A system of Royal Hospitals for London had been established in Tudor times: St Bartholomew's for the sick, St Thomas's for the permanently infirm, Christ's for the support and education of poor children, Bridewell for vagabonds and the unemployed, and Mary of Bethlehem (Bedlam) for the insane.
By the 17th century, Bedlam was one of London's main tourist attractions. On Sundays, the public was admitted on payment of a penny (it was later raised to twopence) to watch the antics of the people confined there. It was considered one of the wonders of London and was a must for foreign visitors. It remained open to the public until the late 18th century, when visiting first became restricted to only "well-dressed" ticket holders, then finally to relatives.
Pepys's Diary, 19 February 1669:
Ned Ward, A Visit to Bedlam:
Accordingly we were admitted through an iron gate, within which sat a brawny Cerberus of an indigo colour, leaning upon a money-box. We turned in through another iron barricade, where we heard such a rattling of chains, drumming of doors, ranting, holloaing, singing and rattling, that I could think of nothing but Don Quevado's vision, where the damned broke loose, and put Hell in an uproar...
Having well tired ourselves with the frantic humours and rambling ejaculations of the mad folks, we took a turn to make some few remarks upon the looseness of the spectators, amongst whom we observed abundance of intriguing. Mistresses, we found, were to be had of all ranks, qualities, colours, prices and sizes, from the velvet scarf to the Scotch plaid petticoat. Commodities of all sorts went off, for there wanted not a suitable Jack to every Jill. Every fresh comer was soon engaged in an amour; though they came in single they went out by pairs; 'tis a new Whetstone's Park now the old one's ploughed up, where a sportsman at any hour in the day may meet with game for his purpose; 'tis as great a conveniency to London, as the Long Cellar to Amsterdam, where any stranger may purchase a purge at a small expense. All that I can say of Bedlam, is this, 'tis an almshouse for madmen, a showing room for harlots, a sure market for lechers, a dry walk for loiterers.