Bethlem Hospital: London's Infamous, Horrible, And Terrifying Insane Asylum

By | October 19, 2019

Bethlem began with the best of intentions

Mental institutions and real-life insane asylums of the past were essentially real-life horror movies. It shouldn't be a shock that their conditions were bad, but in reality, they were so much worse than we can imagine. London's Bethlem Hospital is a prime example. Originally founded in 1247 as a way to help fund the Crusades, the hospital quickly fell into disrepair, setting back psychiatric treatment by years. The inner workings of the hospital were so chaotic that the term "bedlam" came from the name of this horrific mental institution. 

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Founded by the Italian Bishop Goffredo de Prefetti, the Bethlem Hospital was meant to serve as an alms collection location to keep the Crusades up and running. The monks who ran the establishment often took in the sick and the needy, a decent act which belies the horrors that were carried out at the hospital after it proved itself inoperable. It was built on top of the sewer system, and the constant backup made the water in the hospital unusable. By 1330, Bethlem was solely used as a home for the mentally ill and the poor, but it was another 300 years before all hell broke loose.  

Rotational therapy was used to "cure" patients

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After relocating north of London to the Moorfields in the 1600s, the hospital's mentally ill patients became a playground for the gross misuse of power. By 1675, the hospital was filled with schizophrenic and epileptic patients who were "treated" with rotational therapy, which involved strapping them to a chair suspended from the ceiling and spinning them around until they vomited. Once strapped in the chair, patients were often spun more than 100 times a minute, inducing mind-bending vertigo. As horrible as this is, the practice did provide research that helped modern vertigo patients. It's all about the silver lining, people.