Archive for September 25, 2014

A brace of cups

Posted: September 25, 2014 in History
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As regular readers of the blog may recall, I spent some time as a researcher on a project at the Royal Bethlem Hospital Museum in Kent earlier in the year. The Royal Bethlem Hospital is famous as the first institution specialising in diseases of the mind and it is from a corruption of its name that we get the word ‘Bedlam’ The following is a report on one aspect of my work there investigating historical artifacts for the new Museum display.(Originally published on The Bethlem Blog):

I think that one of the most fascinating things about this project from me has been how the objects that I have researched led onto questions beyond those simply of the nature and function of the object itself. An example of this is the group of sports cups which have been selected for display in the new museum. When I began to look at these, four in particular stood out to me.

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All four of these cups were donated to the hospital tennis club in 1936, were competed for in 1937 and 38 and then again for eight years from 1950. This led me to an initial question as to why exactly these particular years were the only ones in which the cups were competed for. Examination of the sports club records show that the sports club was formed when the hospital moved from Southwark in central London to the rural Monks Orchard site in Kent during the early 1930s. The advantage of this site over the previous one was that the expansive grounds enabled the hospital governors to provide sports facilities for the staff. This had really begun to take off by the mid 1930s and it was probably for this reason that the cups were first donated in 1936. We can all take a likely guess as to why they stopped in 1938, but there was still the question as to why it took until 1950 for the competitions to recommence following the war. Turning again to the sports club records I could find two possible explanations. The first is a number of references to the condition of the tennis courts in the years between 1945 and 1950. It is unclear whether this damage was as a result of wartime activity or just a general lack of maintenance over the wartime years. The second possible reason was a re-founding of the sports club around 1950, following the merger of the Bethlem hospital and the Maudsley Hospital (another famous hospital for mental illness in south London), as a single sports club. Why then did they stop in 1958? Again a number of reasons can be postulated. There seems in the late 1950s to have been move away from outdoor sports, particularly following the building of a new gymnasium. In addition, the records show that during the 1950s there had been a number of attempts, as witnessed by motions posted at the sports club AGM, to enable winners to take the cups and keep them at home, but these had been rejected each time. In the late 1950s a decision was finally made to award smaller personal trophies to the competition winners which they then got to keep and these may have replaced the awarding of the cups.

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My next set of questions were regarding those donors who had given the cups to the sports club. One of the cups is called the Governors cup, but the other three were all personal donations. The people involved were Sir Lionel Faudel-Phillips; Lord Charles Wakefield and Mr Gerald Coke, all people who had an important part to play in the history of the Royal Bethlem hospital. Lionel Faudel Phillips and Charles Wakefield were respectively treasurer and president of the Board of Governors from 1921 until 1941. It was their vision in the 1920s to move the Bethlem hospital from the site at St Georges Field in Southwark to a more open rural site, which they felt would be better for the patients and enable expansion of its facilities. The site they eventually settled on was Monks Orchard near Beckenham in Kent, and it was these two gentlemen who enabled and managed the move when it happened in the 1930s. Gerald Coke, a cousin of Faudel Phillips, had been a governor of the Royal Bethlem since its move to the Monks Orchard site in the 1930s and held the distinction of being the last treasurer appointed by the independent board of governors (prior to its incorporation into the National Health Service). It was he, who according to Andrew’s history of Bethlem first saw the need for the merger with the Maudsley and was the driving force behind ensuring that the merger took place, thus securing the future of the hospital at Monks Orchard. I think it can probably be argued that these three people were the most influential in the hospital’s non-medical history in the period of the first 50 years of the 20th century.

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The cups as objects have a value, both financial and artistic, but that value is unrelated to any narrative connected to them. For me the fascinating thing about them is that they provide a doorway into a story that tells us both of the social life of the hospital and the story of the people who moulded its history.