PATIENTS

The Story of Phoebe Darby

By Edward Sillitto

Whilst working on the county asylums project as part of my work experience placement at the Staffordshire County Records Office, I was asked to write an article on an asylum patient from Stafford asylum that interested me. I chose to investigate patient No. 8612, a woman called Phoebe Darby. I decided to select this patient as the focus of my further research due to the unusual lack of information given about her in the Stafford Asylum Register of Admissions. The information given on Phoebe Darby in the register told me that:

  • She was currently registered as part of West Bromwich Union
  • She had been sent to the asylum by warrant of the Secretary of State – a very high profile figure that made Phoebe’s case more interesting in contrast to the majority of the other patients who were sent by the authority of clergymen or the Justice of the County
  • Her diagnosed disorder, chronic mania, and the supposed cause, bodily illness (both of which are not uncommon)
  • Her bodily health (feeble) and physical condition (excited)
  • She had been transferred from Garland Lunatic Asylum, Cumberland
  • She had become a “pauper lunatic” on 3rd February 1885 and had been accepted by Cockermouth Union on the same date

However, there were many gaps in the data of the register, including her age, marital status and previous place of abode, which had been listed for all the other patients’ records I had looked at. This led me to look further into Phoebe’s life, to try to gather as much available information on her in order to piece her unusual circumstances into an understandable picture. To do this I visited various archive websites, and searched for censuses, birth, marriage and death certificates, and prison and asylum records.

A census in 1851 allowed me to place Phoebe’s birthday in the year 1841/2 (1841 is the most commonly given year of birth although 1842 is sometimes given instead). She was born Phoebe Siddons, the daughter of Samuel and Mary Siddons and was the third eldest of 6 siblings. Samuel was a coalminer from Staffordshire and in 1851 the family lived in the parish of West Bromwich.

The 1861 census tells us that the family home now consisted of Samuel, his wife Mary, son Samuel and daughter Phoebe. Samuel Sr. is now listed as a boot and shoe maker, and Phoebe a boot and shoe binder, whilst Samuel Jr. was a Royal Marine. The family lived in a house on Bagnall Street, in the ecclesiastical district of St James.

In that same year, Phoebe takes the name Darby by marrying John Darby, although information on John and the following decade is very scarce. The next information on Phoebe is found in Cumberland in 1871, indicating that she and John moved further north in this time period. Sadly, this is the first indication of what would lead Phoebe to end up in Stafford County Asylum. Phoebe was being confined in a lunatic asylum in Cumberland, which led to her trial for “throwing corrosive fluid with intent to do bodily harm” being postponed. This is corroborated by records of the 1871 Carlisle summer assizes. It is indicated that she may have been an accomplice, or had an accomplice, in this crime, and that they too were in gaol, although there is no further evidence. Phoebe had been sent to the asylum for “being a lunatic”, which may show that she now had mental health issues which may have been related to her crime.

Phoebe Darby awaiting trial in Cumberland for ‘throwing corrosive fluid with intent to do grievous bodily harm’.

Phoebe was then transferred to Stafford Asylum at some point between 1871 and 1890, likely due to the discovery of her place of origin and the desire of the authorities in Cumberland to avoid having to pay for her keep. The records note that Phoebe was re-entered into the asylum’s register of patients on 1st May 1890, showing that she remained in the asylum until at least that date, despite now being charged to Cockermouth Union.

The penultimate record of Phoebe Darby’s life is of her internment in Cockermouth Union Workhouse in 1901. Phoebe was aged 61 at this point and was not a widow, which reveals that John Darby was still alive. Strangely, Phoebe’s birthplace is listed as Yorkshire rather than West Bromwich in the workhouse records.

31 Mar 1901 – Phoebe’s entry in the Cockermouth Union Workhouse records.

Phoebe passed away in the same year, between October and December, aged 61. Whilst much of her life remains a mystery, the case of Phoebe Darby can be of great interest to those wishing to study this period or the history of mental health problems in general. Phoebe’s medical diagnosis shows the scientific views of mental health at the time (and how they conflict with modern views on the matter) and her crimes may show some of the darkest effects of poor mental health on the mentally ill and others. The transferral of Phoebe from one asylum to another could indicate the attitudes of the institutions of the time: a desire to not waste resources or to keep within the asylum’s budget and cut spending. The fact that Phoebe’s husband John is rarely mentioned in any records could possibly show the lack of power family members had over their loved ones’ treatments, or alternatively could show a social desire to avoid issues concerning mental health (although the existence of asylums at all could be given as a counter-argument to this). Whatever the case may be, the records of Phoebe Darby’s involvement with the various institutions and figures mentioned above can show the depth of information on a smaller scale that archiving can reveal, and the interest that I found whilst researching her life shows one of the many benefits that projects like this can provide.

Arthur Malpass

By Lucy Smith

Historians have only just begun to research how the death of children affected men in the Victorian period. The old image of the stoical father with a large family who was relatively unaffected by child mortality is being overturned by recent research. Arthur’s story demonstrates how the strain of coping with bereavement and subsequent mental illness could quickly lead to the end of a career and the separation of a family.

Arthur Malpass in a photograph taken when he was admitted to Stafford asylum.

Arthur was born in 1856 in Stourbridge. The 1871 census shows us that at the age of fourteen he was working as a railway porter, however in 1875 he embarked upon a career with the Post Office, being appointed to the position of clerk. Five years later he married Eliza and the young couple shared their home with two boarders, a 63-year old factory engine driver and his wife. The 1884 Kelly’s Directory for Worcestershire lists Arthur as a stationer and sub-postmaster and by this time he and Eliza had two daughters. By 1891 he was a father of five and had risen to the position of ‘Post Office Chief of Clerk’, a good job for a man with a growing family. Arthur was described at this time as being of a cheerful and good-natured disposition and life seems to have been going well for him and Eliza. Sadly, within two years their lives were turned upside down with the death of their five-year old daughter, Ethel, in April 1893 and, just three months later, their ten-year old daughter Flora and baby Hubert who were buried on the same day.

This tragic loss had a devastating impact on Arthur. During the following year or so he became morose, irritable and desponding.  He was brought into the Stafford Asylum on Christmas Eve 1894 having threatened suicide and refusing to eat. On admission he was described as ‘sullen, fierce and reluctant to answer questions’ and it was noted that he ‘gazes fiercely and scowls at me.’  It is clear from the case notes that Arthur felt he should not be in the asylum, believing his feelings of anger and despondency to be a natural response to the loss of his children. Despite his protestations that he ‘felt alright now’, he was diagnosed with mania and remained in the Stafford Asylum until the following March, when he was transferred to Powick in Worcestershire. Unfortunately, Arthur never recovered from his illness, spending the rest of his life at Powick, whilst Eliza was left to bring up their surviving children alone. She moved to Sedgley where her son became a cabinet maker and Eliza once again took in boarders to supplement the family income. Arthur died in 1911 at the age of fifty-five.

For more on child mortality and the Victorian family, see Julie Marie Strange, Death, Grief and Poverty in Britain 1870-1914 (2006)

Selina Giblin

By Rebecca Jackson

Selina Giblin’s case is one of the saddest we have come across and the record of her short life leaves us with many questions about her background and family, living conditions, and the care of vulnerable children at the beginning of the 20th century.

Selina Giblin, aged 9, arrives at Burntwood asylum

The baptism registers for Burton on Trent record that Selina was baptised on 14 November 1894 and her parents were Andrew and Jane Giblin. A further search reveals that Andrew Giblin married Jane Peach at Burton in 1892. The couple had other children: William, born in 1895 and who died aged 1 in 1896; Thomas, born in 1896 who died aged 3 in 1899; and Agnes J. and Thomas, who were born in 1899. Agnes died in 1899 before she was a year old. In 1902 their parents Andrew and Jane died. They were both just 28, and left Selina aged 8 and Thomas aged 3. 

Selina’s baptism, Holy Trinity, Burton on Trent 1894

Looking at the admission registers for Burton workhouse on the Staffordshire Name Indexes website, we can see that Selina had already been admitted to the workhouse before her parents’ deaths. She was admitted on 13 May 1898 but was discharged on 11 June, only to be readmitted on 23 June the same year. With so many early deaths in the family and given Selina’s later medical notes, it seems likely that TB had spread rapidly though the family. It may be that Selina needed extra care that her parents could not provide, given the trauma of their young children’s deaths and possibly being ill themselves. It would be possible to find out more by looking at the records of Burton Poor Law Union.

Selina was just 9 years old when she arrived at Burntwood Asylum in September 1902 from Burton on Trent workhouse. The case notes state ‘she is an orphan and nothing is known as to her family history or relatives’. From the medical notes it seems that Selina was suffering from muscle spasms and was unable to speak. In December that year tuberculosis was detected and her physical health began to deteriorate. The detached tone of the medical case notes is interrupted briefly when the doctor is moved to say ‘she is a poor little thing’. By May Selina was losing weight rapidly and on 8 July 1903 the doctor recorded ‘Exhaustion having increased from the further spread of the disease this patient gradually sank, and died at 1.55pm in the presence of nurse Matilda Carter’.

Selina’s story leaves several questions unanswered, and our volunteers will be carrying out further research over the next couple of months to try to find out what happened to Selina’s surviving little brother, Thomas.

*See our update on Selinas’ case below*

Mary Gegg

Mary Gegg was admitted to Stafford Asylum on 7 May 1895. She was 55 years old and a housewife. Mary was admitted to the hospital because she had tried to kill herself, she was diagnosed with ‘melancholia’ and the causes given were ‘previous attack and change of life’. The case notes report what Mary said about herself, she says she has been ‘rather depressed and miserable’ and a few days later says she feels she is ‘a trouble to everyone’.

Mary’s case notes

Reading the case notes Mary was under observation but we have no indication of any treatment beyond diet and a break from her usual routines.  However her general health improves and with that her mental health seems to improve too. On 22 July she is ‘Discharged, recovered’. Was her recovery as simple as that, a rest from her daily life and a good diet? Further research into Mary’s life will probably show us that it wasn’t that straightforward.

Frank Henry Turner

Steve Cunniffe & Mike Bulmer

Frank Henry Turner is one of our featured patients on the banner of the website. Every time I scroll through, I ask the question, what happened to Frank? There is nothing unusual about Frank. His story, it turns out, was in some ways not untypical of some of the patients who were admitted to a county asylum.

Frank Henry Turner was born in Etruria. In the 1861 census he was 1 year old and living with his family in Shelton. He was the youngest of five children. The massive Shelton bar steelworks and its associated flames and smoke would have been visible from far and wide, and been a huge landmark for the young Frank.

Frank married Mary Arkinstall in an Anglican ceremony at St. John’s church, Longton in December 1888. Mary originally came from Eccleshall and had been baptised at Eccleshall Church in 1857. Her father was a journeyman miller, and although probably trained for the job, it was likely that he would have moved from place to place according to where the work was, and the time of year. There were parochial schools in the area around Eccleshall, including Croxton, so it is likely that Mary received some schooling there. There are a number of coaching inns in Eccleshall and the opportunity to use the train via the local station a few miles away, so Mary may well have been able to travel fairly widely, perhaps meeting Frank on her travels.


St John’s, Longton, where Frank & Mary were married in 1888. The church was demolished in 1979 due to mining subsidence (1962 photograph – staffspasttrack.org.uk)

After their marriage in 1888, Frank and Mary appear on the 1891 census when they were living in Trentham, and Frank was working as a tobacconist. He was admitted to Stafford asylum on 4 October 1894, with Stoke Poor Law union, being charged for his care.

His behaviour had been raising cause for concern. He had already been admitted twice before, and this, it was believed, was largely fuelled by drink. His disposition was sullen, and he had been drinking incessantly since his last discharge from the asylum. He had been violent when in a manic state, and had threatened his wife repeatedly. The medical staff diagnosed the cause of his mania as ‘intemperance, and heredity’ – it seems that Frank’s sister also had a history of mental illness. Such was his potential violence, that further detention was advised on the visit of an asylum inspector.

Frank’s illness progressed through stages of delusion, and he believed that his wife had ill treated him, and constantly talked about it. He was suspicious of the motives of those around him, and continued to be seen as unpredictable.

However, by the May of 1895, he was reported to be working in the engine room and he apparently made ‘quite a good worker’. It seems that, at least to some extent, the nature of the work he was given helped to ease him to some degree.

Frank was transferred to Hull Borough asylum in February 1898, but reappears on the 1901 census as a patient in Stafford Asylum. Whether he had returned to his life outside following his trip to Hull, or whether he was transferred straight back from Hull to Stafford is not known to us.

What happened to Frank after 1901 is unclear, as he is not listed as a patient again. His date of death is also untraceable. What happened to Mary is also obscure to us. Whether Frank and Mary ever again enjoyed a family life together after he was hospitalised is a question which, for now, will remain unanswered.

Bertha Littleford

Mike & Sue Bulmer, and Steve Cunniffe

One of the patients featured on our banner headings is Bertha Littleford. From the photograph we have of her, Bertha was a striking, red-haired woman, who appears relatively well, but with a definite sadness or vacantness to her eyes. As with our other headline patients, Bertha’s image has intrigued us, and made us keen to discover more about her.

