Bedlam in the Parish

Bedlam. We are all familiar with the word and its definition as a ‘scene of uproar and confusion’. But what is the association with the parish of Eythorne?

In 1247, a priory dedicated to St Mary of Bethlehem was established in London. Soon the priory became a hospital for the care and treatment of people with mental illness. In Middle English, the word ‘Bethlehem’ was often shortened to ‘Bethlem’ and the hospital became known as Bethlem Royal Hospital. ‘Bedlam’ was used an alternative spelling to ‘Bethlem’ and, because of its association with mental health problems, the word entered the English language with its current meaning.

Bethlem Royal Hospital was located first in Bishopsgate (from 1247 to 1676), then at Moorfields (from 1676 to 1815), St George's Fields, Southwark (from 1815 to 1930), and Monks Orchard, Beckenham (from 1930 to the present day). The hospital became world famous for its pioneering work in mental health and many wealthy benefactors contributed to its finances. To this day, the hospital holds endowment estates in London and Lincolnshire and, until 1947, it owned large areas of land in the parish of Eythorne. This is our link with Bedlam.

The Hospital Archives at Beckenham contain a wealth of interesting artefacts relating to their holdings in our parish, including maps, drawings and specifications of some of their properties.

The hospital owned four farms in the parish; Haynes Farm, Eythorne Court Farm and Brimsdale Farm in Eythorne, plus Barfrestone Court Farm. The archives hold detailed maps showing these farms, for example the 1844 plan of Haynes, Eythorne Court and Brimsdale farms, part of which is shown here.

Flax Court Lane did not exist in 1844 – it is just possible to see the pencilled-in outline of the lane and the position of the farm cottages that were built in 1913. The access to Brimsdale Farm was along what is now the bridleway. There was no track between Flax Court and Brimsdale Farms and, of course, no railway – although proposed routes for the railway are also pencilled in. Note that the railway route near Eythorne Court is more or less correct but the Guildford colliery branch was eventually constructed in a more westerly direction. The lands bordered and etched in red were transferred from Lord Guildford to Bethlem Hospital in 1897. In exchange, the Hospital transferred lands bordered and etched in green.

The archive also contains detailed drawings for Brimsdale Farm Cottages such as the one below.


The cottages, at the bottom of Flax Court Lane, have been extensively altered since 1913 but the original structure can still be recognised from the drawing.

The total area of the three farms was 438 acres and, until quite recently, the boundaries of the Hospital properties were marked by iron posts bearing the Hospital Crest (in Flax Court Lane and Barfrestone Road).

Older residents of the parish still remember when all four farms were working, but now only Haynes and Barfrestone Court remain as agricultural enterprises. Eythorne Court farmhouse was once owned by the manager of the East Kent Light Railway and, during the second world war, was used as accommodation for the troops that manned the railway gun emplacement on the Coldred spur. Most of the Brimsdale Farm buildings have disappeared, except for the cow barn (since converted) which was used for Saturday night dances by the troops during the war. Another historic landmark is the ‘Churchill Chestnut Tree’ in the meadow between the railway and Brimsdale bridleway. It was here that Sir Winston Churchill reviewed the artillery garrison when visiting Eythorne during the war.

The Hospital continued to own land in the parish until 1947 when, as reported in The Times of July 30th, 377 acres were sold for the princely sum of £15,200!