Sunday, 29 November 2015

Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives and Museum

Monks Orchard Rd
Beckenham BR3 3BX

Friday 27 November 2015
It is, I suppose somewhat coincidental that, following our visit to the IWM in the old Bethlem building, we should be in its replacement the following week.

We made our way on a grey day to Beckenham, to visit one of the most interesting and remarkable museums of the project so far.The Bethlem Royal Hospital Museum of the Mind is housed in a fine building, opened by Queen Mary in 1930.

The handsome staircase is framed by two statues by Cibber made for the gates of the Bethlem in London in around 1676. They show the two forms of mental ill health as defined then: raving, who is chained, and melancholia. These two figures - somewhat shocking to the PC generation, introduced us to what makes this place so remarkable.  It is an attempt to explain mental illness in its many forms, partly at least through the medium of the history of treatments.

At the top of the stairs is a simple timeline, which told us that the Bethlem Hospital, founded in Bishopsgate in 1247, was by 1403 housing 'insane' people. It moved to a new site in Moorfields, in 1815 to Lambeth, and in 1930 to its present site.

The Office of National Statistics says that in any year, 1 in 4 people in the UK will have mental health problems, and there was a screen with rolling stories, some by current patients and staff and some, voiced by actors, from patients, staff and visitors from the past. By the way, the notorious visiting by the public to gaze at and bait the 'lunatics' ended in 1770, though VIPs and people of influence could still visit.

Throughout the Museum, there are paintings by patients, including a number by Louis Wain (1860-1939) whose pictures of cats are well known.  His drawing called 'phrenology' introduced a section about this strangest of all (pre-homeopathy!) medical dead ends.

A picture which we found very striking was 'Silent Anger' 1993, made by Elise Warner as she received treatment for her eating disorder. Later, there were some drawings of obsessive hand washing as well.

One of the things which we found very illuminating, but also shocking, was an interactive screen, where all the synonyms you have ever come across for 'madness' scrolled across:  click on any of them, and you got a definition or explanation.  So out of bonkers, barking, potty, off his head, etc etc I chose 'doolally', and learned that the transit camp for soldiers awaiting transport home from India was at Deolalli;  and the boredom and climate and vermin were enough to send people - well - mad.  It was this kind of constant reminder of the stigmas associated with ill health which makes this Museum so thought provoking, in the literal sense.

We saw a group of photographs of inmates taken by Henry Hering in the 1850s.  Apparently Charles Darwin studied some of these photographs when working on'The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals', though of course the long exposure time required then makes any serious expression of emotion rather improbable.

A little empty space with a bench gave time for reflection, and contained a piece of the wall lining of a 'padded cell' with an account of the silence and isolation felt in such a place.  It brought us to a section about freedom and constraint, starting with the forcible restraining, chaining and so on of patients. The many empty bottles in the wall here reminded us that people have always tried the pharmaceutical approach as well.

The modern version of chaining is, I suppose, sectioning against the patient's will.  Here again, we were compelled to think by a brief video and a decision to make.  A young woman, whose weight loss has become extreme and life-threatening, is shown talking to a psychiatrist and a mental health specialist practitioner.  She is not prepared, or rather not able, to offer a plan which will address her problems before it is too late, and so the question is, should she be put in hospital and treated against her wishes.

Next came ECG, with a brief (and for me, pretty unwatchable) bit of film of the treatment being administered, and then some talking heads of practitioners and people who had received the treatment. 

More enjoyable was an opportunity to listen to people explaining 'talking therapies' like mindfulness, family therapy and congnitive behaviour therapy.

There was also a wall of artworks by patients, with an invitation to write our own captions, to remind us how much the words affect the way we look at the picture. The paintings and drawing throughout the Museum are extraordinary.

A little album of 'before' and 'after' photographs from the 19th century left us cynically thinking that brushed hair and a nice bonnet made all the difference to appearances of well being: another stereotype of mentally ill people which survives to this day.

