Bromley’s Bethlem Hospital aims to collaborate on mental health project with photographer Rankin

PUBLISHED: 13:36 16 January 2014 | UPDATED: 09:45 17 January 2014

William Green, acute mania patient at Bethlem Mental Hospital

William Green, acute mania patient at Bethlem Mental Hospital


A museum commemorating the history of the infamous Bedlam Mental Hospital is hoping to collaborate with portrait photographer John Rankin Waddell.

Harriet Jordan, acute mania patient at Bethlem HospitalHarriet Jordan, acute mania patient at Bethlem Hospital

The Bethlem Archives & Museum in Monks Orchard Road, Beckenham, records the lives and achievements of people experiencing

mental health issues and documents the rich history of the institution, which began in 1247, along with its affiliated hospitals.

The Bethlem Royal Hospital still treats people with mental illness, and although it has moved three times from its original location, it is recognised as Europe’s oldest institution specialising in mental illnesses. It has been known as St Mary Bethlehem, Bethlem Hospital, Bethlehem Hospital and most notoriously, Bedlam.

Its museum is in the running to collaborate with the photographer, known professionally as Rankin, on a project which has its roots in Victorian images in the Museum’s collection. In the mid-19th century, photographer Henry Hering photographed numerous Bethlem patients to try and detect the patients’ mental health conditions through their facial expressions and features. The Museum holds a large collection of these images, showing patients before and after treatment and illustrating the Victorian need for categorization of patients.

The Museum would work with Rankin to create a new permanent collection of portraits. The project would raise awareness of the extent of mental illness, helping to reduce prejudices by showing that it is not always clear from a person’s appearance that they are unwell.

The Museum plans to run a public workshop where people would learn about the history of Bethlem and be photographed by Rankin.

Victoria Northwood, Head of Archives & Museum, said: “As we know now, mental illness cannot always be detected in people’s appearances and our project will aim to emphasise this point. Our historic photography collection is strong and it would be wonderful to be able to revisit the medium with a combination of Rankin’s skill and our contemporary values. The prospect of inviting visitors to see the new collection of photographs when the new Museum opens this autumn is particularly exciting.”

You can vote for Bethlem Archives & Museum to work with Rankin by visiting
up until January 28.

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Bromley Times. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Bromley Times