May 23, 2013
Broadmoor Revealed is a gripping account of the Victorian inmates of Broadmoor, England’s first criminal lunatic asylum. The hospital opened its doors on 27 May 1863, to receive its first patients; all women convicted of crimes of theft, murder and infanticide. The chilling opening of the book sends a shiver down the spine inviting the reader to undertake a journey into the institution’s turbulent and haunting past.
Originally intended as a guide to the Broadmoor Hospital Archive, Mark Stevens’s fascinating book is based on case studies carefully selected from the 2,000 Victorian inmates. Well-known criminals, like artist, Richard Dadd; Edward Oxford, the would-be assassin of Queen Victoria; and the Chocolate Cream Poisoner, Christiana Edmunds, are interwoven with the stories of more ordinary people, many of whom were victims of circumstance. Meticulous and comprehensive research sets each individual firmly in the context of their family background, social milieu and the Victorian criminal justice system. The book also sheds a powerful light into life in the nineteenth century through themes such as the role of women in society, immigration and the treatment of mental health patients.
Senior archivist, Mark Stevens, presents these cases in a compelling and highly readable narrative. Through his objective voice and wry observations, he succeeds in bringing these shadowy characters back to life. His style is knowledgeable and confident as he re-creates the events leading to the act that brought each one of his subjects to Broadmoor. He evokes vividly their often bizarre and disturbing delusions, their manic behaviour, fantasies and obsessions; all presented in a sympathetic and deeply humane manner. Broadmoor Revealed is rich in detail, well-written and a totally engaging read. The book ends with a nostalgic virtual tour of the building, remembering the ghosts that still linger from its past.
As Broadmoor Hospital celebrates its 150th anniversary, Broadmoor Revealed unlocks the doors and draws the modern-day reader deep into its secrets. I would highly recommend it.
Broadmoor Revealed, published by Pen and Sword Books, is available now.