We moved across the landing to the Gallery which, at the moment, has an exhibition of work by Richard Dadd.  No photography is allowed in the exhibition, but you can see some of his works here.  Having studied and shone at the Royal Academy, he went on a long tour of Europe and the Middle East, writing long and informative letters home.  But on his return, he heard voices telling his that his father was actually the devil, and therefore murdered him. He spent the remaining 42 years of his life first in the Bethlem Royal Hospital and then in Broadmoor, before dying of tuberculosis. The exhibition includes watercolours from his foreign travels, as well as imaginative and representative works from his later life.  The certificates that he designed for the Society for Improving the Condition of the Insane (which handed out certificates and sovereigns to exemplars of good care) are also on display.

The Dadd exhibition is on into the new year, and the rest of the Museum is open from Wednesdays to Saturdays.  It's 1.6k from Eden park Station, so about 20 minutes walk, if you don't want to take a bus.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Imperial War Museum

Lambeth Road SE1 6HZ
Thursday November 19 2015


Bear with me – in order to keep the blog going this week, this will be by way of an introduction and overview for reasons which will become clear. Quite why it has fallen to me to write this up when both Jo and 63 Regular have worked there and are historians, is not clear.

When we started this project we declared (never declare) that we would  report only on the substantive collections, where that was what the Museum was famous for, and just refer in passing to any special exhibitions. Well today we visited only for the special exhibitions and did not even finish them... So I thought I would spend a little time on looking at the building.
The building was originally the third incarnation of the Bethlem or Bedlam Hospital, a purpose-built institution to ‘look after’ or ‘keep safe’ the mentally ill of London (though the words used would not have been that): the now covered Atrium was an outdoor exercise yard for this Victorian building, the galleries were wards,  and the smaller back offices consulting or treatment rooms. There are stories among IWM staff of a ‘grey lady’ who walks the galleries at night and of poltergeist-like events in the cinema (formerly the institution’s theatre), perhaps restless spirits from its earlier use. The Bethlem as such moved further out into the ‘country’ – West Wickham as it happens, and you can read more of its history next week…

The Lambeth Road site is now one of the group of 5 branches of Imperial war Museums – we have already visited the Churchill war Rooms but have yet to visit HMS Belfast. Duxford and IWM North lie outside our remit of London. Arguably the Lambeth Road site has the most memorable and photographic exterior – a large dome originally the chapel for the Bethlem hospital and an imposing neo-classical portico. The War Museum was conceived in 1917 (when the eventual outcome of the war was far from certain) as a way of memorialising the British contribution to the ‘Great’ War – it became ‘Imperial’ rather than national when the countries of the Empire or Commonwealth demanded equal billing. It moved into the old Bedlam building in 1936, after previous incarnations at Crystal Palace and in South Kensington, and has carried out various projects to make the building better suited to its use as a museum.

The most recent rebuild was completed in mid July 2014 to coincide with the marking of the centenary of the start of the First World War.  It retains the central Atrium to some extent but with a reduced footprint at ground level: this means there are fewer ‘boys toys’ – tanks, vehicles and the like – though some of these re-appear rather dramatically on higher levels seemingly hanging over a precipice. We have yet to explore these various levels. The most recent rebuild has been partly about improving access – there is yet the issue of the front steps to overcome but within the main building there are more and larger lifts, a good bank of lockers and both a book and gift shop, where quite rightly pride of place is given to good quality reproductions of the Museum’s  superb poster collection. The basement houses banks of toilets also.

The Museum’s remit  has always been to look at conflicts where the British or Commonwealth forces have played a part and continue to do so; so collecting material is an ongoing process for this Museum. A small  exhibition space is thus reserved for ‘Cotemporary Conflict’ , a year of displaying items and material related to the UK role in Afghanistan finished recently and has just been replaced by something called Fighting Extremes'. This looks at two very different but in their way rather invisible enemies.

One side focuses on the role of the services helping try to destroy ISIS strongholds in Iraq, the Army by providing training for Kurdish fighters, the RAF by direct intervention.  Inevitably the identity of those  operational  men interviewed is disguised but their accounts are quite riveting; it says something about the openness of the services that they are in a position to give interviews, though the cynical part of me looks on it as a ‘recruitment/PR’ exercise. Less well known perhaps and just as praiseworthy are the roles of the Royal Engineers in erecting a field hospital in Kerrytown, MOD scientists from Porton Down in the long fight to manage and eradicate the spread of Ebola in West Africa, and the RAMC in treating local health workers who caught the infection. The British contingent focussed on Sierra Leone (with the US largely in Liberia, the French in Guinea ) and other international teams from China, Canada and South Africa also contributing . There is an excellent time line, some interviews with participating scientists who had to set up a lab that was safe and efficient from scratch and deal with a huge backlog of untested live samples of Ebola; the nursing and medical staff were in part MOD in part volunteers from the NHS. As virtually everything from  Ebola-infected premises has to be burnt there is little in the way of artefacts though Will Pooley’s boots stand out.
The two components of this small but very current exhibition give a very good insight into  both modern warfare and the humanitarian side of  Ministry of Defence personnel.