Bertha was admitted to Stafford asylum aged 32 (according to the casebook) on 18 May 1894, and her care was paid for by the Wolverhampton Poor Law union. She was born Bertha Booth, in Harley, hear Much Wenlock in 1865. Her parents were Charles and Sarah Booth (nee Hill), who were married in Wombridge, Shropshire in 1848. By 1851 they were living in Harley, and had one son named William. By the time Bertha was born, her father was listed as a labourer.

The 1871 census shows Bertha’s date as a year earlier, and she is living with the Hill family in Homer, a small village near Harley. She is listed as the niece of Andrew Hill, presumably the brother of Bertha’s mother Sarah. Bertha’s father, Charles Booth is listed in the same census as a sawyer, and widower, and is still living in Harley. Looking at the records further, Bertha’s mother had died about six years earlier in the second quarter of 1865 – between April and June.

Bertha was baptised on 9th April 1865, and presumably her mother died very soon after, or even whilst giving birth, which might further explain why Bertha is found living with her uncle. This situation must have persisted, as when Bertha started school she has entries referring to living with a ‘Hill’ in Homer. The school house in Homer which Bertha was likely to have attended still stands.

Bertha’s birth date seems to fluctuate in the documents between February and April 1865, but she continues to be traceable through the census in the 1880s and 90s. In the 1881 census Bertha was 16 years old, and was working as a domestic servant at an address in Much Wenlock.

In 1881, Bertha’s future husband John Littleford was living nearby at Little Wenlock, with his grandparents John and Sarah Davis. Aged 18, John was listed as a labourer in an ironworks. John was born in New Penshaw, County Durham. John and Bertha must have met in the Wenlock area, and married sometime in the 1880s. A marriage is recorded in Blackburn between a Bertha Booth and John Littleford, although we cannot be sure if this is our couple without further investigation. It could be that John had travelled for work, as there was an ironworks in Blackburn, and Bertha may have travelled to join him. We cannot be sure.

What is certain is that Bertha appears in the 1891 census together with Andrew her youngest child. Andrew was one year old and had been born in Hanley. They are recorded in Workington – seemingly as lodgers – with Bertha ‘living on her own means’. Workington at this point in time was a steel town, and so it seems likely that Bertha and John had travelled there for work. John is not present on census day, however. It appears that the Littlefords were a family who felt the need, or were forced by necessity, to move around for work.

A few years later in 1894, Bertha was committed to Stafford asylum. By this stage she had two young sons, Andrew and a sibling named, John, born in 1893.

Her casebook admission notes record the following:

Causes: Hereditary, first attack, is suicidal, attempts to strangle herself.

Father was insane, has been temperate. Has always been rather reserved, lately has not been in good circumstances. Bodily health has been bad, and she lost her youngest child 6 months ago and she has gradually lost interest in household chores. Sometimes refuses food, sleeps badly, has had 2 or 3 children. Dull and melancholy, stares about her with a vacant expression. Thinks she has committed some terrible sin and that the devil is after her.

A child named Barbara Littleford, with parents Bertha and John, was baptised in Wolverhampton in November 1894. Barbara’s death is recorded in the first quarter of 1895. Bertha’s asylum notes indicate she had three children, two surviving and one who had died six months before (i.e. at the end of 1893). Could it be that Barbara was Bertha’s third child, and that her dates have been mis-recorded? The dead infant could not be her son John, as we will explain later. The death of her third child had been a major factor in Bertha’s mental decline. If Barbara was not Bertha’s child, then another infant may be recorded somewhere, whose death caused Bertha’s tragic mental deterioration.

Sadly, Bertha’s recovery did not last for many years, and she was admitted again to Stafford asylum in August 1899, when she was working as a charwoman. Wolverhampton was again her Poor Law Union, and she was very excited, noisy and incoherent. She was not in good bodily health, was thin and worn, and had scars from old bruises on her legs. Bertha was discharged again, recovered, in July 1900. It appears that her life continued to be a hard one.

Bertha’s death is recorded in 1905, when she was 39 years old. From the hope of recovery in 1896, Bertha sadly did not live long to enjoy her family life. To find out whether her death was connected to her mental illness will need further investigation.

Some good news comes after Bertha’s death, however. It appears that her second son John Robert Littleford was adopted by another family. Aged 12 when his mother died, John Robert reappears on the 1911 census, aged 18, listed as ‘adopted’ and living with the Whiting family in Fenton, with new siblings – a brother and three sisters. His adoptive parents, Richard and Emma Whiting, are living and working in the heart of industrial Staffordshire. Richard worked as a blacksmith’s striker for a railway company, an extremely physically hard job. John Robert is working at a pottery in Stoke-on-Trent as an apprentice printer.

What happened to John Littleford Snr. and his other son Andrew is for now a mystery, but one which may be solved by further research. Bertha’s story is in many ways tragic, but we do know at least that one of her sons found a family to care for him after her death, and that as a young man he was learning a trade and making his way in the world.

Ellen Davies

Pete Gurney, with additional research by Steve Cunniffe

The story of Ellen Davies brings to our attention the links between prisons and asylums in the late nineteenth century, and the mechanisms by which you may enter one and find yourself transferred to the other.

Ellen Davies was admitted to Stafford Asylum on 29th September 1887, after being transferred from Stafford Prison. She was aged 39, married with no children, and described in her admission notes as a pauper and a prostitute. Her religion was described as Church of England and her board was being paid by H.M. Treasury.

By tracking her down through official documents and civil registration, it appears that she had a long and varied criminal record as Ellen Davies (or Davis) and also as Ellen Burns. This started at the age of 21 in 1869, when she was fined 5/- and costs at Wolverhampton Petty Sessions for disorderly conduct. After several other minor offences, she was tried at Wolverhampton Quarter Sessions for stealing £11 10s and a purse from David Edwards on 22nd July 1876. David Edwards was described as a labourer and £11 10s seems a large sum of money for him to have on his person. Nevertheless, the jury found her guilty and she was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment with hard labour in the House of Correction at Stafford.

The Wednesbury Examiner’s report of the court proceedings makes it clear that the Recorder was not enamoured of David Edwards’ behaviour, and the implication is that he was robbed by Ellen after picking her up off the streets when she was soliciting.

Ellen Davis, alias Burns (31), prostitute, was indicted for having, on 22nd July, stolen £11 10s from the person of David Edwards, labourer, Moor Street, Horseley Fields. The prosecutor stated that on the day mentioned he met prisoner in Horseley Fields and accompanied her to a house in Fleece Yard. After they had been in the house for some time, prisoner left the house, and prosecutor then missed from his pocket a purse containing £11 10s. Although he at once gave information to the police, prisoner could not be found until the 4th inst.

The prisoner was found guilty, and sentenced to twelve months hard labour. As she was removed from the dock she broke into a violent fit of hysterics, and was with difficulty taken downstairs. Addressing the prosecutor, the Recorder said: If you had not lost a very large sum of money I should have disallowed the costs of this prosecution, because your conduct is very discreditable, and it is very wrong that people who put themselves in your position should inflict upon their fellow-townsmen the cost of the prosecution of those whom you almost tempt to rob you.

Female prisoners exercise at Stafford prison (Staffordshire Museum Service Collection)

Exactly how Ellen ended up on the streets is open to speculation, but prostitution was a common phenomenon to all towns in Britain. As Judith Flanders observes, ‘From the little information we have, we know that most women who earned their living from selling sex were working class, the majority taking up with men from their own socio-economic background before going out on the streets.’ (https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/prostitution)

Low earnings for female workers were a major cause of ‘casual’ prostitution in the late Victorian period, with women supplementing their meagre wages. Whether Ellen worked as well as soliciting for sex is unknown, although her criminal record suggests she made a full time living from involvement in the sex trade. Estimates for the numbers of women working at least part-time as prostitutes vary wildly, the possible range of numbers being between 50,000 and 368,000 as guessed at by the Westminster Review (E.M. Sigworth & T.J. Wyke, 1980). It is clear that the numbers involved in sex work were very high, possibly making it the fourth biggest occupation for women. The term prostitute also covered women considered to be living immorally, outside wedlock or with illegitimate children. From Ellen’s appearance in the local press, it seems that she was actively soliciting for sex, and that property theft was either an opportunistic aspect of her activities, or part of her modus operandi. Her later brushes with the law, of which there were many, suggest the latter. It appears that the Recorder did morally censure her victim on this occasion, but as much for his carelessness in putting himself in a vulnerable position as for his use of a prostitute as such.

After several more minor offences Ellen was fined £5- or one-months imprisonment after being convicted of running a brothel at a house in St James’s Square, Wolverhampton. In the same court Elizabeth Lewis (of the same house of ill-fame) was jailed for a month for stealing 25s 6d from Henry Blakemore, baker, of Little Chapel Street, Monmore Green. In 1885 Ellen was again in court for stealing money from a person but this time she was acquitted. Perhaps her oddest brush with the law was when she was charged with stealing railway cushions, for which she was acquitted. Her final appearance in court was in 1886 at the Wolverhampton Quarter Sessions again for stealing money, this time belonging to George Hopcott. The court records listed all her previous convictions (at least 13 of them) and she was found guilty of larceny after a previous conviction of felony (presumably the 1876 conviction for stealing) and sentenced to 12 calendar months imprisonment with hard labour at Her Majesty’s Prison at Stafford.

Less than a year later she was transferred to Stafford Asylum suffering from mania with delusions, the cause being unknown. She was finally released, recovered, on 20th December 1889.

Ellen would have been classed as an ‘insane convict’, or prisoner who had become insane whilst serving a sentence, under the laws which had been amended in the 1860s. These individuals would be kept in an asylum until their sentences expired and they were discharged, or they were declared sane and sent back to prison. Broadmoor, the national hospital for the criminally insane, became the destination for a minority of convicts found to have become insane, until their sentence ended or they were found sane once again.

There are two possibilities – that Ellen really did develop delusions whilst in prison, or that she was displaying signs of mental instability before imprisonment but was imprisoned anyway. The latter is possible, and more common than we might think. Without a diagnosis many offenders were sent to prison, with petty offenders with mental illness likely to be gaoled by the magistrates, rather than being committed to any other institution. Often there was no alternative available. If an inmate was later certified in prison, they would most likely be sent to a local county asylum, rather than Broadmoor. As historian J.F. Saunders argued, many people who were mentally ill first and criminal second were sent to prison rather than to the asylum. In the latter half of the century the public asylums housed over half of all the criminal lunatics detained in Britain.

As Saunders’ research on Warwickshire shows, the majority of criminals transferred to county asylums had not been found guilty of violence, and most were convicted of lesser offences such as vagrancy, property crime or disorderly conduct, of which Ellen Davies is a good example.

The next record of Ellen that we have is in the 1891 census, when she was living at 4 Baker’s Court, Dudley, as a 42 year old hawker lodging with George Connery and his wife Eliza. She was described as a widow born in Dudley, Staffordshire.

She also appears in the 1901 census as an inmate in Dudley Workhouse in Sedgley, aged 51, again described as a widow born in Dudley. No trace of her can be found in the 1911 census nor can her death be pinpointed. As for her early life her name is too common to be able to accurately pinpoint her marriage. It is possible that her maiden name was Burns as she used this as an alias but there is no trace of a marriage of Ellen Burns to a Davies or Davis in the relevant area. Whether Ellen lived on into her sixties is a question which we may never be able to answer. Her case highlights the fact that public asylums housed about half of all criminal lunatics in Britain, a phenomenon which requires further historical investigation.

Further Reading:

Judith Flanders, (https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/prostitution) (2014)

E.M. Sigworth & T.J. Wyke, ‘A Study of Victorian Prostitution and Venereal Disease,’ In Martha Vicnius (ed.), Suffer and be Still. Women in the Victorian Age. (Methuen & Co, 1980)

J.F. Saunders, ‘Criminal Insanity in Nineteenth Century Asylums’, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 81 (1988), pp.73-75

Letitia (Lettice) Eden

Susan Large, with additional research by Steve Cunniffe

Letitia (Lettice) Julia Eden’s story is one of habitual criminality. How, and why, she first came to theft as an occupation can only be speculated upon. But it appears that an unsuccessful marriage, and her own problems with mental illness may have exacerbated her ongoing problems.

Lettice Julia Eden’s birth is registered in the 2nd quarter of 1864 in Stoke on Trent.  She was one of seven children born to George Eden and Mary Foster. He was a potter from Burslem, and she came from St. Helens in Lancashire. The first civil registration record of Lettice is in the 1871 census, when she is aged 7. She appears as both Letitia and Lettice in various documents over time.

Sadly, her criminal career appears to have started at a young age. As far as we can tell, her first appearance in court was on 15th Jun 1882 at Tunstall, when she was accused of stealing a dress shirt and was given a sentence of 14 days in prison.  Letitia (as she was called in the records) was only 16 at the time, and so began a lifetime career of petty offences.

Later the same year, on 6th October at Stafford’s Quarter Sessions, Letitia appears once again. In the records, she is described as 17, her occupation a potter.  The offence was breaking and entering the dwelling house of Henry Leigh and stealing 26 packets of dry soap (most probably clothes washing soap).  She was tried on 16th October and pleaded guilty to housebreaking.  She was sentenced to imprisonment, with hard labour, for 2 calendar months, in HM Prison Stafford and was released on 15th December 1882.

