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Male alms box figure from Bethlem Hospital, England, 1671-1681

These two alms boxes, which date from the late 1600s, reputedly stood at the gates of the Bethlem Hospital, or 'Bedlam', after it was relocated to Moorfields in 1675. The box with the figure of a 'madman' (A600164), pictured on the left, stands with his female counterpart (A600163) on the right. Alms boxes collected private donations, which in this period was effectively the only way mental health care was funded. They were often distinctive to draw attention. These were nearly life-sized and painted with realistic colours, and drew on traditional images of 'madness' and poverty, such as partial nudity. For more information on Bedlam, see the link in the 'Mental Institutions' section.

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Glossary: asylum

A historic term for a psychiatric hospital. The term in this context was common in the 1700s and 1800s, but is no longer in use.

Glossary: alms box

Box used to collect alms, or charitable donations. Historically also known as a 'poor box' or 'mite box', it was often placed in church to collect money for the needy.