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Asylum inspires second book in shady trilogy

PUBLISHED: 16:23 05 August 2009 | UPDATED: 15:37 16 August 2010

A CRITICALLY acclaimed author says her inspiration for writing the history of the world s oldest mental institution was an interest in the darker side of London. Catharine Arnold, 49, has received rave reviews of her book Bedlam: London and Its Mad fr

A CRITICALLY acclaimed author says her inspiration for writing the history of the world's oldest mental institution was an interest in the 'darker' side of London.

Catharine Arnold, 49, has received rave reviews of her book Bedlam: London and Its Mad from the media as well as practitioners of psychological science.

It details the history of Bethlem Royal Hospital, founded in 1247, now stands in Monks Orchard Road, Beckenham, but was once housed in the resplendent Victorian building which became the Imperial War Museum.

Cambridge graduate Mrs Arnold, who lives in Nottingham but travelled to Bethlem to carry out research, said: "I am fascinated by human behaviour. It's something I have always been interested in, what makes people tick."

The book describes the shift in how the capital's insane have been treated over the centuries and explores so-called cures ranging from eating a whole roast mouse to drilling holes in patients' heads, beatings, leeching and exorcisms.

The mother-of-two said: "Bethlem had a terrible reputation but it wasn't all bad. There were good doctors like Dr Hood who went on to found Broadmoor. He was the doctor who first segregated the criminal mentally ill from other patients at Bethlem.

"I visited Bethlem museum, which I highly recommend, and looked at the records of the people who stayed there, including Margaret Nicholson who tried to kill King George III with a dessert knife.

"There were other people who have been forgotten like a mother who murdered her three children. What I came away with was a terrible sense of sadness and how if the unhappiness of these people had been caught earlier these crimes never would have happened."

The book is the second instalment of a planned London trilogy, the first of which was Necropolis: London and its Dead, with the final part, City of Vice: London and its Sins, expected to be published next year.

Mrs Arnold said: "Researching this book has been profoundly gloomy. I am interested in the dark side of London.

"My first book was about death so madness seemed like a natural progression. The next one is about vice so will be about sexual sins."

The author, who also works as a councillor for Nottingham City Council, has plans to write historical fiction after completing the final part of her trilogy.

kate.nelson@archant.co.uk

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