Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Doc Martin’

Going Bodmin

Posted by Admin on October 1, 2019

If someone has gone bodmin or is going bodmin, you can rest assured the person is question is allegedly crazy or loopy, and probably in need of a nice long restful stay at a mental hospital. Even Bodmin Magazine agrees that going bodmin means the person being talked about has gone absolutely and utterly mad. The fact of the matter is that Bodmin is a respectable town in the UK, so why would anyone think an expression associated with Bodmin would mean that?

The quick answer is that the Cornwall County lunatic asylum — also known as St. Lawrence’s Hospital — opened on Westheath Avenue in Bodmin in 1815 on nine acres of land for the express purpose of dealing with those who were mentally unstable. The hospital was designed by John Foulston and George Wightwick. Cornwall County was the seventh English county to provide an asylum, and being one of the first asylums, word of its existence spread quickly and effectively.

By 1818, Bodmin had 112 cells, and accommodations for 72 patients. It became the first county in the South West to have an asylum for the insane long before the 1885 Act that stated asylums could only be built in certain areas, and long before the Care in the Community Act was passed in the 1990s.

According to historical records, the major mental disorders that were dealt with at Bodmin were mania, dementia, and melancholia. Of course, there were moral disturbances resulting from domestic troubles, religious excitement, fright and various shocks, among others, and physical disturbances caused by accident, injury, intemperance, or brain disease.

In its heyday, there were as many as 2,000 mental patients being treated at Bodmin, admitting both private patients and ‘pauper lunatics.’ By 2002, it was determined Bodmin was to be permanently closed, and so it was.

SIDE NOTE 1: The area known as Bodmin Moor is the setting for the novel “Jamaica Inn” by author Daphne du Maurier. Lost on Bodmin Moor in the dark, the remote location of the inn sparked her imagination, leading to the story about smugglers and cut-throats!

SIDE NOTE 2: Dozemary Pool in Bodmin is the legendary last resting place of King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur.

But enough about Bodmin, and back to the expression!

In 2018, UK poet Andrew Siddle used the expression not only as the title of one of his poems, ‘He’s Going Bodmin‘, but repeatedly throughout the poem.

A few years earlier, on 2 March 2012, a delightful blog called Rusty’s Skewed News Views published a blog entry titled,”Cornwall Gone Bodmin for Pasty Contest.” The blog owner reported that “aspiring pastry chefs and an assortment of cooks from around the planet” had arrived in Cornwall for the first annual World Pasty Championships.

Back in 2004, the British television series “Doc Martin” starring Martin Clunes as Dr. Martin Ellingham debuted with the first episode titled, ‘Going Bodmin.’ While the series begins with the doctor moving to the village of Port Isaac in Cornwall (England), by the end of this episode, Doc Martin has concluded he made a mistake moving to the village, and plans to return to London … which he doesn’t do as shown by the subsequent episode in the series. The series is currently in its ninth season.

The expression is a local expression. Any county that had a asylum became infamous in its own area by way of referencing the town in the county where the asylum was located. For example, in Exeter, people were ‘going Digby.”

While the expression wasn’t used often in written circumstances, it appears to have been the go-to expression in conversations. Idiomation therefore pegs this to scant years after the asylum in Bodmin was open for business meaning somewhere between 1818 and 1820.

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