Saturday, 8 February 2014

The Celestial Bed

In the late 19th century, a lavish beauty parlour was opened at Schomberg House, Pall Mall, London by former medical student Dr. James Graham.  A notorious quack and conman, Graham never completed his studies but he referred to himself as 'Doctor' anyway.  He became a popular figure and began practicing 'electric medicine' and, emboldened by an increasing flow of rich and successful clients, he opened the 'Temple of Health' in 1781. 

For those willing to pay the two guinea entrance fee, the Temple offered a variety of delights catering for the health of the body and the soul.  The opulent rooms housed the 'Elysium' (for soul-transporting experiences),  mud-baths ('All-cleaning, all-healing and all-invigorating), and a place to purchase 'Imperial Pills' (for decayed constitutions).  The most famous and most popular attraction was the 'The Grand Celestial Bed'.

The bed, described as a 'medico-electrical Apparatus' could be occupied for a night by childless couples for a large fee (£50 or about £3,500 in today's money).  Under a dome swirling with fragrant vapours and live doves, customers were surrounded by crystal pillars, with mirrors offering a view from every possible angle. The 12ft x 9ft bed delivered mild doses of “electrical fire” designed to promote “superior ecstasy” in the woman and thus guarantee conception.  The movements of the occupants of the bed set off music through organ pipes which sounded with increasing tempo as their encounter went on.   The words "Be fruitful,  Multiply and Replenish the Earth" were inscribed on the headboard.

The celestial bed was visited by a number of influential men and women of the day, including Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, actress Mary Robinson, the Prince of Wales and politician John Wilkes.  Many arrived at the Temple disguised with masks and veils.

Graham himself lectured from a celestial throne on transcendental experience but after several years although the Temple of Health was a success Graham still ended up deep in debt and was increasingly gripped by religious fervour, which led to mania.  Before he died, he had begun experimenting with fasting as a way of prolonging his life.  He was eventually committed to an asylum and died in Edinburgh in 1794.

Dr James Graham going along the North Bridge in a High Wind, caricature portrait from 1785 by John Kay (image from Wikimedia commons)


  1. It's amazing how many actually were committed to an asylum in those days, just before dying! Fascinating post, Elizabeth!

  2. It is amazing, isn't it? Even the famous Beau Brummell ended his days in the Asylum de Bon Saveur in France!