This site requires JavaScript to be enabled to work properly, some features of the site may not work while it is disabled.

In the Frame: Architectural Drawing of the New Bethlem Hospital

26 November 2014

In the Frame is usually published at the start of each month to showcase a painting in our museum’s collection (or, occasionally in that of another museum) that deserves a wider audience than it gets at present. This time around, for reasons that will become clear – click here if you’re impatient to find out why – we are publishing a week early, and highlighting an architectural drawing in our collection rather than a painting. Here at the museum, we have care of the historic records of Bethlem, the Maudsley and Warlingham Hospitals, as well as a large quantity of art and artefacts. A range of architectural plans and drawings are included in these records, and some of them display considerable artistic prowess in their own right. James Tilly Matthews, Bethlem Hospital patient and aspiring architect, is well known for having drawn up plans for the rebuilding of the hospital in the early nineteenth century; Ralph Maynard Smith is little known, but in the 1920s was responsible for the first perspective drawing of how Bethlem would look once relocated to Beckenham.

This month’s In the Frame is devoted to neither of these, but instead to a rather well-executed front elevation of the Bethlem’s new Administration Building, drawn by the Hospital’s architects Elcock and Sutcliffe (either by Ralph Maynard Smith, or by one of his office colleagues) in 1927, prior to its construction. The Administration Building was the architectural centrepiece of the cluster of buildings that made up the new Bethlem Hospital, built according the ‘villa system’ favoured for psychiatric hospitals at the time. (Elcock and Sutcliffe – and Maynard Smith – were also responsible for the design of Runwell Hospital in Essex, the only other hospital to have been built according to this pattern.) The architectural ambition of the complex of buildings was tempered by financial considerations, and the stated intent was to “allow the masses”, i.e. the cumulative effect, “of the buildings to tell”, so far as architectural effect was concerned, “rather than to emphasise architectural details”.1 Even so, the Administration Building was impressive, the only building on the site with (we might say) museum-like style and proportions.

Well might we say “museum-like”, since (as regular readers of this blog will know) this Administration Building is now in the closing stages of an internal transformation which will see it open as ‘Bethlem Museum of the Mind’ early next year. In anticipation of this, and in partnership with the Bethlem Gallery (which will also be moving to this new location in 2015), we have used this front elevation of the Administration Building to produce an Advent calendar, complete with windows to open onto museum and gallery artworks each day from December 1 to 25 (though sadly no chocolate), and are offering it for sale via online order. The sooner you get your order in, the closer to the start of the month your calendar will arrive, and the more people that order, the wider will be the audience for this wonderful image.

1 Jonathan Andrews et al, The History of Bethlem (Routledge, 1997), p. 552.

Tagged in: ralph maynard smith, james tilly matthews, in the frame,