Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Insane

 



These two disturbing figures are Raving and Melancholy Madness and were created by the sculptor Caius Gabriel Cibber in 1676. For most of their lives they were on display near the gates of the Bedlam [now Bethlem] Hospital as some sort of grim advertisement for a place where those who had lost their mind could be hidden away from society and a terrifying warning of what might befall you if you became of one of those lost souls.  Although Bethlem still exists these days, it's very much at the forefront of the treatment of mental health conditions and we can only hope that an enlightened/empathetic attitude continues to grow so that the help people need is available to them. The statues now sit in the foyer of the Bethlem museum which is sited within the grounds of the hospital.

Walking last week I photographed this rather grand looking property and the brick detailing on the back wall. I knew nothing of its history prior to this, but have subsequently read that this house was once the stables of a much larger place called Chestnut Lodge which has since been demolished.



The very existence of Chestnut Lodge is down to the tragic tale of Katherine Fox who was born in 1811 and classed as an "imbecile" meaning at the time those of "weak mind". The initials and date are those of her father Benjamin C Fox who made his money as a lace merchant and he had the house built in 1828 as a private asylum for his daughter to live in. The care of Katherine after his death was obviously of great importance to him as he had another house called Sussex Place built elsewhere in the town. It was to be let out and the income from the rental used to continue to meet both her and her cousin, Elizabeth Hepworth's needs. Elizabeth looked after Katherine until her death in 1869. Elizabeth herself died in 1886 and touchingly the pair of them share a plot in one of the graveyards.

Arilx

6 comments:

  1. Dear Aril,

    Such an interesting post.

    We were most intrigued to look up the sculptor, Cibber as we had not heard of him or his work previously. We now realise that he is responsible for the Sackville monument in Withyham Church in East Sussex, so this is closer to any knowledge we have. A most impressive work with so many details of the family included in the overall composition.

    As you say, the sculptures have a grim realism that, on the one hand inspire admiration for the quality and detail of the work and, on the other hand, intense sadness that they represent the view of mental illness at the time. This is surely something that we can say has improved significantly over the centuries.

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  2. I've just looked up the Sackville Monument. What a dynamic piece of work. The two above are very large, but do show an understanding of the difference in mental health conditions. Arilx

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  3. Now I wonder for those 17 years, who took care of Katherine after her sister died? thanks you for the history.

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  4. The stories of how people with perceived mental illness were treated is truly heartbreaking. We live near an asylum. The buildings sit empty now for the most part and are rented out. I worked for the county for a while and had my office there (state budget cuts - I was one of them). In the front of my building was an below ground entrance. In the early days, if a man was tired of his wife, he had her committed. The entrance allowed her to be brought and pulled screaming from the carriage away from public sight. Once those women were institutionalized, their husbands could divorce them without stigma. For the women, it was invariably a life sentence.

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    Replies
    1. Absolutely horrendous and for some nothing has changed. There is still a lot of work to do and fighting those who seem to want us back down that road. Arilx

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Angelic

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