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200 Years Ago Today 14

11 March 2016

The Committee on Madhouses questioned the Matron of Bethlem Hospital, Elizabeth Forbes, about the length of time patients were spent in their beds. She said: “The custom, when I first went, was only to get them up three days of the week, never on meat days; they lie in bed four days in the week.”

Mrs Forbes came to Bethlem as its Matron in January 1815, and after she had been there a week she decided “to have every one got up, and washed and dressed every morning, as soon as I got clothes for them, which was very soon”. Previously, if a patient was suffering from a “fit of irritation” they were instantly chained to their bed or the wall, and left like that for a considerable period of time. Mrs Forbes said she made sure a patient was never chained for more than a day.

When asked if a patient had ever been struck on the head with a key, she responded: “There was a circumstance occurred after I went there, of a female being struck on the head with a key; I had the keeper discharged. In a few days after, I had all the females discharged indeed but one. When I went, there were only two female keepers, one a very good young woman, and the other a very bad one; I only brought one female from the old house, a very decent young woman; the others were discharged.”

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