The word bedlam comes from the famous London asylum, The Bethlem Royal Hospital, or Bethlehem Hospital, the world’s oldest “madhouse” founded in 1247. It appears that there were two facilities that made up the Hospital, with the house for women being the St. Mary’s of Bethlem, and the men’s house or side, St. Bartholomew’s.
The word “Bedlam” derived from Bethlem, has been used as a term for lunatic asylums in general, and later for a scene of uproar and confusion. A “Bedlam” (or more colloquially a “Tom O’ Bedlam”) signified one discharged from the Bethlem Hospital and licensed to beg. Such persons wore a tin plate on their arm as a badge and were known also Bedlamers, Bedlamites, or Bedlam Beggars. The institution for women mentioned above, St. Mary’s, was named after Mary Magdalene, hence “Maudlin,” as the corresponding vernacular by which mad women were known.
Some hundreds of years ago the facilities ran short of money and poured countless souls out onto the cruel streets of London. These characters, Tom ‘o Bedlams and Mad Maudlins were the subjects of many songs including one from my first album, Prince Edward Isle, Adieu.
I attribute to them the company name, Bedlam Records, and thank Paul Rosenbaum for the great logo… the sheep standing on a bed!
Oh and when my son was being delivered by Caesarean section, my husband started singing Tom of Bedlam to distract me. I picked up the chorus and attempted to teach a harmony part to the anesthesiologist. He looked at me with sheer terror and said, “I can’t do that!” I responded with, “If I can do this, you can sing.” The poor sod was let off the hook with his shout of, “it’s a boy.” But I do digress… No Islander can resist telling a story.