We have a reasonable description of Lettice from this time. In the Habitual Criminal Records it states that Letitia Julia Eden was single and a potter.  She had a pale complexion with light brown hair, light blue eyes and was 5’1½” tall.  She had a slender build with a long face and had a small mole and burn mark on left cheek and with a slight impediment in speech

What kind of prison experience could a young woman have expected in the early 1880s? Unfortunately for Lettice, the prison code had been made considerably harsher by the Prisons Act of 1865 and being incarcerated between the mid-1860s and the mid-1880s was one of the worst times to be imprisoned in the later 1800s. A moral panic about rising crime rates led to a new regime after the Act, focusing primarily on deterrence through ‘hard labour, hard fare and hard board.’ Hard labour became more ubiquitous, and the crank (a stiff handle) and the treadmill increased in usage. These were the most likely forms of hard labour to which the teenager was subjected. Local administration of prisons meant that punishments varied, and so in some areas oakum picking (picking apart old ropes) and net making were also still employed.

Treadwheel in Stafford Prison c.1869-71 (Staffordshire Museum Service)

The regime in the 1860s at Stafford prison, under Major William Fulford, was particularly harsh, with rock breaking introduced because of a lack of cranks. He also favoured military style floggings for disciplinary offences. The treadmill and the crank were designed to be purposeless activity, the movement of both being completely pointless. This lack of utility was part of the punishment, although the treadwheel at Stafford prison did power a corn mill. For male prisoners the Prison Discipline Society recommended that 12,000 feet ascent by the legs when climbing on the treadmill was the optimum amount each day (which Michelle Higgs comments is the equivalent of climbing the Matterhorn (https://visitvictorianengland.com/2019/05/07/hard-labour-in-victorian-prisons/ ). Stafford’s male prisoners were expected to climb over 16,000 feet.

It was in the later 1880s that reform of the prison service came to the fore in national politics. The 1894-95 committee on reform chaired by Herbert Gladstone led the way towards a ‘punish and reform’ approach, and the consequent removal of meaningless labour, although its recommendations were slow to be enacted after the Liberals lost power in 1895.

However, at the time that Lettice was sent to prison, the attitude towards incarcerated women was rather confused, and took no account of them as female prisoners. The Victorian prison was a man’s world; made for men, by men. Women in prison were seen as somehow anomalous: not foreseen and not legislated for. They were provided with separate quarters and female staff dealt with all that for reasons of modesty and good order – but not otherwise differently. (https://richardjohnbr.blogspot.com/2011/04/prison-reform-1880-1914.html quoting Philip Priestley, Victorian Prison Lives: English Prison Biography, 1830-1914, (Pimlico, 1999) pp. 69-70)

Despite her two months hard labour, Lettice reoffended in 1883. On 18th October, she appeared at Hanley Borough Sessions. She was recorded as 16 years of age (which makes her younger than on her last appearance) and a potter’s sponger when she appeared at the Quarter Sessions in Hanley.  She was charged that, on 18 July 1883, she stole one silver Geneva watch and one hair guard and appendage belonging to Joseph Berrisford.  She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 6 months hard labour. On 1 April 1884, Lettice was photographed by the prison authorities, before her release. Her photograph still exists in the archive (unfortunately, this is unobtainable during the current lockdown).

Stafford Prison inmate Caroline Pulley c.1885. All inmates were photographed with their hands to the camera. In this instance the sitter refused. (Stafford Gaol photograph albums, Staffordshire Record Office)

Why she kept stealing is open to conjecture, as she had a job in the pottery industry (as a sponger – which could mean either removing seams and wet clay which had been created during the potting process or applying sponged decoration to the finished pots). Whether her wage was too meagre, or whether her criminality was compulsive, caused by personal or psychiatric problems, or for a particular purpose we cannot be certain. It is clear that she was troubled throughout her early adult life.

As Lucy Williams and Barry Godfrey wrote in their histories of Victorian female criminality, petty larceny (small time theft) was one of the most frequent forms of crime committed by women, and that such crimes were dealt with relatively harshly. Theft from the person and shoplifting were commonplace. Theft by a servant was also a common female crime, due to the low wages servants were paid. Unlocked doors and lack of security also led to women and girls thieving from other people’s homes. Burglary and housebreaking could give women an income stream, by selling on stolen goods. Whether this was Lettice’s motivation is unknown.

Four months after her release from prison she was facing yet another criminal charge. On 14th August 1884, Letitia was in court. Letitia Julia Eden was now described as 18 and a potter.  She was charged with breaking and entering the dwelling house of David Abbots in Cobridge and stealing one pair of boots.  She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to imprisonment, with hard labour, for 12 calendar months at Stafford Prison. Her previous larceny offences meant that her sentence was on this occasion more substantial.

However, something occurs in April 1885, during her prison sentence, and she is certified insane and transferred to Stafford asylum, only a short walk from the prison, on 29th of the month. Whether the illness is new, is caused by her incarceration, or whether an underlying mental illness which was present before sentencing has only just been diagnosed is impossible to say. Many offenders with psychiatric problems were sent to prison, and only certified later. This may help to explain her criminal career. However, we cannot discount that she became mentally ill because of her incarceration. Prison, as we have seen, was a harsh and unforgiving environment in 1885.

Letitia was recorded as 20, a criminal, single and a potter.  Her abode was given as Burslem and prison was listed as a previous institution she had been in. She had been ill for 14 days, was suicidal and dangerous, had indifferent health, and was suffering from melancholia. This is the first mention of suicidal tendencies.

Her stay in the asylum was short, and she was discharged on 20th October 1885, as a recovered patient, her prison sentence now expired. However, only weeks later on 6th November she was readmitted to the asylum, this time with recurrent mania and suicidal tendencies, and recorded as ‘Lettice’. Her stay was much longer the second time around, and she was discharged on 28th Jun 1886 as ‘recovered’.

Things seemed to take a turn for the better for Lettice in 1888, as she was married on 10th April, to William Marsh, also aged 24, at St Johns Church, Burslem. This proved to be false dawn for Lettice, however, as a report in the Birmingham Daily Post from 29th October later that year shows:

Burslem

Attempted suicide:  A married woman, Letitia Julia Marsh, attempted to commit suicide late on Friday night by swallowing a quantity of insect powder.  It seems the woman, who is separated from her husband, resides with her mother in Peel Street.  She has been confined in the county asylum at Stafford, from which institution she was discharged a few months ago.  On Friday night she was seen to break a cup, and directly afterwards to fall to the ground.  She admitted that she had taken poison, and medical aid being summoned, Mr Hatchell and Mr Russell, surgeons, were quickly in attendance.  The stomach pump was used and other remedies adopted and on Saturday the woman appeared to have recovered from her rash act, though, being subject to fits, she had been severely attacked by them during the night.  She had taken the contents of a packet of ‘Dalmation Insect Powder’ which she had purchased the same evening.

This report seems to suggest another admission to the asylum since her marriage to William, although the case book for female patients in Stafford asylum in 1888 is missing, making it harder to ascertain the details.

The next time we encounter Lettice is in a report from 29th May 1889 from the Stafford Sentinel. The report stated that she had been involved, with another woman, in an ‘assault’ on two other people.  It was very much a case of he said/she said, and the event was not taken to trial. Later that year, however, it appears that Lettice was up to her criminal activities again. The Stafford Sentinel of 21st August reported her court appearance:

Letitia Julia Marsh, an old offender. was convicted of stealing apples from the garden of Charles Adams, Porthill, on 15 August.  Marsh had said that the painters who were in the house had given her permission.  She was sentenced to 10s 0d fine and costs or 14 days imprisonment

Lettice makes many appearances in court reports but tracing her through civil registration is more difficult. After her census appearance in 1871 she is not traceable again until 1901, when she is living in Wolstanton (just around the corner from Porthill) with her husband William.

The 1891 census seems to show that William returned to live with his parents for a while, perhaps the rift with his wife lasting for some time after their marriage or subsequent mental health and legal problems. Interestingly, it would appear that Lettice’s brother George Eden, aged 15 and a scholar, was in Stafford Prison during the 1881 census, perhaps indicating a familial involvement with crime.

What happened to Lettice and William after 1901 is unclear, but a death was recorded for a Letitia J Marsh in the first quarter of 1931. The record entry is not very clear, however. The rest of her family are difficult to trace, and so the Eden/Marsh family disappears into the ether in the twentieth century, at least for now. It would be nice to think that after her many troubles, Letitia/Lettice found some kind of peaceful life with her husband, and that she found relief from her past problems.

Further Reading:

Lucy Williams & Barry Godfrey, Criminal Women, 1850-1920: Researching the Lives of Britain’s Female Offenders (Pen & Sword, 2018)

Lucy Williams & Barry Godfrey, Wayward Women: Female Offending in Victorian England (Pen & Sword, 2016)

George Hearndon

By Joyce Jones

Whilst working on the Burntwood Asylum admission registers for the 1860s one of the cases that caught my eye was that of George Hearndon, a publican from Liverpool. George was admitted to Burntwood a total of three times with a diagnosis of dipsomania (a compulsive desire to drink alcohol) between December 1868 and May 1869, the second admission being on the same day as his first discharge. The question that intrigued me was – what had he done to be readmitted so quickly? Had he gone into the first pub he’d seen in Burntwood? As will be seen the reason was more mundane than that, and shows that the correct paperwork was just as important to the Victorians as it is today. Tackling the ‘drink question’ occupied politicians of all persuasions in the period, and finding the occupation of publican or barmaid in connection with drink-related mental health issues is a frequent occurrence when looking through the asylum documents.

George was baptised George Wellington Hearnden on 27th June 1830 in Canterbury, Kent. He married Betsy Gadsby in London on 7th June 1851 and by 1861 they were living with their two children, William aged 8 and Clara aged 4, in Liverpool. The 1861 census shows George running a public house on Springfield Street in that city.

George was first admitted to Burntwood on 17th December 1868 as part of a group of “out of county patients” from Liverpool. The superintendent of the asylum at Liverpool Workhouse informed Burntwood that this was his fifth attack and that he had been an inmate of asylums at four different times. Two of these previous admissions to asylums can be been found in the Lunacy Patients Admission Registers available online. The first was in August 1865 to Liverpool Asylum, when George was recorded as a private patient, and the second in February 1867 to Chester Asylum, when his circumstances had declined and he was admitted in the pauper class. On both occasions he was a patient for only a few months. Burntwood were also informed that he was dangerous to others and he had attempted to murder his wife. His case notes tell us he was above average height, had brown hair, grey eyes, a ruddy complexion and a scar on his left cheek. His admission notes say that his  “bodily health appears good” although he was “a trifle shaky from drinking”. The supposed cause of the dipsomania was given as hereditary predisposition (he had two siblings who were also in asylums at that time) and intemperance. His notes go on to say that he was addicted to drink and he claimed that it was his wife who was violent and that she had made an attempt on his life.

Bridge Street in Burton-on-Trent, with the Queen’s Hotel and Saracen’s Head, seen here decorated for Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897 (staffspasttrack.org.uk/National Brewery Centre, Burton-on-Trent)

George’s first discharge from Burntwood asylum came about when his admission paperwork was found to be incorrect. On the 6th January 1869, Burntwood received a letter from the Commissioners in Lunacy. In this they stated that the original doctor’s certificate “was not in compliance with the Lunacy Acts and was therefore worthless” so George “was discharged in accordance with their wishes and readmitted under a new order and certificate this day”. It looks as though he did not even leave the building on this occasion. On the 15th April he was discharged as recovered, only to be readmitted on the 20th May 1869 when there was “no doubt he has been drinking” and “he believes he is being ill treated by his wife”. He was finally discharged on the 12th April 1870 “by wish of his daughter and brother-in-law”.

On his discharge George appears to have moved to Burton-on-Trent, as the 1871 census records him with Betsy and his two children at Horninglow Road. The connection with Burton appears to be through Betsy as she was born in Boylestone, which is just over the border in Derbyshire. George has also had a change of occupation, and he was now a painter. Perhaps his family were hoping he would remain sober, without the temptation of alcohol in his new working environment. This was a vain hope, however, as we find him mentioned in the Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal of the 2nd June 1871. A report from the Burton-on-Trent petty sessions of the 23rd May 1871 states that “George Wellington Hearndon was fined 5s and 9s4d costs for being drunk and riotous on the Horninglow road on Monday.” Any treatment George received at Burntwood does not appear to have been that successful. Burton-on-Trent was a particularly bad location for an alcoholic to try to go sober, being the centre of Britain’s brewing trade and boasting many public houses.

By 1881 the family had broken up. Betsy and the children were still living near Burton-on-Trent. Betsy was living with her daughter Clara, now married, still in the Horninglow area and William, also married, was living with his wife in Tutbury. They appear to have lost contact with George as on the 1881 census Betsy gave her marital status as “believed to be widowed”. In fact George was living in Bulwell, Nottinghamshire still working as a painter. He died in Nottinghamshire in 1892.

