Bodies found from London's old Bedlam hospital

Fri Apr 8, 2011 8:55am EDT
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By Stefano Ambrogi

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Archaeologists have unearthed hundreds of skeletons at a 16th Century burial ground in the heart of the city that once served London's most notorious psychiatric hospital, the original "Bedlam."

The bones are expected to yield valuable information about mortality, diet and disease in the period.

They were discovered while experts surveyed a site that is destined to become a new ticket hall for the capital's huge Crossrail project at Liverpool Street Station.

Opened in 1247, the Bethlehem Royal Hospital began admitting the mentally ill in the 14th Century, eventually becoming known by its middle-English abbreviation Bedlam.

The name became synonymous with disorder and confusion and struck fear into the heart of Londoners. The horror of its conditions, were immortalized in a painting by William Hogarth in 1735.

The picture is the last in a series of eight depicting "A Rake's Progress" -- a moral tale of a spendthrift young heir who squanders his money on drink, prostitutes and gambling.

He is eventually thrown into the old Fleet Prison close to the River Thames and ends up in Bedlam.

The burial ground was used from 1569 to the mid 19th century for Bedlam's patients and local residents when other cemeteries became overcrowded.   Continued...

<p>Archaeologists may have found more than a thousand bodies at a 16th century burial ground that served London's "Bedlam" mental hospital. REUTERS/Crossrail/Handout</p>