Pudding at Bethlem
1881 marks the first appearance of any sort of dessert on the weekly dietary schedule for Bethlem contained in the Annual Reports of the Hospital- a plum pudding to be served on a Thursday. Previously patients had been allowed 8 ounces of sugar weekly (probably to sweeten tea or breakfast porridge/gruel), plum pudding at Christmas and a mince pie on New Year’s Day. The Steward was also ‘at liberty to vary the diet… by Fish, Fruit Pies etc when Fish and Fruit are plentiful and good’, though these were considered to be the ‘maximum allowances’. By 1892 there was some sort of dessert with every meal, ranging from Suet Pudding and Golden Syrup on Tuesdays to Ground Rice and Jam on Saturdays.
You can find a Victorian-style recipe for Christmas Pudding (probably very similar to the plum pudding served at Bethlem) here - www.bbc.co.uk/victorianchristmaspudding
The serving of desserts seems to have been part of a general move in Bethlem to make the Hospital more comfortable for its patients, and the move probably came from within the hospital. The Commissioners of Lunacy, in charge of inspecting conditions at Bethlem at this time, seem to have regarded the food as ‘good and abundant’ on their visit in 1879, and do not mention it in their four subsequent reports. They do record that Dr Savage ‘hopes to introduce some variety to the dietary [sic], at present rather monotonous’, though with their habitual eye on the bottom line they note ‘we doubt not that with any increase of expense it will be found possible to do this and make the food more attractive’. All the puddings would have been cooked in the Bethlem kitchens, photographed here at around the time of the 1892 report.
Dr George Savage, who had become Medical Superintendent at Bethlem in 1878, wanted to bring Bethlem ‘more in harmony with home habits’. Savage believed that a more comfortable environment would also help with the relationship between staff and patient, allowing patients to be more forthcoming with their issues and so allowing for a better standard of treatment. Savage also promoted a greater range of entertainments, including music and plays performed for the patients, a library and the publication of the first in-house magazine later in the decade, all with the aim of creating a more relaxed institutional ethos.
But he clearly started with dessert.