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Stories Awaiting Discovery

Last year, when highlighting the inclusion of searchable text from the minutes of the Court of Governors of Bethlem and Bridewell Hospitals from 1689 to 1800 in London Lives, an electronic resource for the history of London, we also reminded blog readers of the online availability of digital page-by-page images of minutes dating from 1559 to 1792 on the Archives & Museum’s own website. Not everyone’s research is limited to the eighteenth century. Nor is everyone’s research limited to Bethlem Hospital.

Bridewell Hospital, which for most of its history functioned as a reformatory for petty offenders, vagrants and orphans, and with which Bethlem was twinned from the sixteenth century to the twentieth, is the subject of a great deal of scholarly interest in its own right. A recent post on a blog of King’s College London called Strandlines is a small example of this. The civic hypocrisy (and, perhaps, the connivance with Jacobean society’s gendered power relations) of the episode the post recounts – in which degrading punishments were meted out to Agnes Allowin and Mary Brookes, while no serious effort to find ‘Captain North’ seems to have been made – is almost as shocking as the cruelty involved.

This is just one of thousands of human stories that are waiting to be discovered (by anyone who is equal to the palaeographical challenge) in the early modern records of Bridewell and Bethlem Hospitals records.

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Caption for image: Bridewell and Bethlem Court Book extract about Mary Brookes and Agnes Allowin, 1603.