Deep beneath the streets of east London a new archaeological dig is revealing the secrets of Britain's most notorious lunatic asylum: Bedlam
Today Bishopsgate is at the bustling heart of the City of London, an urban forest of steel, glass and concrete. But over 700 years ago it was little more than a cluster of stone and timber buildings surrounded by fields. And hidden away in one small courtyard was Bethlem Hospital, a retreat run by monks dedicated to the care of the sick and the poor.
Not much is know about the very early Bethlem, but over time the hospital became a dumping ground for London's lunatics. In the absence of any profound understanding of how to treat mental illness the patients were often permanently manacled and forced to take debilitating purgatives, believed to rid them of their madness. Left to sit in their own excrement and vomit and sleep on straw beds, the patients were locked away for up to twenty years. And so Bethlem grew notorious not as a hospital but as a hellish prison full of forgotten and godforsaken souls, and, as its name became popularized and bastardized all over London, the legend of 'Bedlam' was born.
A stone's throw from the original asylum was Bethlem graveyard, used to bury the dead from all over the parish. But it was also the last resting place for many of Bedlam's inmates. Today, as part of the Crossrail construction project, archaeologists are beginning to unearth evidence of this graveyard - so far they have discovered over 300 skeletons.
In this Time Team Special we join the dig and explore the archives to find out what these bones can tell us about what went on behind the fearsome walls of Bedlam.