Yet another South London Museum!
Now, many of you may know of this place by another name- Bedlam. As in the term you use for ‘a mad house’. Bethlem was founded in the 1570s (AMAZING) as an institution for people with mental illnesses. This site is actually its (at least) 4th location in its history.
Bethlem Museum of the Mind
The museum has a historical gallery, art gallery and rotating exhibition space. It’s a nice and manageable size with a lot of depth.
Mental Illness, as you can imagine, is a difficult and touchy subject. This museum pulls it off with great aplomb! I was really impressed at how they did not sensationalize it all. Instead, the aim is to humanise mental illness as the statistic is that 1 in 4 people will struggle with a mental illness at some point.
In the above picture was one of my favourite interactives! You could click on the words that all mean some form of mental illness to discover its origin, meaning and usage. I love definitions so this was the thing for me!
In the exhibition they use a lot of objects from Bethlem, along with visitors’ accounts and personal quotes. Back in the 1700’s people would actually pay a fee to go look at the patients. It was like going to the zoo but with humans. The video with those accounts also has them from people who thought it was terrible, stories from former patients and even current nursing staff. This really grounds the whole space.
The museum is very new (opened in 2015), and is located on the grounds of the Bethlem Royal Hospital- which is still operating! It has lovely park land all around.
The museum was really effective in mixing objects from the present with historical items, audio visuals, and art. It has a lot of spaces to sit, listen and contemplate.
Pros: amazing curation, great collection, interesting art displays (no photos allowed!), friendly staff, free, good for all ages and all abilities, lots of seating, beautiful building/ grounds, fun interactives, strong and important message.
Cons: a little tricky to get to (so south!), it’s set back from the road so just enter at the hospital gates, no cafe 😦