Nightmare by William Kurelek

Colin Gale of the Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives & Museum gave a tour through the history of the ancient hospital in the form of five items from the archive. Previous posts are on the statues of mania and melancholia, the first medical note book, James Tilly Matthews’ vision of a […]

Winter Garden

Statue by frozen pond

One of the pleasures of writing The Painted Bridge was the excuse it provided to explore old houses and gardens. The novel is set mainly in Lake House, a crumbling mansion on the edge of London. In November 1859, when the story begins, Lake House has been in use for two […]

The Peerless Pool

St Luke's Asylum

Another great walk with Old Map Man Ken Titmuss. Ken’s walks are an exploration of what is, what was and what remains, a form of divining, or urban archaeology. This one was centred on St Luke’s parish, in what is now the London borough of Islington. The asylum below was […]

Captured on Camera

Emma Riches, patient at Bethlem Hospital

The Bethlem Royal Hospital Archive contains a unique collection of original prints of photographs of patients, taken by photographer Henry Hering. These are some of the earliest photographs ever taken of asylum patients, says archivist Colin Gale, and in some cases can be matched with the patient’s case notes. This […]

Norway Spruce


The tree has always been one of my favourite parts of Christmas. I enjoy the ritual of choosing one, bringing it home, decorating it with the dear and somewhat shabby tokens that have accompanied us through the years. It never fails to surprise me, the way that bringing a tree […]

Glove Woman and Schoolmaster Jack

by kind permission of the Bethlem Art and History Collections Trust

Archivist Colin Gale showed five items from the remarkable Bethlem Royal Hospital collection to provide a snapshot of the history of mental illness in England. The first two, blogged about earlier, are the statues of Mania and Melancholia, and Dr Monro’s 18th century medical notebook. Colin Gale chose this third piece because […]

Shoreditch Walk


I went on a walk with Ken Titmuss, aka Old Map Man, around Shoreditch in east London. Old Map Man’s walks come highly recommended and I was especially interested in the Shoreditch one because in my novel The Painted Bridge, the heroine Anna Palmer spends her brief married life there. Reverend Vincent […]

Before I pronounce her mad…

    We take medical records for granted now but in the 18th century they were the exception rather than the rule. John Monro, then Bethlem physician superintendent, began in his journal of 1766 to record details of some of his private patients – including the case of Flora, a slave […]

Seeing in the Round

Felix Nadar

I liked seeing this set of twelve self-portraits by the French photographer Felix Nadar, at the Degas exhibition at the RA. Nadar was a man of many parts – he’d been a cartoonist, a novelist and a champion of hot air balloons before he took up photography. In 1865, he […]

Life and Letters

Maggie Benson

Both my first novel, The Painted Bridge, and the one I’m working on now, Magic for the Living, are set in the 1800s. This means, among other things, much research. I was amazed to find when I embarked on the reading for the first book that so many out-of-copyright texts are […]