Manacles from Bedlam (Bethlem Hospital)

Contributed by Bethlem Hospital Archives and Museum

Manacles from Bedlam (Bethlem Hospital)

Iron manacles used in Bethlem Royal Hospital (also known as
Bedlam, one of the world's oldest hospitals for the treatment of mental
illness) until the Victorian period, to prevent patients injuring
themselves or others. In the nineteenth century, objects like these
became a symbol of the "non-restraint" movement in British psychiatry. Bethlem superintendent W. Charles Hood (1824 - 70) remarked on a new use
for iron fetters - as kitchen pot stands - following his
appointment in 1853. For Hood, this illustrated the "humane and
enlightened principles which now guide us," in stark contrast to the past.
Nonetheless, the debate over what was and was not restraint continued through the nineteenth century and beyond (Hood himself favoured seclusion in a padded room, or sedatives - dubbed "chemical restraint" by some contemporaries). To this day, the Bethlem Archives & Museum is
perhaps the most fitting place for these objects to be, even as issues concerning involuntary detention, seclusion and chemical restraint continue to generate debate.

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