Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Bethlem Museum:held by Jane Fradgley

From 30 May-21 August 2015 Bethlem Museum of the Mind and Bethlem Gallery hosts an exhibition of the photography of the "strong" clothing used as restraints. This work has been exhibited before in a variety of locations,
Jane Fradgley visited the small old Bethlem Archives in 2010 and was able to handle the clothing and then photograph in various lighting techniques.
I loved Jane's photographs some items appear with dark backgrounds and the clothing takes on an almost ghostly quality evoking imagination of the occupant. The texture of the clothing is immediate and I felt offered a feeling of safety.
I can recommend a visit to the exhibition as the photography is evocative and enhances the permanent exhibit in the Museum which was itself the subject of a symposium on displaying the subject in the Museum.
One of the rooms at Bethlem Museum of the Mind focuses on restraint and examples of strong clothing. The subject of physical restraint in psychiatry had been controversial and the abandonment of restraints in psychiatric hospitals lead some to claim that it may ironically cause harm to patients.
The Bethlem Royal Hospital officially abandoned restraint in 1851 and the Museum exhibits include items predating this.In the late nineteenth century non-restraint was reassessed and some garments began to reappear and the Bethlem Archive reflects these and the Restraint register displayed illustrates why certain items were in use.
George Savage Bethlem's Superintendent (see George Savage The Lancet 1888 "The Mechanical Restraint of the Insane") described "strong clothing" as garments made of stout linen or woolen material and lined throughout with flannel. The limbs are all free to move but the hands are enclosed in the extremities of the dress, which are padded". He therefore saw slight restraint as liberating people from the mindset of straitwaistcoats handcuffs and padded rooms.
However the 16-20 people per annum restrained by Savage in the Bethlem register was criticised in letters to the Times with eminent psychiatrists on both sides of the debate. In 1890 the Lunacy Act was introduced and was explicit in regulating restraint for the first time and set guidelines. After the introduction of the Act there is an argument that asylums largely adopted the same types of restraint as Savage at Bethlem.
There is scope for failures to record all instances of restraint and physical restraint remained in use into the twentieth century.
I have an immediate interest in physical restraint as later this year I will begin to transcribe the Lunacy Registers of Bromley Poor Law Union Workhouse at Locksbottom as part of the Kent Online Parish Clerks and Bromley Archives Indexing agreement. The Workhouse has a Physical Restraint Register which is not open to the public for another 15 years as entries continued until 1930.