Extensive London cemetery holds remains of Bedlam mental patients


William Hogarth's painting of "Bedlam" hospital, part of his A Rake's Progress series.


William Hogarth

Archaeologists working on the massive Crossrail high capacity railway project in London have come across a surprising new find: an extensive cemetery located next to the infamous "Bedlam" mental hospital where thousands were interred as the years went by. 

"Because of its history, we know that this is one of the most diverse burial grounds in London, a real cross section of its people across two centuries," lead Crossrail archaeologist Jay Carver told the Guardian.

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"Bone preservation is excellent in the finds we have already made, and we are expecting many important discoveries when we get into the main phase of the excavation," he added. 

According to a release on the Crossrail website, Carver intends to excavate over 3,000 skeletons from the 17th century burial ground in 2014, presenting a rare oppurtunity for insight into early London life. 

The Crossrail dig is extensive and has uncovered many surprising historical finds, including the remains of tool-making humans who lived along the Thames 9,000 years ago. 

Other finds include a well-preserved human road — complete with a discarded horse-shoe — as well as a 16th century golden pendant that appears to have fallen from the fancy clothing of some hapless latter-day Londoner. 

The infamous mental hospital that has become associated with the dissonant word "Bedlam" was a real place — the Bethlem Royal Hospital, which was founded in 1247 and is currently the oldest psychiatric institution on the planet. 

Bethlem's legacy of mental health treatment began in 1547, when King Henry VIII granted  "custody, order and government" of the facility to the city of London. He is also often credited as establishing the hospital as a facility soley for the treatment of the mentally ill, although early treatments were often barbaric. 

Famously imagined by William Hogarth, the painting "A Rake's Progress" is an illustration of the tumulut of the old Bedlam mental hospital, portraying the 18th century story of antihero Tom Rakewell, who falls from fortune into sin and eventually, madness. 

Bethlem has changed locations over the years but is still in operation as part of the UK's National Health System.