Brooke House

Originally a grand Hackney residence to prominent friends of King Henry VIII, Brooke House was converted for use as a private madhouse in 1758.

Notably, Brooke House is closely linked to the famous Monro family of physicians. The Monro physicians spanned four generations and most notably they oversaw practises at Bethlem. Used as a madhouse for nearly 200 years, Brooke House suffered severe bomb damage during the Blitz and was pulled down for safety reasons in the 1950s. Prior to demolition, the building was recorded by the Survey of London and archaeological excavations were undertaken. Elements of the building were saved and they now form a part of Historic England's Architectural Study Collection. Objects saved from Brooke House provide a rare opportunity to have a glimpse inside the madhouse.

Old photoraph from Historic England Archive showing elevation of Brooke House from the street.
Brooke House, Hackney. Used as a private madhouse from 1759 to 1940 (Historic England Archive)

How objects have been reused

The historical significance of Brooke House was not entirely removed during its conversion to a madhouse. A number of relatively high status objects were retained and survive in the collection. The Monroes evidently wished to retain historic features. The long gallery was the best survival. The ceiling is particularly special as the surviving fragments illustrate heraldic shields with birds and animals centred on the coat of arms of Lord Hunsdon, owner of Brooke House from 1578 to 1583. What is more, other areas of the madhouse retained historic features including a staircase and a door frame. Integrating historical features into the madhouse suggests that historical connotations associated with the building were intentionally saved.

Fragment of ceiling depicting the head of a horse
Fragment of ceiling depicting the head of a horse. Dating to the 16th century, this fragment was part of a larger ceiling decoration that included the coat of arms of Lord Hunsdon. It was removed from the long gallery on the first floor of Brooke House. (Historic England Collections Image)

What objects were chosen and added

Many alterations made to Brooke House were to make it a suitable madhouse in the eyes of the proprietors. The biggest refurbishment was undertaken on the main elevation when a Georgian style front was added. A new staircase, cornices, fireplaces and panelling were added internally. The most amazing survival is a number of wallpaper fragments. Most of the surviving fragments depict floral designs, which would have created a homely and familiar environment for the patients. Other designs would have been used in formal areas or hallways. A number of tiles were also recovered. Brightly coloured, these tiles added cheer to the madhouse environment. Elements of the archaeology collection from Brooke House are now stored by the Museum of London. Objects include fragments of a china tea set, which most likely once belonged to a resident of Brooke House.

A photograph of a fragment of decorative cornice taken from Brooke House
A fragment of cornice taken from Brooke House. The moulding features calyx and acanthus waterleaf decoration and dates to the late 18th century.

Summary of what we know

Objects from Brooke House reveal that this madhouse was clearly designed to impress the families of potential patients and provide a familiar environment for the patients themselves. This building was not just a madhouse, but a home that reflected the Monroes' ideologies concerning the confinement of this sector of society.

Painted portrait of the first physician at Brooke House John Monro
John Monro was the first physician at Brooke House in 1759. Monro was also physician at Bethlem.
Wallpaper fragment featuring a pretty floral design with decorative pheasants
Wallpaper fragment featuring a pretty floral design with decorative pheasants dating to the 1880s
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