yearly expenses.  And thus it falleth out that there is scant any man found within the … laws, except he be a gentleman born … .

Wherefore they more than any other kind of men have a special regard to their nobility and to the preservation of their honour and fame.  And to speak uprightly there is in these greater  inns, yea and in the lesser too, beside the study of the laws, as it were an university or school of all commendable qualities requisite for noble men.  There they learn to sing, and to exercise themselves in all kinds of harmony.  There also they practise dancing, and other noble men’s pastimes, as they do which are brought up in the king’s house”.

An individual’s right to trial by jury was enshrined  in the Magna Carta in the reign of King John in the early thirteenth century, and that to legal counsel and representation in the form of an “attorney” (solicitor) and a “pleader” before court (barrister) in the reign of Edward I in the late thirteenth; and the Inns of Court were established in the fourteenth and fifteenth (Temple in the early fourteenth, Gray’s Inn in the late fourteenth, and Lincoln’s Inn, in its present location, in the fifteenth).

Only post-Medieval and later buildings survive in the modern Inns of Court.

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These include the Elizabethan Middle Temple Hall, where plays were and are performed for the entertainment of the Templars (Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” premiered here in 1602).

Lincoln's Inn Old Hall.JPGMedieval arch (from Bishop of Chichester's House), Lincoln's Inn Old Hall.jpg

Note, though, that  Lincoln’s Inn Old Hall, which dates to the reign of the first Tudor King, Henry VII, incorporates into its construction a Gothic arch from an older, Medieval, building, very possibly  the thirteenth-century Bishop of Chichester’s House.

 

The Priory and Hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem (“Bedlam”)

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The priory of St Mary of  Bethlehem (“Bedlam”) was originally founded just outside Bishopsgate in the City of London in 1247, becoming a hospital  in 1329,  a mental hospital of a sort in  1403, and infamous for the shameful ill-treatment of its inmates by all and sundry thereafter.

statues-of-figures-representing-raving-and-melancholy-madness-outside-hospital-in-former-location-in-moorfields

It survived the Great Fire of 1666, but nonetheless required to be rebuilt  – as “The Palace Beautiful” – by Robert Hooke in Moorfields in 1675.

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It was subsequently  rebuilt again at the junction of Kennington Road and Lambeth Road  in the Borough of Southwark in 1815 (on the site now occupied by the Imperial War Museum) …

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… and finally relocated to the site of a former country house estate in Beckenham in the Borough of Bromley in Kent in 1930.

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bedlam-1676-1815-copy

Corporation “Blue Plaques” mark  the two former City sites of the hospital (the Southwark site survives to this day, and has housed the Imperial War Museum since 1936).

statue-of-figure-representing-raving-madness-mania

The Danish sculptor Caius Gabriel Cibber’s (1630-1700) extraordinary statues of figures representing “Raving and Melancholy Madness”, that used to stand outside the old hospital in Moorfields, may now be seen inside the museum of the new one in Beckenham.

view-through-peephole-to-padded-cell

straitjacket

electro-convulsive-therapy-set

Also in the museum are other artefacts from the various incarnations of the hospital, including a padded cell, a strait-jacket and other restraints, and an Electro-Convulsive Therapy Kit.

Archaeological excavation work is currently ongoing on the  associated burial ground just outside Bishopsgate, originally established in 1569.  Among the 20000 or so Londoners  known from surviving records to have been laid to rest here are Robert Lockyer, a Leveller executed by firing squad during the Civil War, in 1649; and a number of people killed in Thomas Venner’s rebellion, in 1661.  Also  a large number who died in the Great Plague in 1665 (including one Mary Godfree, whose gravestone has recently been found).

July 8th  – “London’s Dreadful Visitation:  The Great Plague, 1665” (exhibition in Guildhall Library)

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I have just returned from the newly-opened exhibition entitled “London’s Dreadful Visitation:  The Great Plague, 1665” in  the Guildhall Library.  The exhibition runs until September 11th.  Readers might also be interested to know that there is an illustrated lecture and late viewing to accompany the formal launch of the exhibition between 6-8pm on July 16th (£5 payable, booking essential), and also a series of family-friendly  storytelling workshops  between 11am-12:30pm on July 27th and 28th and August 3rd and 4th.

As well as informative posters, the exhibitions features a selection of seventeen priceless and seldom-seen primary source materials from the library’s extensive holdings.  The latter include a copy of the rare book “Certain Necessary Directions: As Well As For The Cure Of The Plague As For Preventing The Infection: With Many Easie Medicines Of Small Charge”, issued at the beginning of the outbreak by the Royal College of Physicians, sadly to little practical effect; a collection of the Parish Clerks’ “Bills of Mortality” for the plague year, compiled at the end; and St Giles Cripplegate’s parish register for the plague year (this parish was one  of the worst affected).

