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Mansions in the Orchard: The Demise of the Asylum

Bethlem by Max Reeves (2013)

The buildings that previously made up St Clement’s Hospital in Bow, East London, are currently under development but they have a lengthy history in mental health and social welfare. Opened in 1849 as the City of London Union Workhouse, the building later became the workhouse infirmary. Psychiatric patients would have been admitted here for observation, although St Clement's didn’t exclusively become a psychiatric hospital until 1959.

St Clement’s closed in 2005: however, in recent years the site has become the location of Shuffle Festival, a community arts event. Shuffle Festival started in 2013 as an initiative of The East London Community Land Trust, run by local people to develop permanently affordable housing in the area. This week, the summer Shuffle opens in the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, which borders the St Clement’s site. One of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ Victorian cemeteries surrounding London, Shuffle Festival will draw on the site and the former hospital with a programme centred around the City, Nature, Death, Love and Survival.

During the years in which the park was an open cemetery, there was a direct access gate leading to the mortuary from St Clement’s. This year, the Lodge will host an exhibition of Max Reeves’ photographs in The Demise of the Asylum (Sunday 3 August, 12-8pm). By contrasting the urban decay of St Clement’s with the pastoral tranquillity of Bethlem, the exhibition aims to comment on society's move away from institutional mental health treatment towards one that is more individualised, but nonetheless depends heavily on the efficacy and support of the community within which it occurs.

Other events explore the mental health themes of the festival further. On Saturday 2nd August, Hearing the Voice will lead bespoke afternoon tours of the cemetery park, in which voice-hearers will share their stories and experiences in the peaceful woodland setting. Meanwhile, Shuffle your Mind is a screening of short films about altered minds and inner worlds, taking place at 4.30pm. Meanwhile, on Sunday 3rd August, during the Wellcome Trust supported Day of the Dead, there will be a discussion with Professor Barbara Taylor (author of The Last Asylum) on the state of contemporary social care for the mind and its variations. Tickets for the exhibition and some events are free but places are limited. Book online at www.shufflefestival.com