From reading George Hearndon’s case notes it would appear that his and Betsy’s marriage was not a happy one with claims from either side of violence and attempts on their lives. We will never know the truth of these claims but the state of George’s home life along with the easy access to alcohol as a publican certainly would not have helped with any drink problem that he had. Certainly once George and Betsy had split up and he had moved away he does not seem to have come to the authorities’ attention again.

Margaret Wakefield

By Caroline Nash-Smith

I have researched an asylum patient from Stafford asylum, who attracted my attention because of the circumstances of her admission and the notes attached to her register entry. It appears that she had a history of pyromania. Her story illustrates some of the problems of diagnosis over time, and also how problematic the authorities found it in dealing with people who committed criminal acts and who also had mental health issues. The patient in question is a woman called Margaret Wakefield. The information given about her in the Stafford Asylum Register of Admissions told me that:

  • She was 34 years old and unmarried
  • She was currently registered as part of Uttoxeter Poor Law Union
  • Her health on admission was described as good
  • Her diagnosis was imbecility. The cause was described as unknown or congenital
  • She was described as being violent and dangerous since birth, and weak minded.
  • She had become a “pauper lunatic” on 21 March 1894 and had been accepted by Uttoxeter Union on the same date
  • Her previous institutions were listed as prison (Stafford) for arson, and the workhouse.
  • Her occupation was listed as a domestic servant
  • Her religion was Wesleyan Methodist

However, there were many gaps in the data of the register, including much of her earlier background, information about her crime, and the whereabouts of her service as a domestic servant. I visited various archive websites, and searched for censuses, birth, marriage and death certificates, newspaper reports, prison and asylum records to build a more complete picture of Margaret Wakefield.

The census in 1861 allowed me to place Margaret’s date of birth in the year 1859. She was born Margaret Wakefield, the daughter of Richard and Elizabeth Wakefield and at that time was the younger of two siblings. Richard was a joiner from Uttoxeter, Staffordshire and in 1861 the family lived in Spiceal Street in the town, which the name suggests was once a spice or grocery trading street. The census ten years later tells us that the family home now consisted of Richard, listed as a widower, his wife Elizabeth having died in 1868, daughters Emily (16) Margaret, (12) and Elizabeth (9). The family still lived in a house on Spiceal Street, Uttoxeter. All three of the daughters are recorded as being scholars.

In the 1881 census, Margaret was single and a general servant in the household of Andrew Buchannon Torrance, a brewer’s traveller, living in Slade Lane, Uttoxeter. We have no further information about Margaret until the 1891 census when Margaret had moved in as a general servant (domestic) for William Foster, a farmer, of Marchington Woods, near Uttoxeter.

Margaret’s story becomes better documented once she comes to the attention of the authorities. A newspaper report in the Burton Chronicle dated 28th July 1892 reported that Margaret Wakefield, aged 31, was found guilty at Staffordshire Assizes of feloniously setting fire to some farm buildings belonging to John Wilton, a farmer from Knott Hill on July 13th. She was also charged with setting fire to two stacks of straw the day before the main incident. Margaret was described in the article as being of weak intellect and “sometimes (the prisoner) did not seem to understand what she was doing.” Mercy was recommended, but owing to the serious nature of the crime she was sentenced to nine months imprisonment with hard labour:

Arson at Croxden: At the Staffordshire Assizes, on Saturday, Margaret Wakefield (31), servant, was charged with feloniously setting fire to some farm buildings on July 13th. belonging to John Wilton. farmer, of Knott Hill, Camden, near Uttoxeter. She was also charged with setting fire to two stacks of straw on the 12th of July. Mr. Boddam prosecuted. Prisoner lived with prosecutor as domestic servant. On the day in question she was missed from the house at noon. A few minutes later she returned, and the barn was discovered on fire. Subsequently prisoner told Police-constable Findlay that Mrs Wilton had been very unkind to her and had knocked her down on the previous Tuesday because she happened to be in her way. She set fire to the ricks on account of this of this. Afterwards. prisoner said Mrs. Wilton had called her a sly fox, and she went out and set fire to a bit of straw on the barn floor. She did not think it would burn as it did —Henry Lunn was called in defence, and said that prisoner was his wife’s sister, and had lived with him off and on for about fourteen years. He considered her of weak intellect & sometimes prisoner did not seem to understand what she was doing —The jury found the prisoner guilty, but recommended her to mercy. Mr Boddam also joined in the recommendation. His Lordship said the case was a serious one, but, after the recommendation to mercy, be would sentence the prisoner only to nine months imprisonment, with hard labour.

Burton Chronicle – Thursday 28 July 1892

Nine months with hard labour in 1892 was not a light sentence by modern standards, and had the capacity to physically break an inmate.

Margaret’s case illustrates an area which troubled the late Victorians – what did arson mean? Jonathan Andrews has described the changes over time in the understanding of pyromania. Was it a psychiatric condition, or did it indicate other things? The medical authorities disagreed as to whether it was a condition or not. Some saw it as a symptom of wider ‘mental derangement’, unlike kleptomania which was considered a type of ‘moral insanity’ in itself.  Others saw pyromania as a distinct condition, an ‘insanity, with an irresistible desire to destroy by fire.’ Richard Quain’s medical dictionary of 1890 argued that pyromania’s ‘claim to be regarded as a special form of insanity has not been established.’ The majority of later nineteenth-century writers on crime and insanity questioned whether pyromania was a psychiatric condition in itself, and whether it could be used as a defence in court. Pyromania in Britain was discredited as a distinct disorder by the early 1900s, largely because of a drift away from symptom-led classification of disease. A study conducted in Broadmoor found fire-starting to mostly be a symptom of other conditions (‘congenital imbecility’, melancholia and mania), and not a distinct form of moral insanity or a monomania about fire. Modern day understandings of fire-setters tend to focus on impulse control disorders, psychosis and intellectual disabilities, often with alcohol misuse as a major factor.(Jonathan Andrews)

Whatever lay behind Margaret’s pyromania symptoms, the first prison sentence was not the end of her career as an arsonist. A further article I came across in the Burton Chronicle, dated Thursday 15th March 1894 indicates that Margaret was now resident in the union workhouse and had once again been charged with fire setting. On this occasion she apparently burnt a sheet, and then pushed a witness towards the fire, pushing the fire stove over in an effort to prevent the sheet from being saved. She was remanded in custody and held under restraint to protect the public. A surgeon at Stafford gaol examined Margaret as to her state of mind.

It appears that after this incident, Margaret was adjudged ‘insane’, and sent to the asylum. The admissions register of Stafford Lunatic Asylum lists Margaret as a new admission on 21st March 1894, and her discharge is dated 16th May 1895, when her condition was described as ‘not improved’. The spell in the asylum had clearly not done her any therapeutic good, and the range of medical support available at the time for someone like Margaret (who we can only speculate possibly had some form of learning or intellectual disability), was practically non-existent.

Sadly, the story does not end here. The register for Stafford Asylum covering 1898 contains a record of Margaret being readmitted on 27th July and the 1901 census confirms that Margaret was once again a patient at the asylum, aged 41 years old. Margaret was to die at the asylum on 26th May 1904 aged 45.

Further Reading|:

Jonathan Andrews, ‘From stack-firing to pyromania: medico-legal concepts of insane arson in British, US and European contexts, c.1800–1913. Part 2’, History of Psychiatry  December 2010, 21(84 0 4), pp.387–405

Richard Elisha Leak

By Pete Gurney

Richard Elisha Leak was admitted to Stafford Asylum on 27th June 1876. The admission record stated that he was married, aged 30, a saddler from Hanley and paid for by Stoke on Trent Poor Law Union. It also stated that he was Church of England, had been transferred from prison and had received a head injury as a boy. The reason for his admission was described as mania, and the cause as family discord and that he was violent and dangerous. He was incessantly talking in an incoherent manner and was very violent and destructive.

Richard had been baptised on 5th July 1846 at the church of St. John Longton, the son of Elisha Leak, saddler, and Jane Bagnall. They lived at Lane End, which at that time was a separate township from Longton. Richard then appears in the 1851, 1861 and 1871 censuses as the only child living with Elisha and Jane. Subsequent research confirmed that he was indeed the only child of that couple.

It would appear that Richard’s father Elisha was a well to do member of the community. He appeared as a saddler in trade directories including Kelly’s, White’s, Post Office and Slater’s in the 1840’s, 50’s and 60’s, and also in the Electoral Rolls. In 1855 he was one of the signatories, along with many of the leading potters of the day including Wedgwood, Minton, Copeland and Meakin, of a petition to Parliament objecting to the amalgamation of the North Staffs Railway with the London & North Western Railway. At the time the North Staffs Railway owned the Trent & Mersey Canal which was used by many potteries to transport raw materials and finished goods, and the petitioners were afraid that it would increase their costs. Also in 1855, Elisha sold properties in Longton including The Railway Inn, a saddlers shop opposite the railway station and the Three Cups beer house. Whether he then moved the saddler’s workshop to other premises or rented from the new owner is not known.

Three Cups beerhouse and Garfield works Opposite St James church Longton (staffspasttrack.org.uk)

It was reported in the Staffordshire Sentinel in 1860 that Elisha had several drunken arguments in the street with his brother, for which he was bound over to keep the peace to the sum of £20, and that there had been a writ issued against him for libel. However, he obviously continued to be well respected in the community as in 1873 he was nominated for Municipal Honours in the election for St John’s ward in Longton but declined. When Elisha died in 1876 he left his entire legacy to his wife Jane with nothing to his only son, who at that time was in Stafford Asylum. His effects totalled under £450 (around £50,000 in todays’ money).

When Richard Elisha was 11 a newspaper report in the Staffordshire Advertiser on May 2nd 1857 described his involvement in an accident in Stoke in the following way:

“A rather serious accident occurred yesterday week near the Old Swan Inn, Stoke, to Mr and Mrs Elisha Leak and their son and nephew in consequence of the pony in the phaeton in which they were seated having taken fright and run off. Mr Leak endeavoured to rein the animal in, but finding himself unable to do so, his attention was confined to guiding it free from obstructions. This was a comparatively easy matter as long as the run was on the open Newcastle turnpike road, but as they neared Stoke danger every moment became imminent. The pony became more unmanageable and excited as it proceeded at its gallop and at length ran against the gable of a manufactory near the Old Swan Inn upsetting the phaeton. Mr Leak was not much hurt but his wife had two of her ribs dislocated, while his son and nephew were rather severely injured about the head. Dr Campbell was immediately sent for and under his prompt and skilful treatment the party were enabled to be taken home the same evening and are now progressing favourably.”

This incident explains the head injury described in the asylum register on Richard Elisha’s admission in 1876.

Richard joined his father’s saddlery business at an early age. In the 1861 census, aged 14, he was described as an apprentice saddler working in the family business and in 1871 he was assistant to his father.

On the 8th August 1871 Richard married Harriet Nicklin who was his first cousin (Harriet’s mother, another Harriet, was the sister of Jane Bagnall, Richard Elisha’s mother). Their first child, Lucy Jane was baptised at the church of St John, Longton on September 12th 1872, followed by son Richard Elisha junior on 14th August 1874.

On 1st Jul 1876 an article in the Staffordshire Sentinel described an incident that had taken place in Hanley the previous Tuesday (27th June) which may account for the very different personality portrayed over the next couple of years. Was this a delayed reaction to his head injury, or were there some other family reasons?

“Richard Elisha Leek, saddler, seventeen, Chatham Street, Shelton was brought up and charged with being a wandering lunatic. PC Williams said that he was on duty in Howard Place, Shelton and about ten minutes to four o’clock this morning he found Leek wandering about without either coat or hat on. Leek had a poker in his hand and with him a large black dog. Leek was flourishing the poker. Witness, seeing the state Leek was in attempted to take him into custody when Leek struck at him with the poker and kicked at him. Leek said that he only wanted his dog and Fan (meaning his pony). Witness was obliged to call assistance and handcuff Leek. Leek: May I ask him any question. Mr Hamshaw: You may presently. Leek: Thank you, Thank you, I bow to you. Dr J B Davis said that he had examined Leek, who was unquestionably insane and a dangerous lunatic. Dr Weaver, Longton, said that Leek had always been a sober, steady man. He quite agreed with Dr Davis that Leek had an attack of mania and was dangerous. Leek: I am neither mad nor maniac. Leek here made a rambling statement respecting some man with whom he had been fighting. An order was made for his removal to an Asylum.”

Despite the discrepancy in the quoted age (Richard was actually 30) this is certainly the right person. There is no mention in the account about “family discord” but it is interesting that Richard is described as living in Shelton not with his wife and family in Longton.

