Bethlehem Hospital, Bradshaw’s Hand Book, (No.92)

posted in: Bradshaw in London, Home | 2

Bradshaw describes ‘…Bethlehem Hospital, a noble institution, designed for the reception of those who are suffering from that most awful of human maladies, mental aberration….. Old ‘Bedlam’ in Moorfields, having been taken down in 1814, the present structure was raised in St George’s Fields on the site of a notorious tavern called The Dog and Duck…’.

Old Bedlam in Moorfields
Old Bedlam in Moorfields, designed by Robert Hooke

A hospital for the mentally ill dates back to 1247 when a hospital was attached to the Priory of St Mary Bethlehem outside Bishopsgate in the City. By 1400 the hospital was specialising in mental illness. In 1675-76 new buildings were opened in Moorfields but by 1800 the buildings were unsafe and so James Lewis, the hospital surveyor, drew up plans for a new hospital in Lambeth. In 1815 patients (122) were transferred to Lambeth from the City.

"BethlemSteelEngraving1828" by Panasonic. Licensed under PD-US via Wikipedia -
“BethlemSteelEngraving1828” by Panasonic. Licensed under PD-US via Wikipedia –
Plan of Bethlehem Hospital (
Plan of Bethlehem Hospital (

Sydney Smirke enlarged the building in 1835-46 with a large copper dome (over the Chapel) and patients’ wings to the side and rear to double the accommodation. He also built on workshops and laundries. Dr W Charles Hood was appointed in 1851, the first resident medical doctor. Curiously, Dr Hood gradually replaced the poor patients with those who could afford to pay for their keep, and the Hospital changed further in 1864 when the criminally insane were moved to Broadmoor. Smirke also built, 1866-69, a convalescent home for patients at Witley. I think this may be Queen Mary House at King Edwards School, but am only judging on pictures and old photographs. (More facts here.)

In 1925 it was decided to move the hospital away from central London to the borders of Beckenham and Croydon and Viscount Rothermere bought the freehold of the site and gave it to LCC to establish a park in memory of his mother, Geraldine Mary Harmsworth, and this opened in 1934. In 1936 the buildings were reopened as the Imperial War Museum and the interiors changed to suit a museum. The ‘wings’ were removed.

Imperial War Museum (Bethlehem Hospital)
Imperial War Museum (Bethlehem Hospital)
Imperial War Museum (Bethlehem Hospital)
Imperial War Museum (Bethlehem Hospital)
Imperial War Museum (Bethlehem Hospital)
Imperial War Museum (Bethlehem Hospital)

The 15 inch guns in front of the Museum were mounted on the battleships HMS Roberts (L, 1st photo) and HMS Ramilles (R, 1st photo), and full information is given here.

The Soviet War Memorial in the park remembers the 27 million (!) who were killed in WWII. (‘Lost their lives’ sounds somewhat careless; even ‘gave their lives’ cannot be true of all the civilians in this horrendous total.)

The Soviet War Memorial at the Imperial War Museum
The Soviet War Memorial at the Imperial War Museum



You may be interested in
Bethlehem Royal Hospital – the history – and here
The Horrors of the Bethlehem Royal Hospital
Bethlem Royal Hospital
The Imperial War Museum
The Berlin Wall at the IWM
Bedlam bodies beneath Crossrail

2 Responses

  1. runner500

    Thanks that was interesting, it filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge about the building. The 1930s version of the Bethlem in Beckenham is a fine building too.

I would love to hear from you!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.