Are you barking mad? 10


Bedlam (Hogarth – oil painting of his engraving for the Rake’s Progress)

Barking is an east London suburb about 9 miles from the city centre along the River Thames. It originated as an Anglo-Saxon village in Essex – the land of the East Saxons. As ‘C’ was pronounced ‘K’ in the German tongue the original name Berecingas (settlement in the birch trees) was corrupted to Barking.

The story goes in the Middle Ages St Mary’s Abbey in Barking ran a hospital for the care of the insane. And that gave rise to the English expression ‘Barking Mad’.

The words hospital, hospice, hostel and hotel come from the Latin hospes, meaning stranger. The word hospitium gave rise to the word hospitality signifying the care and succour of strangers.

The asylum at Barking Abbey is a great story but unfortunately probably not true. The use of ‘Barking Mad’ started in the 20th century and probably relates to the frenzied barking of mad dogs, just like it sounds it does.

While on the subject of mad dogs… The word ‘lunatic’ meaning ‘moonstruck’ came about because the ancient Greeks and Romans thought the full moon caused epilepsy and madness in people and dogs – making them to howl at the moon.

Howling in dogs goes back to the pack instinct of the wolf. However as people originally believed wolves were dogs gone bad (rather than dogs being domesticated wolves) they thought howling at the moon meant they were stricken with madness.

Bedlam from Rake’s Progress -Hogarth etching -1735

Bedlam as in “it’s Bedlam out there!” is an old London word meaning wild, mad or chaotic. It comes from the Bethlem Royal Hospital, which was for centuries one of London’s principle insane asylums.

Bedlam – 1946 film starring Boris Karloff as the sinister asylum master (notice how the scene replicates the Rake’s Progress etching)

10 thoughts on “Are you barking mad?

  1. Reply Stevie Turner Jan 30,2017 6:17 am

    My grandfather lived in Barking for years! Perhaps that’s why he was a bit strange…

  2. Reply dgkaye Jan 29,2017 2:53 am

    Fascinating history Paul! 🙂

  3. Reply Jessica Norrie Jan 28,2017 4:30 pm

    A picture to look up is “the Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke” by Richard Dadd, an artist who was incarcerated in Bedlam in the 19th Century. I saw it as a teenager and it still haunts me. Great post!

    • Reply Paul Jan 29,2017 8:05 pm

      Jessica, I love the Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke. Thanks for telling me about Richard Dadd. I’ve looked him up what an tragic life!

  4. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Daily – 28th January 2017 – Barking Mad, Furry Dudes, Writing conference, Writing flow and Beta Readers | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  5. Reply Sally cronin Jan 26,2017 11:42 pm

    Most of those places were hell holes.. if you were not barking mad when you went in you were when you came out.. certainly not the good old days..terrific post thanks Paul. In the Blogger on Saturday.

    • Reply Paul Jan 27,2017 12:40 am

      Thanks Sally. I was going to say that I cannot believe that Liverpool Street station stands on the site of the original Bedlam Hospital – but then I remembered having been there during rush hour!

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