Hence Richard Elisha was admitted to Stafford Asylum on 27th June 1876 as described above and was subsequently discharged, recovered, on 25th July 1876. Richard’s father Elisha died whilst Richard was in the asylum and the saddlery business was taken over by Elisha’s wife Jane. As soon as Richard was discharged he issued a notice in the Staffordshire Advertiser of 26th August that he was taking over the family business. Whether this is what precipitated the “family discord” recorded on the Asylum register is not known but it must have caused some disagreement in the family. Whatever the reasons Richard was re-admitted to Stafford Asylum on 30th December 1876. This time he was described as married, aged 30, a saddler from Longton. The register states that he had a two month illness, was violent and dangerous, plucked living pigeons and pulled off his clothes and put them in a cistern of water. Despite all of this he was discharged on the application of his wife and mother (as reported in the Staffordshire Sentinel concerning a letter from the Asylum to the Stoke Board of Guardians) on 31st July 1877. Tragically a few days later, on 17th August 1877, Richard committed suicide. This was reported in the Staffordshire Sentinel on the 18th in the following terms:

“A shocking case of suicide – Yesterday morning Mr Richard Elisha Leak, saddler, Church Street, Longton committed suicide at his own house under very painful circumstances. He seems to have gone downstairs about half past seven o’clock without dressing and having obtained a sharp knife used in the saddlers shop he went into the parlour and cut his throat. As soon as the sad discovery was made medical assistance was procured. It was found that a terrible gash had been made in the throat and the windpipe had been cut. The wound was sewn up and Mr Leak had every attention. He expressed a wish to be taken to the Cottage Hospital, but it was deemed best not to remove him. He died about half past nine o’clock. Deceased has been in Stafford Asylum and only came out a month ago. His age was 31 years.”

An inquest was held on 20th August and was reported in the Staffordshire Sentinel on the 25th. Part of the inquest is reported as following:

“Mrs Jane Leak, widow (who gave her evidence in much distress), stated that the deceased was her son and was 31 years old. She lived at his house and shop in Church Street. She remembered Friday morning last, on which day she came downstairs about half past seven o’clock. The deed was then done. Her son lay on the floor and there was a lot of blood about but she did not see any knife. A dog was in the room watching her son. She gave an alarm and a doctor was sent for. In reply to questions by the coroner witness said that deceased came out of Stafford Asylum a month on Saturday. He had been in since last December. They were told at the Asylum that he was fit to come out. Since he had come home he had been carefully watched, but they had no idea at the house that he was likely to commit an act of this kind. Harriet Leak, wife of deceased, stated that on Friday morning her husband got up as usual. He brought their two children to her. She had no suspicion of what he was about to do and was asleep when he got up the second time and went downstairs. She was roused by his mother calling out. Since her husband came out of the Asylum he appeared to be sane. A time or two he had threatened to destroy himself, but she did not think he would do so.”

A further extract states:

“Charles Twigg, porter at Longton railway station, said that on Friday morning he stood on the incline at the station, when he heard cries proceeding from Mr Leak’s house. He ran down and saw Mr Meigh who said: Go in he (the deceased) has cut his throat. He went in the house and saw Leak lying on the floor. He lifted him up and Leak at once put his hand to his throat where the wound was and made a tear at it with his hand. He pulled his hand away. Deceased leaned against witness’s knees until a doctor arrived. A saddler’s knife, covered in blood, lay about six inches from the right hand of Leak as he lay on the floor. He knew that Leak had been in the Asylum twice . His insanity was not caused by drink, he had known the deceased for seven years and never saw him worse for drink. A doctor came and sewed up the wound but he said it was all over, nothing more could be done for the man”

The jury decided upon a verdict of “suicide while in the state of temporary insanity”. Interestingly the foreman of the jury said that he knew the deceased and that he was a steady man. The regulations around the eligibility for jury service are very different today, and under modern day rules the foreman would have been disqualified for being acquainted with the deceased.

No record can be found of Richard’s burial although some of the relevant records are missing from the online catalogues. Church rules around suicide and burial may be a complicating factor in filling in this part of the story. Subsequently Richard’s wife Harriet gave birth to son Charles who was baptised on 4th September 1877. Sadly, both Charles and Richard Elisha junior died young.

In the 1881 census the saddlery business was being run by John Evans, and according to subsequent censuses he continued to run the business very successfully for many years.

Richard’s widow Harriet married Ambrose Sale in 1880, and the 1881 census has them in Bold Street, Hanley with daughter Ellen aged 1, but without Lucy Jane (Harriet’s first child with Richard Elisha). No trace could be found of Lucy Jane in the 1881 census, but in 1891 she was with cousin Catherine Bagnall as a dressmaker in Commerce Street, Longton.

In the 1901 and 1911 censuses Lucy Jane can be found as a patient in Cheddleton Asylum – born in Longton and described as an imbecile. She died in the March quarter of 1918 still in the Asylum.

A tragic end to a tragic story.

John Frederick Trotter

By Pete Gurney

John Frederick Trotter was admitted to Stafford Asylum, aged 18, on November 20th 1858. He was unmarried and a Lieutenant in the 11th Regiment of Foot, British Army. He was diagnosed with acute mania which seems to have been caused by a bout of African fever in Gambia for which he had taken large doses of morphine. He was having grandiose delusions (a Captain, very rich etc.) and had great general debility. He improved over the next few months and was discharged, recovered, on March 9th 1859. His connection with Stafford is unclear as every other reference to him places him abroad, in the south of England or in Jersey.

John Frederick Trotter is first recorded in the army on November 22nd 1856 when he was commissioned Ensign in the 39th Regiment of Foot transferring from the 1st West India Regiment, as posted in the London Gazette. He was then promoted to Lieutenant in the 11th Foot and this was posted in the London Gazette on September 7th 1858. After his brief stay in the asylum John returned to army service and was eventually promoted to Captain 11th Foot on January 25th 1869 (Army and Navy Gazette 20th March 1869).

There appear to be few records of John’s early life. He does not appear in the 1851 or 1861 census nor are there any birth or baptism records available so it must be presumed he was living with his family stationed somewhere abroad. Records from the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa show that John had an elder brother Henry who was baptised on 25th June 1834, in the presence of parents Alexander and Elizabeth Taylor Trotter. There are some records of the Royal Hospital Chelsea that seem to show that the family were receiving compassionate allowances from the army around 1859/60 so it may be assumed that John’s father died whilst still in army service.

John Trotter picked up a fever in the Gambia, north of Sierra Leone, seen here in a plate from Thomas Eyre Poole’s Life, Scenery & Customs in Sierra Leone and Gambia (1850) (Wikimedia commons CC BY)

John was therefore part of an army family. He appears in the 1871 census, born in the Cape of Good Hope, and a naturalised British subject. He lived at this date at 103 Clarendon Terrace in St Helier, Jersey with his mother, Elizabeth Taylor Trotter and younger sister, Margaret Jane. John is still described as a Lieutenant in the army, but unfortunately the regimental description in the records is abbreviated and could be R A or R S. In 1871 John’s mother was a widow, aged 59. She had been born in America and was also a naturalised British subject. His sister Margaret Jane, aged 19, was born in the Cape of Good Hope and was also naturalised.

It seems that John’s army career went downhill after he was promoted to Captain, as it was recorded in The Englishman’s Overland Mail that he had been court martialled on 17th June 1870 in Morar, Gwailor, India. He was accused of various offences prejudicial to good order and discipline including

  • Failing to pay the men of “C” company under his command on 13th and 14th March 1870.
  • Failing to comply with the orders of his Commanding Officer on 11th March 1870 to hand over to Lieutenant-Colonel Tuite the public monies due to him on account of “C” company.
  • Another similar offence on 15th March 1870.
  • Of running an account with Colour Sergeant D Mateer of “C” company and being indebted to him for about 249 Rupees.
  • Of knowingly signing false certificates that he had settled monthly with the Sergeant.

On all but the fourth charge John was found guilty, but the report does not specify the sentence. He seems to have managed to survive in the army though, as he retired from the service “receiving the value of his commission” on 18th October 1873 (Broad Arrow).

The next record of John is from the Aberdeen Evening Express of 25th December 1879, when he appears in the list of applicants for the post of Police Superintendent in the city. He is described as a Londoner, Captain late 11th Foot and having had charge of the native African Police. There is no record as to whether he was successful, but it seems unlikely.

As a private citizen John also seems to have had a chequered career. He was brought before the magistrates on several occasions accused of fraud. On the first occasion, in Hastings in 1885, he was convicted of obtaining money by false pretences and sentenced to three months imprisonment. There were several other appearances where he was accused of similar crimes with some of these resulting in short custodial sentences. On one appearance before Marylebone magistrates it was reported that  he had had a meal with an unknown lady and child in a restaurant in Edgeware Road owned by Pietro Reggiore, but when presented with the bill claimed he had no money. John was handed over to the police, and one Police Constable Gould (23 DR) searched his clothes and found 8d in money plus some unpaid bills in the name of Captain Onslow. John was also known as Captain Onslow at a grocer’s shop at 5 Blandford Street, Portman Square run by George Margerison. At this establishment he cashed cheques with the proprietor on the National Provincial Bank which were returned “no account”. On this brush with the law he was described as of no fixed abode and with no occupation. John was eventually convicted and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment with hard labour. The sentencing was reported in The People of 27th November 1887 as “the conviction of a notorious swindler”, implying that he had something of a reputation.

At this point John disappears from the records entirely although he may have returned to South Africa. There is a record of a death in Natal which may be John. His siblings, however, remained in England.

John’s brother Henry served in the Colonial Service and retired to Devon. In the 1901 census he is recorded in Ide, Devon in the company of his wife Helena and daughter Dorothy, aged 6, born in Penang Straits Settlement. There were also three servants in the household so he must have done reasonably well in his career. He subsequently moved to Jersey and can be found there in the 1911 census.

Margaret Jane, John’s sister, married Joshua Le Bailly, a much older man, a magistrate and banker from Jersey. He died in 1881 and she subsequently married a gentleman with the wonderful name of Wardlaw Cortlandt Anderson who was a Colonel in the Bengal Staff Corps. She seemed to be prospering, but by the 1911 census she and her daughter are found living at Hampton Court Palace with two servants. This is not as grand as it sounds on first impression. By this time the Palace had been converted to grace and favour apartments giving free accommodation in return for husband’s services to the monarch. This again sounds luxurious, but the apartments were often described as “perishingly cold and damp” and having little access to hot water, so perhaps it wasn’t so grand after all.

John Frederick Trotter’s life was certainly colourful, and embraced army service abroad, illness and mental distress, fraud and vagrancy, and possibly ended full circle with his death in the British colonies. There must be much more to the story of this adventurer, waiting to be discovered.

Thomas Dolan and the Hamstead Colliery Disaster

By Pete Gurney

Thomas Dolan was admitted to Burntwood Asylum on 14th October 1908 and was diagnosed with mania. He was 39 years old and was a coal miner. This was the first attack and it had been going on for nine months. He also suffered from seborrhoea (excessively oily skin). His health was impaired due to sudden and prolonged mental stress as he had, in some way, been involved with the Hamstead colliery explosion of 1908. His case perhaps illustrates how someone with existing poor health may have been pushed into the asylum by the sudden trauma of an industrial accident.

Hamstead Colliery pit bottom after the fire of 1908 (Handsworth Historical Society/Birmingham Museums Trust)

Thomas was born in early 1869 in the district of West Bromwich. His father was James Dolan, born in Castlereagh, Ireland and his mother was Henrietta Caseley from Oakengates, Shropshire. Unfortunately, no baptism records are available for Thomas (he was probably Roman Catholic) so his actual date of birth would need to be found from his birth certificate. He had an elder brother, Thomas James, born in 1865 who died in 1868. Younger siblings included Elizabeth (born 1871), Mary (1873), Francis George (1875), Henrietta (1877), Edward (1880), Henry (1882), Ada (1883) and Joseph (1885). Again, no baptism records can be found for any of the children so it must be assumed they were all raised as Roman Catholic.

Thomas appears in both the 1871 and 1881 census with his family in Handsworth, Birmingham. His birthplace is given as Handsworth. On Christmas Day 1890 Thomas married Eliza Green at Trinity Church, West Bromwich. Prior to the wedding they were recorded as living at different numbers in Roebuck Street. The street still exists in West Bromwich but is now given over to industrial premises. By 1904 the couple had five children – Frank, Thomas James, Ellen Elizabeth, Hilda and Ada, all of whom apart from the first survived until at least 1911. The family appears in the 1891 census in West Bromwich and in the 1901 census in Hamstead, at 136 Hamstead Cottages. At the latter date he is described as a coal miner (haulier below ground) and, although there is no direct evidence, he probably worked at Hamstead colliery.

The Hamstead Colliery Disaster commemorated, with insert of the rescue party member, John Welsby, who was killed during the rescue attempt (Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust, licensed under CC0)

The Hamstead colliery explosion recorded in the asylum admission register was actually a fire and took place on March 4th 1908. The is no evidence that Thomas was directly involved in the fire, but he was almost certainly working at the pit and may have been underground on that day. However, Thomas’s brother Francis George (Frank) was certainly closely involved. The disaster was covered extensively in the press with articles appearing in newspapers from Aberdeen to Plymouth and London.

Frank Dolan was a timekeeper (underground) and, at the time the fire broke out, was at the bottom of Number 1 shaft. It was fortunate that earlier the same week the lifting gear at Number 2 shaft had broken down and hence there were fewer men in the pit than usual. Strangely, there were no trained rescue teams available in the area and two teams had to be sent for from Yorkshire. They arrived the following day and attempted to access the area of the pit where the men were trapped. They found the conditions impossible, with excessive heat and roof collapses barring their way to the area. One of the rescue team, John Welsby, was overcome by heatstroke and sadly died. Twenty-five men had been in the immediate vicinity of the pit and none survived. Both Dolan brothers, further from the fire, survived.

