Back to Bedlam

On 17 May 1677, the Chapter Acts note that “Mr Collins,  one of the Petty Canons,  is lately  fallen  distracted and that his father hath consented to his being  placed  in  Bedlam  at London as the likeliest means (by God’s blessing)  for  the  recovery  of  his health”

Thomas Collins had been appointed as a Petty Canon of Windsor almost exactly a year before this entry, on 16 May 1676, and was admitted and sworn in on the 31 May 1676. As a Petty Canon, he formed part of the choral men, and sang tenor. He was taken to Bedlam by his colleague John Maidstone.

Bedlam, or Bethlem Royal Hospital, was Europe’s first and therefore oldest institution to deal specifically with mental illnesses. Originally occupying a site near modern day Liverpool Street Station, Collins would have been one of the first patients at the new site at Moorfields, built between 1675 and 1676 to a design by Robert Hooke and which was able to hold 120 patients.

Although in more pleasant surroundings than the squalid and decrepit old Bedlam, it would still not have been an easy place for Thomas Collins to have been.  The concept of the four humours and the need to balance them was still very much prevalent, leading to daily rounds of bleeding, purging, blistering and enforced voiding of bowels.  It also meant a severely restricted diet, which was often inadequate as corrupt staff looked to earn extra money. Patients considered violent or dangerous would be restrained with manacles and chains. This would be in full view of the many members of the public who paid to come and see the “lunatics”.

A year after being admitted to Bedlam, Collins was still there, and Chapter found a temporary replacement for him. His house in Horseshoe Cloister was let out, and although he continued to receive his pay, it was reduced to that of a clerk, the remainder going to his replacements. He continued to be paid his stipend until his death in 1694, although it would seem that he never returned to Windsor.

Collins was not however the first member of College to face the trials of Bedlam. In November 1666, it was “ordered that if Charles Lluellin being a Lunatique person be received into Bethlem Hospitall, the Treasurer of the Church for the tyme being shall pay Twenty shillings every month to whomsoever the officer of the place shall appoint, during the space of a whole yeare following from the date hereof Provided the said Charles Lluellin be not cured of his lunacy before the said tyme expired.” A clerk of the choir, the previous year he had been dismissed from his place for dishonouring the church. He declared himself “greatly afflicted by the hand of God both in his body and mind” and begged forgiveness. He was readmitted, but by April 1666 he was declared “uncapable of serving the Church as a Clerke because of his distemper”. It would seem that time away from Windsor worked, and in 1669 he was welcomed back to Windsor and admitted to come into the Quire, although not as a full member.

Sadly for Charles, he would have been treated at the original hospital which had just 12 cells for inmates, and which by the end of the seventeenth century was described as “very olde, weake & ruinous and to small and streight for keepeing the greater numbr of lunaticks therein att p’sent”. It would have been overcrowded and filthy, a very good reason not to remain there too long!

Eleanor Cracknell, Assistant Archivist

The King's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.