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Mansions in the Orchard: Exhibition opens 8 January

On Wednesday 8 January 2014, a new exhibition devoted to the life of the Bethlem Royal Hospital at Monks Orchard opens in the Bethlem Gallery, Beckenham. Red-brick mansions, canopied by the trees of the Monks Orchard Estate, have gazed down at the people using the Bethlem site for over eighty years: here represented symbolically in new site-specific photography by Bethlem Gallery artist Max Reeves. The exhibition, supported by a Wellcome Trust People Award, combines these large-scale images with the memories of those who have visited, worked at or otherwise used the Bethlem Royal Hospital’s fourth and current home.

Nearly ninety years ago, Bethlem’s chaplain, Reverend Geoffrey O’Donoghue, imagined the hospital that had not yet been built, considering that, in future years:

‘a red brick palace may look down (with the recollection and wisdom of many centuries) upon the same landscape. Or it may be that detached pavilions and single-storey wards may peep out here and there among the oaks and firs.’

The “pavilions” that were built still remain, surrounded by the quiet woodlands described some ninety years ago. These feature heavily in the memories of those who have used Bethlem since. The site has never been closed to visitors, and the cricket pitch, chapel, swimming pool and football grounds have all, at various times, been used by the local community. But how might the buildings tell the stories of those who have used the site across the years?

As the main administration block at Bethlem is developed into the new Museum of the Mind, the Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives and Museum is documenting the history of the site and the people who have used it across the years. Exhibition visitors are invited to add to the project, recording for posterity the impact Bethlem’s grounds and buildings have had on those that use them. Mansions in the Orchard will be open Wednesday – Friday, 11am – 6pm until 31 January. On Saturday 11 January, the Bethlem Gallery and Museum will both be open from 11am – 5pm, with a drop-in creative session running from 2 – 4pm.

The contemporary work of Bethlem Royal Hospital featured in a recent Channel 4 documentary series. However, ‘Bedlam’ had a lengthy history before the move to Monks Orchard, and aspects of its past still mingle with the ghostly relics of the former Monks Orchard estate in Max Reeves’ photographs and extracts from oral histories conducted with current and former site users. ‘Mansions in the Orchard’ thus reflects a site that is simultaneously timeless and evolving.

Opening Event: 8 January, 3 - 6pm Exhibition continues: 9 - 31 January Wednesday - Friday, 11am – 6pm & Saturday 11 January, 11am – 5pm. Drop-in creative sessions with the artist, in which visitors can contribute to the project, will run from 2 – 4pm on 11 January.

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Photograph by Max Reeves