The Imperial War Museum
(Previously the Royal Bethlehem Hospital, or "Bedlam")
James Lewis, 1815
Important additions by Sydney Smirke, 1835-1846.
Lambeth Road, London
Photograph and text 2008 by Jacqueline Banerjee
[You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL.]
The original building on this site was designed by James Lewis, the hospital surveyor for the old Bethlehem Royal Hospital at Moorfields. However, his design was based on prize-winning plans submitted by other architects, the best of which were by John Gandy (later known as John Deering). The asylum was completed in 1815, but soon proved inadequate. After the initial transfer of 122 patients, blocks were added in the very next year for the criminally insane. The building was greatly enlarged by Sydney Smirke from 1835 onwards. Smirke provided wings on either side (since demolished) and galleried blocks at the rear; he also enlarged the original low cupola into a tall copper-covered dome, mainly, it seems, to help extend the space in the chapel beneath it. Smirke is sometimes said to have added the imposing portico as well (e.g., see Weinreb and Hibbert, 62); but Gandy had proposed a "pediment supported by six Doric columns" (Darlington): it is the type of structure to be seen at University College London, for which he also submitted plans, and on which he worked with William Wilkins. The portico can be seen on Thomas Shepherd's steel engraving of the Royal Bethlehem Hospital in 1828, long before Smirke started work on the building.
Sadly, A.W. N. Pugin, who designed St George's Roman Catholic Cathedral diagonally opposite the hospital building, was confined here for a while in 1852 — though he was later moved, and died at home in Ramsgate later that year.
In Ida Darlington's chapter on this building, the tall dome is criticised; but it is a familiar landmark in this part of London. The chapter concludes with a brief history of the building's later use:
For Shepherd's 1828 engraving of the hospital, see here.
Darlington, Ida, ed. "Bethlem Hospital, Now the Imperial War Museum, in Lambeth Road." Survey of London, Vol. 25. Viewed 15 May 2008.
Wedgwood, Alexandra. "Pugin, Augustus Welby Northmore (1812-1852)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Viewed 14 May 2008.
Weinreb, Ben and Christopher Hibbert, eds. The London Encyclopaedia. London: Macmillan, rev. ed. 1992.
Last modified 15 May 2008