Postcard – the men who perished and the rescue party (Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust, licensed under CC0)

An inquest was held starting on 25th March, which concluded that the twenty-five miners died of inhalation of fumes and recorded a verdict of accidental death. A subsequent Home Office inquiry led by Professor R.S. Redmayne made a more detailed investigation into the causes of the disaster. Frank Dolan was at the bottom of Number 1 shaft and noticed smoke coming from the workings and tried to get to the water pipe to attempt to control the fire. Unfortunately, the ladder normally left in position had been taken by an electrician to another part of the mine and was not available. In Frank’s opinion the fire started in the candle box situated near the bottom of Number 1 shaft. The inquiry was told that although the candle box was normally locked, the lock had broken some time before. The candle box held sixteen to eighteen dozen pounds of candles tied in bundles. The candles were normally issued to the miners by the cager (or cage loader), but if he was not available the miners would help themselves, although this was against the rules. It was stated that if the miners did not have a knife they would strike a match and burn through the cords binding the bundles. In Frank’s opinion this was the cause of the fire. It was also reported that sometimes candles were left burning close to wooden pit props and this had caused problems with small fires in the past. It seems strange that the normal practice in the mine was to use candles for illumination, but apparently the mine was in the “Staffordshire thick” seam of coal which had a very low risk of gas and candles became the norm. It was reported that various attempts to clear the mine of smoke using the ventilation system were unsuccessful and any rescue attempts were abandoned as impossible. Both the inquest and the subsequent inquiry recommended that the practice of storing candles underground should be banned.

Postcard showing the miners’ last message, scrawled on a door in chalk (Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust, licensed under CC0)

An appeal was launched very quickly to collect money for the bereaved and the King donated 150 guineas and the Queen £100. By July the fund stood at around £12,000 (over £900,000 in today’s money). A substantial sum was donated to the widow of the rescue team member John Welsby as well as medals and sums of money to other people. Frank Dolan received a silver medal and £10. The fund was also used to support the 490 people made redundant by the disaster (this probably included Thomas Dolan).

The mine disaster lived on in popular folklore, and several amateur poems were published on the subject to raise money for the miners’ relatives, including one by George Baker, ‘The Story of Hamstead Mine’, which began:

Death! Death! O Death, what is it?
Why, horrors, you cannot know,
When entombed like the Hamstead miners,
To whom fire was a terrible blow.

They left their homes both hearty and strong,
To gain the bread for their wives and young,
They planted a kiss on their faces sweet,
But fate destined them no more to meet.

Charity concerts were also given to raise money for the relatives, with a particularly notable one occurring 0n 21st March 1908 at Birmingham’s Theatre Royal, which attracted the world famous music hall artistes Harry Lauder and Vesta Tilley.

Souvenir paper napkin of the disaster (Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust, licensed under CC0)

A full account of the disaster may be found on the website of the Hamstead Miners Memorial Trust at http://miners.b43.co.uk/disaster.html. Hamstead colliery eventually reopened and continued working until 1965 and at one time it was the deepest coal mine in the world.

Thomas Dolan died, still in Burntwood Asylum on 14th March 1909 with the cause of death recorded as ‘general paralysis’ (possibly caused by pre-existing syphilitic infection). His wife Eliza did not survive him long, dying in 1910 and being buried in Handsworth cemetery. At this point the children were found other homes, some with family and others adopted. According to the 1911 census Thomas and Ada were nephew and niece in the house of William and Martha Hipkiss (sister of Eliza Dolan) at 56 Long Lane, Blackheath, Birmingham, whilst Hilda was an adopted daughter in the house of Norman Henry and Ann Maria Parsons at 28 Holt Road, Blackheath. Ellen Elizabeth (Nellie) was an adopted daughter in the house of Thomas and Maria Brookes at 48 Beaumont Road, Blackheath. Interestingly in the 1911 census Thomas Dolan, aged 15, had the unusual occupation of ‘golf ball presser’. It seems that the children all found good homes despite the early death of both their parents. Miners’ lives were always precarious, and their families existed only one accident away from penury. Thankfully, the sudden change in fortunes for the Dolan children brought about by the Hamstead accident did not end in the workhouse.

Elizabeth (Betty) Edge

By Pete and Sue Gurney

Elizabeth (Betty) Edge was born in 1799 in the Longnor parish of the Staffordshire Moorlands. She was the illegitimate daughter of Sarah Edge. Sarah may have had other illegitimate children, but the Edge name was very common in the area, and it appears that there was another Sarah locally with illegitimate children. Consequently, pinning down which people (if any) were Betty’s siblings is not possible.

In 1808 Sarah married Thomas Berresford in the church of St Peter, Alstonefield, also in the Staffordshire Moorlands. Unfortunately, Berresford (or Berisford) was also a common name in the area and tracing Thomas has proved inconclusive.

In the 1841 census Betty Edge appeared in the house of Thomas & Sarah Berisford at Archford Moor, a farmstead near Alstonefield. She was unmarried. Thomas was described as an agricultural labourer. By 1851 Thomas was describing himself as a farmer, and Elizabeth Edge is still in the household and described as stepdaughter, and still unmarried. Thomas was a widower (his wife Sarah, Betty’s mother, died in 1848), born 1783 in Alstonefield, so the family appears to have travelled little.

In 1803 Sarah’s brother Thomas Edge married Ann Kirkham and they had numerous children. They lived at an isolated farm between Longnor and Leek with the wonderful name of  “Noon Sun” which still exists today.

In March 1856 Ann Edge came from Noon Sun farm to live with Thomas Berisford and Betty at Archford Moor, in order to keep house as Betty had been unwell. The house at Archford Moor was small with only one bedroom, and Thomas slept in one bed with Betty and Ann sharing the other.

On the morning of Thursday 24th April 1856 Betty got out of bed leaving Ann asleep and went downstairs. Thomas believed she had gone for a drink of water. Some minutes later she returned with an axe and before Thomas could stop her struck Ann three blows across the head and face. Thomas then prevented her from delivering any further blows and took the axe from her. A neighbour was dispatched to fetch a doctor and the police. The doctor, arriving from Sheen about an hour later, pronounced that Ann had died instantly from the blows and Betty was arrested by Police Constable Critchlow on the charge of “wilful murder”. It appears that after striking Ann Betty had got into Thomas’s bed and remained there unconcerned until the police arrived. A woman named Marsh was called in to assist with dressing her. When charged with the crime Betty said “I don’t know whatever induced me to do it. I cannot tell why I did it. I was in such a heat when I awoke that I went downstairs and fetched it up. After I killed her I meant to kill myself but the heat went off.”

Alstonefield village green, c.1892-95. The George Hotel is behind the trees in the centre. The photo was taken by W.H. Horne of Leek (staffspasttrack.org.uk, donated by Mrs Jean Overend)

Betty was taken to a room next to the George Hotel Alstonefield. She was described as “a stout, healthy looking country woman”. Betty remained in the room at The George until Friday when an inquest was held in the Club Room of the Hotel. On the Thursday Betty had been sullen and morose but on the Friday morning she conversed freely with PC Edis and frequently asked if “the old man”, meaning Thomas, was still alive. At this point it was conjectured that she had meant to kill Thomas and made a mistake, or that she had meant to kill both of them.

The Derby Mercury of 30th April, from which the above details have been taken, also reported “There appears to be an absence of motive for the perpetration of the tragedy – the parties having always lived upon the most friendly terms”, and decribing Ann Edge in the following terms: “The victim was a most industrious woman who procured a livelihood by taking in spinning for ladies resident in the locality”. Ann was buried at Alstonefield on 26th April and, unusually, in the parish register it was noted that she had been murdered.

The inquest took evidence from Thomas Berisford, the police and the doctor. The doctor, Mr Ephraim Matthews Cridge from Sheen described the injuries received by the victim and concluded they had been caused by blows from a blunt instrument such as the head of the axe produced in evidence. He also stated that he had attended Betty in November and December the previous year and treated her for dropsy (an old term for the swelling of soft tissues due to the accumulation of excess water). He had not seen her professionally since 16th December. The inquest jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against Betty Edge and she was committed for trial at the next Staffordshire Assizes. On the following Saturday she was taken by train to Stafford gaol by PC Critchlow, and whilst in the train became very violent but was secured and safely taken to her destination.

Betty remained in Stafford gaol until July 1856, and appeared in the Criminal Registers of the 16th July as a prisoner committed for trial. It was noted, however, that she did not stand trial but was removed to Stafford Asylum on the 10th of the month. This was also reported in the Staffordshire Sentinel on 19th July.

The records for Stafford Asylum confirm that she had been admitted on 10th July 1856 when she was described as single, aged 56 and a criminal lunatic. It was also recorded that she lived at Archford Moor and came under Alstonefield Union. She was described as violent and dangerous and “if spoken to does not reply except at intervals when she tells other patients about the crime she committed.” Betty was in a good physical state and was diagnosed with dementia with occasional homicidal tendencies. It was also noted that she had been ill and under medical attendance for some time before murdering her aunt in April.

The treatment given to Betty, as described in the asylum casebook, was very strange by modern standards. It was listed as “diet, alcohol, fed with stomach pump” which must have been most unpleasant. Betty died on 13th December 1856 still in the asylum.

Thomas Berisford did not survive Betty very long, being buried on 16th February 1857 at Alstonefield. The motives for the murder, whether it was the result of momentary insanity or as the result of her longer term illness will never be determined.

Arthur Daniel Mayou

By Susan Large

An unusual name which jumped out at us from the documents of admission for Burntwood asylum was that of Arthur Daniel Mayou. At first this appeared to be a variation on the Irish Mayo, but further investigation suggests that it is an ancient name from Provence.

Arthur’s admission details hinted at an intriguing case. He was admitted to Burntwood asylum on 17 Jan 1896. He was 34 years old, unmarried, and described as a clerk in holy orders. His abode was recorded as Denbigh, which we learn later in the admission entry indicated that he had been a private patient at Denbigh asylum before being transferred to his native Staffordshire. As a patient at Burntwood, it appears that Tamworth Poor Law Union paid for his upkeep.

Arthur had been ill for some time, as he had been certified insane on 31st Oct 1895 and had been experiencing symptoms for at least a year. He was in bad health, and was diagnosed with dementia and general paralysis, but the cause of his illness was unknown.

Arthur’s name proved to be a challenge when researching his life and times. People have not been consistent with the surname over time, as the transcribing in successfully located documents proves. The most common mis-transcription was Mayon, and also:  Major, Majour, Majou, Majoux, Mayor, Mayou, Mayoux, Mayoud, Mayaud, Mayoult, Mayot, Mayet, Mayer, Mayeu, Majoral, Majorel.  However, newspaper reports which were traceable generally showed the correct spelling.

Denbigh asylum (countyasylums.co.uk)

Arthur Daniel seems to have come from a middle-class Victorian family. His father, John Webster Mayou, born in Appleby Magna, Leicestershire in 1821, was the son of a surgeon, and went on to have his own business as a wool stapler (a dealer in wool), seed merchant, and manufacturer in smallwear in cotton and worsted, employing 140 hands according to the 1851 census. The family were probably quite comfortable economically and socially. In the 1851 edition of White’s Directory John was listed as, Mayou John Webster, woolstapler etc, h. Bonehill Villa – Mayou and Toulson, smallwear manfs, woolstapler etc. The firm was based in Fazeley, near Tamworth. It appears that the partnership with William Tolson was dissolved in April 1860, ‘by mutual consent’, according to the London Gazette.

John Webster Mayou first married in 1846 and had 3 sons in quick succession. Unfortunately his wife died in 1855, and 14 months later he married again and had 3 daughters and 3 sons, one of whom was Arthur Daniel.

They were an affluent family, able to keep servants and the occasional governess.  All the boys went to boarding schools.  The three from the first marriage were fortunate to be very close in age, so they were all contemporaries at the same school in Sutton Coldfield.  Arthur Daniel went to a boarding school in Atherstone, Warwickshire, and the youngest went to Oundle school in Northamptonshire. The final son also went to boarding school, but tracing his alma mater has proved difficult.

Of Arthur’s brothers the eldest, John Webster Jnr., went into the family business. Two of John Webster Snr’s sons from his first marriage became mechanical engineers – Robert William and Charles Marmaduke. 

The story of the brothers took a sad turn in the 1880s, as three of them died young. John Webster Mayou Jnr., the senior partner of Mayou and Watson, died 22nd June 1882, aged 33 in Wilnecote. His inquest concluded that he died of natural causes. Robert William Mayou died 27th October 1890, aged 40 in Strood, Kent. Charles Marmaduke Mayou died of pneumonia in Hull on 7th April 1884, aged 31. He had become a marine engineer, and was presumably stationed in East Yorkshire as part of his job.

Their father had lived long enough to carry out the sad task of burying three of his sons. John Webster Mayou Snr followed the three brothers, dying on 6th April 1890 in Burton on Trent, aged 69. In the space of 8 years Arthur Daniel Mayou’s three elder brothers and his father had all died, leaving him as the male head of the family. This decade of grief and a turnaround in family fortunes must have made a deep impression upon Arthur Daniel in his mid-to-late twenties.

