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Mansions in the Orchard: Introduction

Across the next year, we will be using this blog to gather together historic material from the Mansions in the Orchard public engagement project, supported by the Wellcome Trust. This will include audio and video recordings of some of the activities that have taken place, guest blogs by participants in the project, images of artworks and other material gathered by the ‘curating a survivor museum’ group at the Dragon Café and a variety of memories of the site.

While the recent history of Bethlem has often been neglected, Mansions in the Orchard has sought to redress the balance between past and present, ensuring that the Museum of the Mind reflects its location within a working psychiatric hospital in a residential area. The project has engaged people with the history of the hospital, and expanded our archives to include personal narratives alongside administrative and legal records. Throughout 2014 we have worked with staff, service users and local residents to gather interviews and photographs (some of which have previously appeared on this blog), collect new archive material and co-ordinate a variety of exhibitions and other events, involving our audiences throughout.

Bethlem 53
Image by Max Reeves

Much of the research has focused on the buildings and grounds of the current site. The modern Bethlem holds a significant place in the history of mental health care and treatment, in particular the development of occupational therapy and therapeutic communities. Both of these were assisted by the villa style architecture of the hospital: the 'mansions in the orchard' described by hospital chaplain Edward Geoffrey O’Donoghue in 1924. Individual blocks encouraged the development of specialised units, and the extensive grounds have long contributed to opportunities for occupational therapy. One former guest writer on this blog has already written at length about her experiences in the on-site therapeutic community in the 1970s.

The forthcoming posts focus on the site and grounds, which feature heavily in the memories of those who have used Bethlem since 1930. One retired nurse recalled telling patients that the site ‘was just over 200 acres and we have got just over 200 patients. So they said, “ooh, where is my acre?”’ These grounds were also used by local children, some of whose parents worked onsite: these childhood memories of Bethlem will be added over the coming months. We continue to welcome additions to the project. If you would be interested in writing a blog post (which can be anonymous) or giving an interview about your experiences of Bethlem, please contact us.