William Dargue A History of BIRMINGHAM Places & Placenames from A to Y
B45 - Grid reference SP000781
Bedlam Wood was located south-west of the junction of Frankley Beeches Road/ Tessall Lane and Hollymoor Way and is now commemorated by a street name. The name Bedlam derives from the lunatic asylum, the Hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem (Bethlem, Bethleham and variants) which had been established in London by 1547 and nicknamed the Bedlam Hospital. The word 'Bedlam' subsequently came into general use as a term for any such asylum. It was also applied to the former patients of St Mary's who were set free when partially cured and allowed to beg on the streets as 'bedlam beggars'. The term was used generally until the 18th century of anyone suffering from mental illness. However, this name certainly predates the building of Rubery Hill and Hollymoor Mental Hospitals which were erected nearby at the end of the 19th century.
The origin of this name here is unknown. There used to be a children's chasing game called 'bedlam'. Children divided into two teams, one of which chased the other. Captured players were kept in a den, known as 'bedlam', until released by one of their own team.
However, a place of the same name in Yorkshire is believed to derive from the Old English aet bothlum, ' at the (place of the) buildings'. This may or may not be the case here. Names not understood in later times were often interpreted with a meaning which made sense in a process similar to the game of Chinese whispers.
William Dargue 08.09.2008/ 30.07.2010
For 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps of Birmingham go to British History Online.