The 1881 census states that Arthur Daniel was an Oxford undergraduate, but on further investigation he doesn’t seem to have had a brilliant academic career.  In the results printed in the Oxfordshire Weekly News of 12th November 1879 the following appears –‘Matriculation – unattached – Arthur Daniel Mayou.’ 

The Reading Mercury of 10th November 1883 lists ‘BA – Arthur Daniel Mayou – unattached.’  It appears that he studied at the Honours School of Modern History in Oxford and was awarded a 4th class degree – unattached. Whether this created family tensions, or affected Arthur Daniel personally cannot be ascertained, but for a public schoolboy from a middle-class professional family, this was not the start in life which would have been expected.

In December 1889 Arthur Daniel was ordained by the Lord Bishop of Chichester, and in the 1891 census appeared as an assistant master at Ardingley, Sussex – an educational facility grounded in the Christian faith.  Arthur Daniel appears to have remained in the Church. In the Lichfield Mercury, dated 6th April 1894, the list of clerical appointments included Rev. Arthur Daniel Mayou, BA, as a curate to Tamworth. He later appears on the Clergy List of 1896 as BA Ox, p 1889, curate 1893 Tamworth.

Sadly, Arthur Daniel’s transfer to from Denbigh to Burntwood would not see an improvement in his condition. The Mid Sussex Times, in their edition of 18th February 1896, reported the death on 8th February of Rev. Arthur Daniel Mayou, late curate of Amington, Tamworth, in his 35th year. There was no indication of a will, and evidence of this will need further investigation.

St. Editha’s Church, Amington, Tamworth (Tamworth Castle Museum/staffspasttrack.org.uk)

The Mayou family is a fascinating one, with interesting stories waiting to be told of the two sets of children of John Webster. The fourth son, George Herbert Mayou, moved to Swansea and had 4 daughters and a son (the only male child to any male member of the family). George Herbert was a Brewers Agency Manager and lived to be about 80.

The youngest son Francis Reginald went to Cambridge and is shown on the Electoral Register as living in the Grammar School House in Stratford upon Avon during the late 1890s. The 1901 census contains intriguing details about Francis’s whereabouts – he is shown at Wellington House, Clevedon, Somerset, occupation Schoolmaster, BA Cant.  All those in the House are down as visitors, and there were both men and women.  He died in 1903, aged 33. Interestingly for our story, his will states that he lived in Camberwell House, London at the time of his death. There was a lunatic asylum at this address, which occupied three Georgian houses on the north side of Peckham Road.

There were 3 girls from John Webster’s Snr’s second family. The first is untraceable after the 1871 census when she was 13.  The second headed a cookery and home economics school and lived into her 90s.The youngest died in Canada. Their mother, the second wife of John Webster Snr, survived into her 90s.  There is no evidence of the traceable daughters marrying.

The Mayou family was marked by tragedy, and many young deaths. Two of the brothers died in asylums, and despite Arthur Daniel’s initial promise, he failed to achieve the academic career which might have been expected for the younger sons in a middle-class family. Despite their comfortable position, the family suffered losses which were common across all social strata in the 1800s. This fascinating family surely has more stories to tell.

Mary Titley

By Pete and Sue Gurney

Mary Titley was born Mary Whatmore in 1826 in Wolverhampton. She was the fourth of eight children of Samuel Whatmore, a bricklayer, and Elizabeth his wife. In the 1841 census she is living with her mother and seven siblings in Cleveland Road, Wolverhampton close to where the Royal Hospital was built a few years later, her father having died a few days before the census. She married William Titley, a shoemaker, on 22nd January 1849 in Wolverhampton. Surprisingly for those times Mary was literate although her husband was not.

In the 1851 census Mary was living with her husband William, a shoemaker, and their first child Emma in Bushbury Lane, Wednesfield. They went on to have five further children, Ann (1851), Lydia (1853), Fanny (1854), George (1855) and Joseph (1857) although Fanny and George both died in infancy. They were all baptised in either Wednesfield or Wednesfield Heath.

On the 26th June 1858 Mary was admitted to Stafford Asylum as a criminal lunatic although no documentary evidence can be found to establish why she was described as criminal. She was also described as a pauper, married with four children and a housewife. The Union responsible was Wednesfield. According to the admission register her husband had treated her badly. Further information on the admission register says she was Church of England, could read and write, had no previous mental illness and the current illness had lasted 1 month. She was described as suicidal and violent although she was in a good physical state. As well as the bad treatment from her husband the cause of her problems was stated to be poverty and privation. She obviously made progress over the following months as she was discharged, recovered, on 25th May 1859.

Unfortunately, it appears she relapsed, as on the 10th March the following year she was arrested on the charge of wilful murder having killed her 2½-year-old son Joseph in horrific circumstances. An inquest was held on the 12th March at the Rose and Crown, Wednesfield before Mr W H Phillips, Deputy Coroner. Police Constable Pepper gave evidence that Mrs Titley had told him she had killed her child in order that she might be hanged. Mary was declared insane and committed for trial at Stafford Assizes. She was directed to be held in strict custody. Due to the circumstances of the murder the details of the inquest and subsequent trial were reported all over the country. The reports disagreed on some of the details as a number of them described the child as a girl although the official records all agree that the child was Joseph.

Print after Paul Renouard (1845-1924), ‘Woking convict invalid prison, 5 women prisoners convicted of infanticide’, from The Graphic, London 21st Sep 1889 (Wellcome collection, CC BY 4.0)

The trial was held at Stafford Assizes on 16th March 1860 before Mr Justice Keating, with Mr McMahon as counsel for the prosecution and Mr Scotland appearing for the prisoner. The Staffordshire Advertiser of Saturday 17th March 1860 covered the trial at length. Mary, who was 33 years old, was described as looking 10 years older. The newspaper report also said “The unhappy woman, who was attired in a black silk bonnet, coarse plaid shawl and cotton dress, appeared altogether unconscious of the heinousness of the crime with which she was charged and stood during her trial with her eye vacantly fixed on the opposite wall, apparently listless of the proceedings around her”. On being called to plead she said “I certainly murdered the baby, Sir. I am guilty”.

The facts of the case were then presented to the court. Again, to quote the Staffordshire Advertiser article “On Saturday night last between eleven and twelve o’clock the prisoner, who is the wife of William Titley shoemaker of Wednesfield, was nursing her boy when she nearly severed his head with a razor. Her husband instantly ran into a neighbour’s house and related what had taken place and then returned with Mrs Jackson, the neighbour, to his own house. The prisoner was sitting in a chair, the dead body of her child resting on her lap with his head almost off. Her clothes and those of the child were covered with blood of which there was a large quantity on the floor. After looking at Mrs Jackson for some time without speaking, the prisoner asked if she did not think the child had gone to heaven,  adding that she had intended to destroy herself but had killed the child as she thought he would have no sin to answer for.”

Evidence was taken from Mark Noble Bower MD, medical officer of the County Lunatic Asylum and Mr Robert Hughes, surgeon of the county prison. Mr Bower declared that he had treated Mrs Titley when she was in the asylum the previous year and in his opinion she was totally insane. Mr Hughes disagreed but the judge decided that the opinion of Mr Bower was more relevant as he specialised in mental health issues. The jury agreed with the judge and found Mary insane. Technically she was acquitted on the grounds of insanity, but the judge directed that she should be confined in a proper asylum during Her Majesty’s pleasure.

Trial for infanticide by mothers was not at all uncommon in the nineteenth century, and although Mary’s fate may seem a grim one to us, the acquittal rate, whether by means of insanity or other factors, was very high. Many women suffering from puerperal mania (post-natal mania or psychosis), which affects perhaps one in five hundred new mothers, were admitted to asylums (perhaps up to 15% of the asylum population nationwide), and such cases which had led to the death a child were often dealt with more sympathetically than our modern understandings of Victorian justice would allow for. Courts were very open to the argument of temporary insanity after childbirth and thinking at the time believed that the moral wrong involved could be atoned for with treatment.

Motherhood was seen as so natural a state, and an innate part of femininity, that any transgression of it must have rendered the perpetrator insane. Robert Browning wrote, ‘womanliness means only motherhood: all love begins and ends there.’ Accepting insanity as a plea made it easier for courts to deal with the incredibly difficult social issues of a woman transgressing her natural instincts towards a child. ‘Leniency’ in child murder cases did not go unquestioned, and the notorious case in the 1860s of Esther Lack, who murdered three of her children claiming her fears of starvation and mental disturbance drove her to it, and the court’s decision that she was unbalanced due to previous pregnancies, led to widespread debate about the ‘epidemic’ of infanticide cases. The willingness of courts to reach a conclusion of insanity caused by childbirth and its effects was scrutinised, with The Times amongst others questioning the ‘loose’ definitions involved.

Mary, like many mothers before and after her, was admitted to Stafford Asylum on 3rd April 1860 as a criminal lunatic but was transferred by warrant of the Secretary of State to Broadmoor on the 17th June 1863. She appears in the quarterly returns of Broadmoor until she died there on the 26th December 1866. She was buried on 1st January 1867 at St Michael’s Church, Sandhurst with her residence declared as Broadmoor Asylum. Strangely her age was given as 56 although she was only actually 41 years old.

Asylum for Criminal Lunatics, Broadmoor, Sandhurst, Berkshire. Illustrated London News, 1867
(Wellcome collection, CC BY 4.0)

Despite the tragedy the remaining members of the Titley family seemed to have stayed together as in the 1861 census William and the remaining children Emma, Ann and Fanny are together in Wednesfield. By the 1871 census Emma was just about to be married, Ann was with her aunt Jane and Fanny was a servant in the house of Samuel Pickering, lock and latch maker, next door to her father. Whilst Mary was a tragic figure, caught up in the mental distress of childbirth and childrearing under difficult circumstances, the rest of the family seem to go on to lead normal lives.

Further Reading:

Emma Butcher, ‘A most ‘barbarous and revolting murder’, History Today, 5 Aug 2015 (https://www.historytoday.com/most-barbarous-and-revolting-murder)

Hilary Marland, Dangerous Motherhood: Insanity and Childbirth in Victorian Britain (Houndmills: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2004).

‘Infant killing and the Victorian mother’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/2985632.stm

Matilda Stockley

By Mike & Sue Bulmer

Matilda Stockley was admitted to Stafford asylum on 18th Dec 1875. She had been born in 1847, was single, and working as a cook at the home of the Hon. Reverend Bridgeman’s home in Weston-under-Lyzard. Her entry notes record that she was chargeable to Shifnal union. Her religion was Church of England, she had been ill for six days, and had paranoid delusions, talking a great deal about religion

Matilda was born in West Bromwich in 1847 and grew up near the centre of Oldbury. Oldbury and the immediate surrounding area was home to many industries which damaged the health of those who worked in them. Smoke pollution was an ever-present problem. When growing up in the town in the 1850s, Matilda’s environment would have been a noisy, dirty and polluted one.

During the nineteenth century, the situation in Oldbury was typical of many other parts of the country in respect to provision of sanitation and clean water supplies. Numerous Parliamentary reports, bills and acts highlighted this ongoing problem. A report in 1856 covering Oldbury stated that water was only available from wells or springs, within, or adjacent to, the town, and needed to be transported to people’s homes. This situation was repeated in several Black Country towns, so a means of providing an adequate water supply to the district began to be explored.

The solution was for a private company, South Staffordshire Waterworks, to provide the towns with water. An act of Parliament was obtained in 1853 to take this forward. In 1858 the Black Country town of Walsall received their first piped water supply. Walsall was closely followed by Wednesbury and Darlaston (1859), and Tipton (1860). However, the population of Oldbury had to wait until 1862 for water to arrive in their town. The problem of sewage and waste disposal also worsened over this period, due to the town’s growing population. Large numbers of deaths from preventable diseases were to be the outcome of an inadequate sewage system.

Many workers in Oldbury were employed in the chemical industries which manufactured poisonous substances. Messrs Albright and Wilson Ltd, founded in 1856, were the main manufacturers of phosphorus in England. By 1863 they employed 60–80 men. One of the first methods used to transfer lethal white phosphorus was by the workman sucking it up a tube. Phosphorus poisoning was one of the first four industry related diseases to be officially recognised as occupational hazards.

In 1865, there were 25,000 workers in the South Staffordshire coal field, which encompassed most of the Black Country. It is probable that a good many of these workers suffered from pneumoconiosis, or silicosis, debilitating diseases which became visible after many years of working in the mines. The other main dust producing industry in Oldbury was the edge tool works of William Hunt and Sons which employed 150 men in 1848. Workers in this industry suffered from grinders’ asthma. The dust contained minute particles of metal, and led to a very painful demise, similar to consumption. These work-related illnesses led to invalidity from work, poverty, and premature deaths.

Matilda was born into this industrial landscape, and in the 1851 census, she was 2 years old. She was one of nine children. The road she lived on was surrounded by collieries and brickworks. The male members of the family were employed as ‘pit sinkers.’ John, Matilda’s father, was a pit sinker, as was 16-year-old John Jnr. and 14-year-old Benjamin. Matilda’s third brother Mark was aged only 10 but was also employed in this arduous work.