We shall continue this when we have completed our visit not only to the photographs of Lee Miller – A Woman’s War but also the substantive collection of the Imperial war Museum. 

Sunday, 15 November 2015

The Apothecaries' Hall

Black Friars Lane

Friday 13 November 2015  Although it's not on our original list of Museums, the Apothecaries' Hall is pretty historic and full of interest, so I jumped a the chance to visit it. Our visit was one of the splendid series of outings organised for the Friends of the British Library.

We assembled in the courtyard, which has scaffolding because of the issues affecting all elderly buildings:  and this one, rebuilt in 1672 after the Great Fire of 1666, is no exception.  The pestle and mortar on the wall is of similar antiquity, and reminded us of the origins of this ancient Society.

The coat of arms above the door (and in many other places, stained glass, petit point, ceramic plates) boasts two unicorns and a rhinoceros, reminders that the horn of these supposedly mythical beasts  were thought to have medicinal properties.  By the way, the society strongly supports Save the Rhino these days, in expiation of former days. Meanwhile, the centrepiece of the shield is Apollo slaying the dragon of disease.

The motto comes from Ovid's Metamorphoses and translates as 'I am spoken of all over the world as one who brings help.' 

Our guide was the Beadle, and he explained the history of the apothecaries. Initially, they were people who imported, stored and sold herbs and spices, and so counted, with the Pepperers and the Salters as part of the Grocers' Company. (Grocers being people who bought 'en grosse', something we hadn't known before)

The Society is celebrating the centenary of the Act which entitled them to practise medicine and to assess and licence practitioners. In the days when Physicians were expensive and elitist, apothecaries filled the role now occupied by GPs, and this continues to be true. The hallway was decorated with cases of pharmaceutical storage jars, as well as the ceramic plaques which marked the shops of members of the Worshipful Society.

We were taken upstairs to the parlour, where we saw a map of this area before the dissolution of the monasteries. Sandwiched between Bridewell Palace and Baynards Castle, the Dominican Blackfriars owned a huge swathe of land. The Apothecaries snapped up the land during the reign of Charles I. They had been recognised as a separate 'mystery' in 1617 by James I, who declared the Grocers to be 'mere merchants'.Their Hall did not last long, but was quickly rebuilt after the Great Fire. It had a lucky escape in the next 'great fire' of London, when a Luftwaffe 500lb bomb went down the chimney into the cellar and failed to explode. Not surprising, then, that the Apothecaries welcome bomb disposal and fire service workers warmly.

The parlour is lined with portraits of former Masters, not least Gideon de Laune, who was the driving force behind the recognition of the Society.

Our guide explained to us that, when searching for a crest for the coat of arms, the artist relied on Durer's armoured depiction rather than anything more accurate.  

We saw the paperwork for Elizabeth Garrett Anderson:  blocked from joining the Physicians, she obtained her licence from the apothecaries, mainly because she signed her papers with her initial not her forename. They are proud of her now, but the regulations were tightened for some decades after she slipped through

The great Hall was also lined with portraits, including one of the Queen, with the Apothecaries' roses behind her. The ceiling is rather fine as well.

Other wall embellishments include the banners that flew on the Society's barges. Dr Hans Sloane's Chelsea Physic Garden was run by and for the Apothecaries for many years, and the herbs were brought to the warehouses and workshops here by barge.

The most interesting fact about this handsome Hall is that it is now used for practical examinations: few hospitals can spare the beds to set up the cubicles in which actors test the skill and behaviour of medical students, and so this hall is used, not just for the Apothecaries' own examinations, but by several other institutions. We were shown the ancient chest which now contains prosaic blankets and cubicle curtains.