Photography is permitted in the exhibition, although reproduction of photographic images is not, leastwise without written permission and payment of a fee.

West Ham

Another in the occasional series on “Far-Flung Lost London” (following the footballing theme) …

West Ham was first recorded  in 1186 as Westhamma, from the Old English “hamme”, meaning area of dry land bounded by water, and referring to its  situation between the Rivers Lea, Roding and Thames (Ham was first recorded in 958 as Hamme).

All saints - Tower

All saints – Tower

All Saints

The church of All Saints, also known as West Ham Parish Church, was originally built (or possibly rebuilt) in around 1180, and extended in the thirteenth century, and again in the fifteenth, when the tower was added, and yet again in the sixteenth, when the chapels were added.  It was owned by Stratford Langthorne Abbey from 1334 until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538.  Inside the church are some relics from the dissolved abbey, including a window, in the porch, and a carved stone from the charnel house, in the tower.

 

Keystone from Charnel House (now in All Saints, West Ham)

Keystone from Charnel House (now in All Saints, West Ham)

Stratford Langthorne Abbey

Stratford Langthorne Abbey, also known as the Abbey of St Mary Stratford Langthorne, was originally built as a Savigniac house in 1135, possibly on the site of an earlier, Saxo-Norman manorial centre and associated church, and was incorporated into the Cistercian order in 1147.  It was subsequently rebuilt and extended at least twice, in around 1220; but also  to have begun to stagnate in around 1350  – coincidentally or otherwise close to the time of the “Black Death” of 1348-9.  It was  finally dissolved in 1538, at which time it was still evidently a wealthy abbey, owning property in numerous parishes throughout London.  After the dissolution, most of the buildings on the site were demolished (although the main gateway survived until the nineteenth century).

Archaeological excavations on the site, undertaken in conjunction with the construction of the extension to the Jubilee Line in 1973-94, revealed that the abbey church was  comparable  in size to that of  Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire, founded at around the same time.  The excavations also revealed 647 burials in the abbey  cemetery, more than recorded in any other Cistercian site in Europe.  Two of the skeletons exhibited broken arm and leg bones held together with metal plates, implying that the monks possessed considerable medical knowledge and skill.  Many others, though, most notably those from the foundation of the abbey up to around 1220,  exhibited untreated fractures, implying that the monks were generally unwilling to perform surgery – perhaps interpreting as a ban a Papal Decree issued by Boniface VIII after  the Council of Tours in 1163 (“Eccelestia abhorret a  sanguine” ).

The Great Plague (John Tillison, 1665)

PlagueSeptember 14thOn this day in 1665, John Tillison wrote, in a letter to Dr Sancroft:

“Death stares us continually in the face in every infected person that passeth by us; in every coffin which is … carried along the streets.  … The custom was … to bury the dead in the night only; now, both night and day will hardly be time enough to do it.  … [L]ast week, … the dead was piled in heaps above ground … before either time could be gained or place to bury them.  The Quakers … have buried in their piece of ground [Bunhill Row] a thousand … .  Many are [also] dead in … other places about the town which are not included in the bill of mortality”.

Plague

Expulsion of a leper (City of London letter-book, 1372)

Another in the occasional series on contemporary accounts of events in the history of London, this one from the City of London letter-book of 1372 …

Leper and physician

Leper and physician

“ … John Mayn, …  who had oftentimes … been commanded … to depart from the City, and provide for himself some dwelling outside it, and avoid the common conversation of mankind – seeing that he, John, was smitten with the blemish of leprosy – … by reason of the infection of that disease … was [ordered] before the mayor and aldermen at the Husting … [to] depart forthwith from the City, and … not return thereto, on pain of undergoing the punishment of the pillory, if he should contravene the same”.

Mayn was one of countless lepers expelled from the City after their presence there was banned under a Royal Edict issued by Edward III in 1346, which read, in part:

“all leprose persons inhabiting … should auoid within fifteen dayes …, and … no man suffer any such leprose person to abide within his house, vpon paine to forfeite his said house, and to incurre the kinges further displeasure”.

Leper with bell in margins of C14 MS

Leper with bell in margins of C14 MS

Seal of the lazar-house, Mile End

Seal of the lazar-house, Mile End

Seal of the leper-women of Westminster

Seal of the leper-women of Westminster

There is  no record  of what became of him after he was expelled.  If he was fortunate, he may have found himself a place in one of the leper colonies or hospitals, or “Lazar(us) Houses”,  on the rural fringes of the City, in St Giles (in the Fields), Westminster and Knightsbridge to the west, Kingsland to the north, Mile End to the east, and Southwark to the south.  The “lazar houses” were invariably strategically sited at crossroads, where the  lepers could  beg for alms from  passing pedestrians.

St Giles in the Fields, originally founded as a leper colony or hospital in 1101

St Giles in the Fields, originally founded as a leper colony or hospital in 1101