Introduction to the Archives
◊What are archives?
◊What archives do we hold?
◊Who can use the archives?
◊How may the archives be accessed?
What are archives?
Archives are written and other records - documents, letters, photographs, films and tapes, digital records etc. - which have been created or acquired by people, businesses, and institutions in the course of their lives and work, and kept as evidence of their activities. Strictly speaking, records only become 'archives' when they have stopped being used for their original day-to-day purposes, and particularly when they are being kept because of their permanent value for research. The place where they are kept is sometimes also called 'the archives'.
Through the information that they contain, archives can help us to understand the past and show us how the past has shaped our own lives, our institutions, and our environment. Most people think of archives as 'very old'. Some are, but they can also be quite recent: and the records which we create today will become tomorrow's archives, enabling future generations to learn about how we lived and worked.
What archives do we hold?
The archives of National Health Service (NHS) bodies are public records. This means they must be selected, preserved and managed in accordance with UK archives legislation, under the guidance of the National Archives. Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives and Museum is approved by the National Archives as the ‘place of deposit’ for the archives of the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust and its predecessors, including the records of Bethlem, the Maudsley, and Warlingham Park Hospitals, and the joint records of Bridewell and Bethlem. For brief details of the archives of these hospitals, follow the links at the foot of this page. Alternately consult a trial version of our archives catalogue. (For information about our art collection and historical material which does not form part of the archives, follow the museum links.)
We also hold a small reference library which is available for the use of researchers. It contains material relating to the Bethlem and Maudsley hospitals, and also some broader aspects of the history of psychiatry and mental healthcare. Back to top of page
Who can use the archives?
The archives in general are open to the public, but certain categories of record are closed for reasons of confidentiality. These are noted below. The Bethlem archives are used by people from all walks of life, and for many different areas of research, some of them quite unexpected. Among the more obvious subjects for which they can be used are the history of medicine and mental healthcare, architectural studies, family history, and local history: but over the years they have also been consulted by fashion students, poets, film-makers, linguists, novelists, and students researching such varied subjects as Lincolnshire duck decoys, and Scottish pipe music. Back to top of page
How May the archives be acessed?
A small number of items have been digitally imaged and are available for consultation online by following links contained in the trial version of our archives catalogue. These include the minutes of the Court of Governors of Bridewell and Bethlem from 1559 to 1713 and an early twentieth-century lantern slide collection illustrating a variety of historical subjects. However, the vast majority of the records have not been not imaged, and the only way to consult these is by making a personal visit to the Archives & Museum.
The archives and reference library are open by appointment only. Unfortunately we normally have room for only one researcher at a time, or two if they are working on the same project. Unless you are already sure what records you will need to see, it is advisable to discuss your project or enquiry with the archivist beforehand, to find out whether our archives are likely to contain information which will be of use to you.
N.B. Records relating to individual patients are closed to public inspection until they are one hundred years old. In certain circumstances, however, we may be able to supply biographical (non-clinical) information from closed records in response to requests from family historians. All other records are closed until they are thirty years old.
For more information about visiting the archives, follow these links:-