12 Aug: The Bodies Buried at Bedlam

When 42 bodies buried near Liverpool Street Station in London were dug up as part of the works on Crossrail on 12th August, 2015, they were thought to be victims of the Great Plague of 1665. The incident shone a light on the cemetery in which they were buried – a pauper’s grave at Bethlem Hospital; the institution more commonly known as ‘Bedlam’.

From its establishment in 1247, Bedlam ‘lunatic asylum’ quickly gained a reputation as a place that was pioneering – it was the only mental health facility in Britain – and fearsome, a place of stigma and spectacle. The public could pay to tour the facility and have pisspots thrown at them.

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly reveal how the abuses perpetrated at Bedlam still have echoes in modern-day surgery; look back at the first formal inspection of the premises; and consider why ‘Bedlam’ has become so resonant in literature from Shakespeare to Dickens… 

CONTENT WARNING: description of unsanitary conditions and patient abuse; reference to out-dated and pejorative language about mental health

Further Reading:

• ‘London Crossrail Dig At Bedlam Reveals ‘Great Plague Victims’ Were Buried In Thin Wooden Coffins’ (HuffPost UK, 2015): https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/08/12/london-crossrail-excavators-skeletons-great-plague_n_7976488.html

• ‘How Bethlem Royal Hospital Became The Notorious Bedlam Asylum’ (All Thats Interesting, 2021): https://allthatsinteresting.com/bedlam

• ‘Skeletons from Bedlam Hospital site uncovered by Crossrail’ (Daily Mail, 2015):