You can find out even more about this remarkable Society here.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The Crime Museum

at the Museum of London

150 London Wall
Barbican EC2Y 5HN

Wednesday 11 November 2015

When we compiled our list of Museums back in 2014, the so-called 'Black Museum' at Scotland Yard was firmly labelled 'no public access'. So when the Museum of London announced a temporary exhibition of some of the collection, we of course went along. Equally of course, we chose a Wednesday for our visit since that is the day it is cheaper.
No photography is allowed after the entrance, so here is the entrance.

There are a few more images here.
We began with a timeline of key developments: the 'Peelers' established in 1829 and the Detective Division in 1842 and so on through the formation of the Museum in1875 and the establishment of the fingerprint section in 1901. Items in the Museum come from the Prisoners Property Store, after all appeals are over: very few criminals returned to claim their property after they had completed their sentences, and of course in the days of capital punishment, many were not around to do so.

The first two rooms showcase some of the objects from the Museum as depicted in illustrations in the 1880s. Above us were the death masks of people hanged outside Newgate Prison (though executions ceased to be a public spectacle after 1868), and the walls were covered with courtroom illustrations. Among them was George Woolf, hanged at Newgate in 1902 for killing his girlfriend, as well as many others, the drawings sufficiently detailed to be turned into plates for printing in the Police Gazette and other publications. There was also the pistol with which Edward Oxford attempted to kill Queen Victoria. In the next room were ropes used to hang several criminals, for example the one which dealt with Amelia Dyer, hanged for killing a 2 month old baby at her 'baby farm'. On an adjoining wall was the business card of the executioner, William Marwood.

Poisoners, forgers, gamblers and housebreakers lined the walls, together with some of their 'kit'.  The Police Force used the Museum as a training aid to show new recruits the sort of thing they might expect; but there was also clearly a kind of ghoulish pride in what had been stopped or at least punished.

The exhibition then continued with a series of case histories:  some were significant milestones in detecting: the first fingerprint conviction; the first time bullets were matched to guns; the first time experiments were done to demonstrate that one could extract arsenic from fly papers, and so on. Some of the displays were of notorious murderers, like Crippen, Haigh and Christie. All these gave an opportunity to show developments in police methods such as the use of publicity, radio communications and careful forensic examination of crime scenes. On the other hand, this roll call of villains rather confirmed the fact that it is usually women who get murdered, and usually by men. Having said that, Ruth Ellis was here too: the last woman hanged in Britain (in 1955), after she had shot the man who brought on her miscarriage by punching her in the stomach. 

The rooms also contained themed cases, about forgery and counterfeiting, about the Cold War and spying, and about terrorism.There was a gruesome case of disguised weapons, such as binoculars from which sprang spikes to blind the user, and a shot gun umbrella.  But on the whole, the exhibition was more thought provoking than deliberately horrific. Events like the 7 July 2005 bombs, and the Iranian Embassy siege were put in the context of crime fighting rather than anything else.

Both the Museum of London and the Metropolitan Police have clearly thought  hard before embarking on this event. The last room has a range of talking heads explaining and discussing what the aims are, and the constraints, mainly connected with the needs of victims, which they imposed upon themselves.  Policing is a key part of life in London, which makes the Museum an appropriate venue.

As with all museums nowadays, they wanted the opinions of visitors. Linda and I gave our opinions to a Danish student who is doing some kind of paper based on the reactions of people leaving the exhibition.

We thought it was well worth the price, and hope that some at least of the extraordinary collection which is the Police Museum will continue to be available to the public even after this exhibition closes in the spring.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Museum of Childhood

Cambridge Heath Rd, London E2 9PA
Thursday  November 4th 2015

This museum is an offshoot of the Victoria & Albert Museum, who, clearly  tired of storing  roomfuls of dolls houses,  moved them out here in 1974, when Roy Strong was still Director. The building had a makeover in 2006 and arguably it was the fabric that appealed to us most – Mary hazarded that it might have been a market with its wooden and marble floors,  wrought iron mezzanine gallery and barrel shaped roof.  Linda said it reminded her of an old fashioned department store or even GUM - the pride of Moscow (even when empty in Iron Curtain days – this image is from their website )

We were both wrong – it is in fact a purpose built museum, originally intended for South Kensington  but re-routed to give the people of Bethnal Green something of their own.

