In the centre of Norwich stands a red brick building which has a rare place in psychiatry. Its history began on 12 December 1712 when a lease on a small piece of waste ground was granted by the Corporation of the City of Norwich to four men. The men were acting as trustees for an elderly widow, and the deed specified the purpose of the lease: it was to build a house, or houses for “the benefit and use of such as are lunatics.” The term of the lease was 1,000 years at an annual rent of one peppercorn. The widow was one Mary Chapman. Born in 1647, she was the daughter of Thomas Mann, Mayor of the city and one of the richest and most influential men in Norwich. It is thought that she grew up close to the city's Bridewell, where many difficult lunatics would have been housed, and she is known to have had immediate experience of mental illness in her own, and her husband's families. In 1682 she married a widowed cleric, Samuel Chapman, some years her senior and the vicar of a local parish. Together they made plans for the Bethel but in 1700 she was widowed and left childless. Despite this she continued to develop her charitable project. The final choice of name, Bethel, or house of God, was her husband's.
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