SHAMUS IN LONDON | Bishopsgate, Bedlam

Updated: Nov 12

"A cab dragged by on Liverpool Street hushed by snow, rolled past the entrance to the Great Eastern Hotel and used the empty rank at the rail station to turn around." '[Shamus Dust, Chapter 4]

This was taken in the 1970s on Bishopsgate rather than Liverpool Street but gives a good impression of the buildings and the gritty feel of a wet day in the City.

"Daybreak shied at the window of the hotel barbershop. I was its only customer. Louis had something on his mind. 'Did you know this was Bethlehem once, Mr. Newman? Right on this spot used to be the hospital of St. Mary Bethlehem. Bedlam. The madhouse. Only they don’t put up a sign to say so." '[Shamus Dust, Chapter 4]

Louis, the barber, is quite right - this plaque had been around for many years before Shamus Dust begins in 1947 - but London City's Corporation never felt the need to tell the whole story.

In 1247 at the time of Henry III the Priory of St. Mary of Bethlehem or Bethlem was built on the site now covered by Liverpool Street station in Bishopsgate. The hospital was originally devoted to healing sick paupers and consisted of a single story and covered two acres. Centered around a courtyard with a chapel in the middle, it had approximately 12 cells for patients, a kitchen, staff accommodation and an exercise yard.

It was only around 1377 that Bethlem began to specialize in caring for the insane and about that time Londoner's started shortening the name to Bedlam. And it stuck. Not only that the name soon became synonymous with madness and chaos.

Over the years there were ups and downs in reputation and fortune and several times this growing institution was relocated but when Britain's National Health Service came into being in 1948, just one year later than our story begins, the hospital was still going strong. And still is.

Medieval Hospital | Elias the leprous monk |Trinity Chapel, Canterbury Cathedral

Did you know?

  • In the 19th century Liverpool Street was built over a winding lane called Old Bethlem. Civic toffs renamed the street for Lord Liverpool - and with one fell swoop wiped out centuries of the City's history.

  • In March 2015 digging a rail tunnel, workers discovered a burial ground underneath Liverpool Street housing no less than 3000 skeletons dating between 1596 and 1738. Long before PI Newman arrived on the scene. Investigations are still ongoing but preliminary results suggest many may have been victims of the Black Death.

  • The Communist Manifesto was written in 1847 by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels at the request of a group of German revolutionary exiles based in London, and printed for private distribution in February 1848 by J. E. Burghard of 46 Liverpool Street. Burghard also printed the radical German newspaper, the Deutsche Londoner Zeitung, which serialised the Manifesto between March and July 1848.


The London Encyclopaedia: Weinreb, Ben and Hibbert, Christopher, 2008

British Library

BBC News

British History Online

Janet Roger is the author of SHAMUS DUST : HARD WINTER, COLD WAR, COOL MURDER - available for purchase on Amazon UK and Amazon US

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