The lower ground floor is entirely given over to cafĂ© and shop while the mezzanine and upper gallery are filled with innumerable identical glass cases in somewhat random order. The toys feel very locked away and there is no supporting displays to show how they were played with, by what age children or how some of the mechanical toys worked. It all looks very dated and in our view it is not a great destination for children – there are limited play areas (you would do as well in your local park or playgroup) with a sand tray and table of Lego. Presumably the booked parties and events offer a better experience for the younger visitors. The main body of the Museum was fairly deserted today except for the special exhibition which we greatly enjoyed, would certainly recommend and which was really well presented.

The exhibition tackles the theme of child migrants, that is the non-voluntary sending of unaccompanied children to ‘the Colonies’ mainly Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The policy is well explained and documented, and operated for a hundred years between 1869 and 1970. The UK children were sometimes orphans and already in institutions but more frequently their mothers had relinquished care because of poverty but nevertheless maintained contact with the children. The government thinking was that they would have a ‘better life’ overseas but in reality they were exporting poverty and the poor, minimising the cost of supporting families on welfare in the UK and helping the colonies expand their own population with 'white people' as per the policy. 

  The charities who ‘collected’ the children in the UK felt that the children’s opportunities might be increased by being away from the deprivation of the slums and in the fresh air… however, as the exhibition so clearly demonstrates the reality was very far from  this. On arrival in Australia most of the children were placed in large and ultimately abusive institutions (mainly church run it has to be said) and were expected to do heavy manual labour but without being taught real crafts. But the ultimate cruelty was the separation from family with really no chance, except for some of the later migrants, of any re-unification. The individual stories and the outcomes for the children are presented on large panels while the walls have posters, artefacts and some live interviews with ‘migrant survivors’ – there are also films of  groups of children being served 5 course meals on the cruise ships taking them to their destinations, probably the most positive memory many of them had.

Not until the pioneering and revealing work carried out by social worker Margaret Humphreys and the later establishment of the Child Migrant Trust in 1987 did many of these shameful truths come to light and some compensation offered.  The exhibition also informs that some similar policies were in operation within the United States where ‘surplus’ children from the poor of the East coast cities were sent out west to ‘help’ on remote farmlands with heartbreaking stories of families being split up.
Somewhat emotionally drained we headed out into the main body of the Museum – admittedly the special exhibition was presented as not suitable for children under a certain age but by the time we had finished with the endless identical glass containers we wondered what appeal there was in much of the substantive collection other than as a nostalgia outing for middle aged and beyond?
Each case seems to have a theme though at times difficult to see what, and the text is not at child height (We presume they are meant for children as they say things like ‘A wheel is a circular device that turns round an axle that passes through its centre which makes it possible for things to be moved as slowly or as quickly as you want.’!) and seem to blend an awkward combination of long words with ‘think about it children?’ tone. As for the caption telling us the slide projector was the modern equivalent of some older image making toys, it just made us laugh…

There are occasional play areas – one ‘seaside’ themed had plentiful displays of Punch & Judy booths and puppets and a small sandpit; near the dolls houses and toy shops there are a dresser and range oven (range oven?) and near the building toys we found a small selection of Lego – probably not more than in our local building society!
Talking of wheels we inserted 20p into the model railway layout – Hornby Dublo type with its Thirties style rural stations – only to watch a sole engine (what happened to carriages you might ask) fall off the track and its twin go in ever slower circuits. Jo complained at the desk and was offered her 20p back but that was not the point – if you wanted to offer visitors an interactive experience make it meaningful and entertaining, not drab and pointless.

Yes there is an amazing range of dolls houses, rare puppets and some acknowledgement of different cultures. Yes this is billed as a Museum of Childhood but one that felt the exhibits had been conserved and catalogued at the expense of looking at the context in which they had once been played with – were these objects mass produced and available to all?  I think not when many children until 100 years ago were expected to work for their living..  In a Museum of Toys we needed a better idea of how some of them worked.  As the special exhibition showed the Museum is able to demonstrate clearly and with empathy the childhood of the unfortunate migrant children so why not apply these skills elsewhere in their collection?