Nothing seems to stand in the way of progress these days, but ghosts can sometimes slow it down. That may happen in London as the construction of a new Liverpool Street rail station awaits the excavation of an estimated 3,000 skeletons buried between 1569 and about 1738 in the cemetery of the Bethlem Royal Hospital – a psychiatric hospital whose treatment of patients was so horrible, its name is the origin of the word “bedlam.” Will the ghosts of Bethlem that have appeared at the station move with the skeletons to a cemetery near London or will they stay as a reminder of the bedlam?
The tragic history of the facility is well-known. Founded in 1247 as the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem, it began admitting mental patients, known then as “lunatics,” in the 1400s. The facility was filthy, patients were kept locked up in chains, treatments bordered on torture, residents were put on public display and neighbors complained about the sounds of …
… cryings, screechings, roarings, brawlings, shaking of chaines, swearings, frettings, chaffings.
The hospital moved a few times and eventually reformed to become the Bethlem Royal Hospital, a modern psychiatric facility. The cemetery stayed in the same old location and the Liverpool Street Underground Station was built over it in 1874.
A number of ghosts of Bedlam have haunted the station and surrounding area. Between 1780 and 1812, screams were regularly heard – sometimes calling for a half penny – and were attributed to a patient named Rebecca Griffiths who was believed to have been buried there without the coin she always carried. More recently, in 2000 a ghost was recorded on closed-circuit TV in the station’s east tunnel.
The skeletons will be studied by archeologists as a way to learn more about Bedlam and life in 16th and 17th century London, especially during the Great Plague of London in 1665 when the bubonic plague killed up to 100,000 people. Archeologist Niamh Carty says it will be done with respect for those who suffered through their stay at Bedlam.
It’s a kind of act of remembrance in a way, that their mortal remains are giving us information.
Will the ghosts move to the new cemetery and finally be at peace? Only time will tell.