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200 Years Ago Today 14

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.”