A pit sinker was a highly skilled man who ‘sank’ (i.e. dug) the shafts for coal mines. Skilled sinkers were in great demand and moved from colliery to colliery to dig shafts, and were usually employed by a specialist contractor. One known pit sinker moved around all over the north of England and Scotland. Sinkers often lived in purpose built temporary buildings, as navvies had when building railways and canals, but the Stockley family may have had enough work locally in the South Staffs coalfield to stay in one location.

Digging the top layers down to the bedrock was relatively easy, but then the work became harder. The spoil was removed in a giant bucket on a pulley, whilst the men shored up the pit walls initially with wood, and later with brick. The dangers were manifold, not made easier by the haste to complete the work, as sinkers were paid per yard completed. In the dangerous world of colliery work, pit sinking was one of the most arduous and hazardous jobs. This was the life and environment into which Matilda was born and grew up.

However, the young Matilda’s life was turned upside down in 1857 when her mother Sarah died, and in mid-1859 her father John also died. Their deaths were recorded in West Bromwich, and so the family appear to have lived in the same area for many years, indicating that pit sinking was common enough in the coal field to keep the family in employment.

After the 1851 census Matilda’s younger siblings become untraceable, but her elder siblings do make some mark on the official record. Two of Matilda’s older sisters were living in the same household in the following census of 1861, and their employer appears to be one William Fisher. Emma was working as a nurse & Alice was working as a domestic servant. Emma was 20, and Alice was 18.

The search for Matilda, however, takes in a wider geographical spread and stretches as far as Merseyside. Matilda was still only 12 in 1861, but seems to be working as a servant at an address in West Derby. The head of house was the wife of a Master mariner, who was presumably at sea on census day. The mariner’s wife, Elizabeth Wescott, was 31 and had two young children, the eldest only 3 years younger than their servant girl. Confirming that this is the correct Matilda is possible – she was of the right age and is from Staffordshire.

The British census of 1891 found that 1.3 million girls and women worked as domestic servants in Victorian England. Many were recruited between the ages of 10 and 13, and Matilda appears to have been one of them. Bearing in mind the loss of her parents and the scattering of her family, finding work in a house many miles from her former family home is perfectly feasible.

1960s photograph of St. Andrews, Weston-Under-Lizard (photograph County Archaeology Department/staffspasttrack.org.uk)

By the time of the 1871 census, Matilda had moved back to Oldbury and was working as a domestic cook in the house of Samuel Rhodes, a glass blower, in Titford Road. Whether her cookery skills had been nurtured in her previous work is unclear. The other young woman in the house was Emma Caddick, a 16 year old servant to the household. Matilda was listed as a visitor (rather than a resident), and so may have been working there temporarily, or intermittently –  and she may also have been working at Weston-Under-Lizard.

The next record of Matilda’s life is her entry into Stafford Asylum, when she was described as the cook at the Hon. Reverend Bridgeman’s home. The diagnosis about delusions and talking a great deal about religion may have come from her time spent in the home of the Rector of Weston-under-Lizard.

Weston-Under-Lizard is on the Staffordshire Border with Shropshire, and is the location of Weston Hall, the home of the Bridgemans. Weston Hall was built by Sir Thomas and Lady Wilbraham in 1671, and Lady Wilbraham is believed to have been the architect. In 1762 the Hall and Park passed to the Bridgeman family, later Earls of Bradford (second creation). Weston Park was landscaped by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in the 1760s.

The Hon. Reverend John Robert Orlando Bridgeman was the Rector of St. Andrew’s Church, including the parish of Weston-Under-Lizard and the whole of Weston Park, which was owned by his father George Bridgeman, Second Earl of Bradford. Matilda’s employer had attended Eton and Trinity College Cambridge, and as a younger son of an aristocrat a career in the Church was acceptable, even expected. Reverend John’s uncle, Orlando, suffered from mental illness, and has been written about by June Ellis, which we hope to feature as a blog post in the near future.

The church of St. Andrew adjoins Weston Hall, and was in the gift of the Earl, who unsurprisingly gave his son the living of the parish. The church is medieval in origin, but was rebuilt by Lady Wilbraham in 1700-1701, following her architectural update of the Hall. The vestry and Bridgeman family chapel were added in 1876-1877 by Ewan Christian, most famous for restoring Southwell Minster.

George Bridgeman 2nd Earl of Bradford by Sir George Hayter (1835) (Wikimedia commons CC BY)

The comparison with Matilda’s early life must have been considerable; from pit sinkers daughter whose mother and father were dead. Whilst still a servant, expected to work incredibly hard over many long hours, the environs of Weston Hall were a world away from the environmental degradation of Oldbury. We can only surmise that she may have taken to the life ‘downstairs’ in a country house. Having lived possibly for many years at the house of the third son of the Earl, she may well have travelled with him in her role as cook, meeting a lot of the ruling class and also being influenced with the constant exposure to religion.

For some reason, however, Matilda ended up in the asylum. She was discharged on 29th Apr 1876, and her notes say that she was ‘recovered.’ We have not yet discovered any evidence as to whether she returned to her job as cook at Weston.

Matilda next appeared in the 1881 census, where her surname was misspelt as ‘Matilda Stakley’. At this stage in her life, aged 34, she was working as a cook at the home of Morgan Jones in Llandygwydd, Cardiganshire. He was described on the census as Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant. There were 6 live-in servants, so Morgan Jones’ wealth and influence must have been considerable. Matilda was the only person in the household that was not from Cardigan. Perhaps this employment was found through the networks of the aristocracy for whom she had been working.

Later in 1881 Matilda married a John Ford. The marriage appears to have taken place in Cardiff, perhaps indicating that this was someone she had met whilst working in Wales. The rest of Matilda’s life is still undiscovered and may hold further interesting stories. As we leave her in 1881, it appears that her asylum experience – caused, we can only guess, by the stress of work, religious fixations, or some other factors – is behind her. Hopefully, the asylum continued to remain a past memory.

Patrick Malia

By Mike and Sue Bulmer, and Steve Cunniffe

Patrick Malia was admitted to Stafford asylum on 11th June 1895. He was 28, unmarried, Roman Catholic and his upkeep was paid for by Wolverhampton Poor Law union.

He had been ill for a week at least, was epileptic and violent, was recovering from an attack of delirium tremens, and was suffering from violent delusions. He was described as ‘strongly built, with several bruises and scars’, and so may well have been a physical challenge to the attendants.

His medical notes claim that his illness was mania with epilepsy, caused by alcoholism and insolation (or sunstroke). This is perhaps explained by another note in the casebook – he was an ex-soldier, who had served in India and Zululand. Heatstroke was not uncommon in the services. Boredom in the forces also often led to excessive alcohol intake. Ultimately, Patrick’s epilepsy had caused him to be discharged from the army.

The main ‘treatment’ he was offered whilst in the hospital was work on the wards. Keeping patients active and mentally occupied was a common way of reducing their symptoms and trying to offer respite. He stayed for 8 months until 3 February 1896, when he was discharged ‘to care of friends’. Whether he had significantly improved during his time in the asylum is hard to judge, from the notes made about him.

Patrick was born in Wolverhampton in March 1866, and according to records baptised the following month at St. Patrick’s Church (or at least in St. Patrick’s Parish, as the church was possibly not yet built). The Catholic population of Wolverhampton rose from 600 in 1800, to 5,500 at the time of the 1881 census. Irish families from Galway, Roscommon and Mayo in the poorest parts of Western Ireland formed the bulk of this increased population, especially during and after the famine of the 1840s.

In 1865 the Catholic parish of St Patrick was founded in Wolverhampton, and land purchased for the building of a church. The foundation stone of St Patrick’s Church was laid in 1866 by Father O’Sullivan at the corner of Littles Lane and Carberry Street (now Westbury Street).

The church served all the local Catholics, but particularly those in ‘Carribee Island’, the heart of industrial Wolverhampton. The island was bounded by Stafford Street, Back Lane, Carberry Street and Canal Street (later Broad Street). Father Walter Hall became the first priest, and he oversaw the building of the church, which was designed in the fashionable Gothic style by Edward Welby Pugin, the eldest son of A.W.N. Pugin.

It is likely that Patrick’s family had been amongst the relatively recent Irish arrivals in the Black Country. For Patrick’s later life, his military records are one of the few means we have for tracing his journey towards Stafford asylum.

In the context of Wolverhampton in 1885, Patrick and his Irish family would most probably have been surrounded by many other Irish families, perhaps in ‘Caribee Island’, and the prospect of working as a labourer in the chemical industries/iron & steel/mining would be looming on the horizon for many young men.

The attractions of army life ranged beyond military matters. Campaigning in Africa fulfilled desires for adventure and foreign travel. Young soldiers would experience an exotic continent that most of their families and friends never would. It was far from unusual for Irish born and ethnically Irish men to join the army. Up to a third of the British army in the nineteenth century were Irish born or Irish in origin.

North Staffordshire Regiment (64th Foot), c.1900 (Wikimedia commons CC BY)

The military was an opportunity for adventure, and for the potential to better your lot in life. As Sergeant J. F. Bolshaw (17th Lancers) wrote from Zululand: ‘If I ever do return again I shall be quite a rich man, as we cannot spend any money here. All our pay is saved.’

Patrick Malia joined the North Staffordshire Regiment on 9th October 1885. His enlistment papers give his birthplace as St. Peter’s Parish, Wolverhampton – which covers the centre of the town around the Collegiate Church of St. Peter – indicating that Patrick was born near the centre of town, possibly in the Irish enclave as discussed earlier. He was 19 years and 7 months old and listed as a labourer.

The North Staffordshire Regiment was formed as The Prince of Wales’s (North Staffordshire) Regiment during the 1881 Army reforms, by merging the 64th (2nd Staffordshire) Regiment of Foot and the 98th (The Prince of Wales’s) Regiment of Foot. These became the new unit’s 1st and 2nd Battalions respectively. It inherited the 64th’s association with Staffordshire, and was made the regiment for the north of the county. Many of its recruits came from Burton-upon-Trent, Stafford, Stoke-on-Trent and Tamworth.

The 1st Battalion was in Ireland when the merger occurred. It moved to England two years later, and then to the West Indies in 1884. It was deployed in Natal, South Africa in 1887, remaining there until 1890, when it moved to Mauritius. These dates fit well with Patrick’s army documents.

On enlisting, his medical took place at Lichfield and there were no serious problems highlighted. Patrick was measured as 5ft 10” and weighed just over 9 stone. This would be a healthy BMI today. He had a ‘fresh’ complexion, brown hair and blue eyes.

Patrick’s army record can be found on his Military History Sheet:

6th Oct 1885 – 30th Dec 1886 – Home

31st Dec 1886 – 4th Dec 1888 – South Africa

5th Dec 1888 – 20th April 1890 – Mauritius

21st April 1890 – 13th May 1890 – Home

Patricks problems seem to have started in May 1889 after 4 years in the army, during which he would have been involved in the continued tensions with the Zulu nation, and the run up to the Second South African War (Boer War) in 1899.

Patrick’s medical record indicates that all was not well long before he left active service. He was diagnosed with epilepsy and also eclampsia. There seem to be quite a few instances of epilepsy in the following months whilst in Mauritius. The regiment at this time was in Curepipe, the location of the British barracks, between mid-July 1889 and February 1890.

Mauritius – the view from Curepipe (Wikimedia commons, CC BY)

Being on the island would seem at first sight to have been the perfect place to recuperate after being away from home for years, mostly in South Africa on active duty. A letter written by an officer gives an insight into island life, however, and it was far from paradise. George Hawes was Captain and adjutant in the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers when they were given a two-year posting to Mauritius after serving in South Africa for three years. He wrote in 1908:

Mauritius is an absurd place, and what they want with a whole regiment here beats me, unless it is to keep the very unsavoury locals in order. The island is about 40 miles by 30 miles, more or less round, and our barracks are at a place called Curepipe, somewhere about in the middle. It is very beautiful in an unhealthy sort of way, and the vegetation, owing to the fact that it is in the tropics and that it rains over 300 days in the year, magnificent. The main industry is sugar-growing, though the sugar one buys for the mess, owing to some trade nonsense, comes from England, 9,000 miles away.

The barracks are very luxurious, and well they may be, for there are no compensations in this exile. It is a wretched place to spend one’s adjutancy in. There are about 50 different races in the island, the majority being Indians, who work on the sugar plantations.

There are a lot of old French families living here. The two principal professions are lawyers and doctors – lawyers because these people are always quarrelling, doctors because they are always getting abscesses on the liver from too much drink. It is the sort of place where any vice one had would be sure to be developed to the utmost.

This sounds like a posting which would exacerbate any problem drinking amongst soldiers, due to sheer boredom. It was Patrick’s epilepsy diagnosis, however, which ended his military career. Epilepsy is usually only diagnosed if a doctor thinks there is a high chance that the person could have more seizures, and so it would seem to be only a matter of time before Patrick was discharged. The army surgeon seems to have observed Patrick during an episode of epilepsy and recommended that he be discharged from the army. Patrick’s medical record contains a note by the M.O. – ‘certified that I have seen No. 1821 P Malia, 1st North Stafford Regiment in a true epileptic fit, Surgeon Curepipe Camp 23rd Jan 1890.’

A potassium bromide patent cure from France (wellcome collection, CC BY 4.0)

On several occasions, Patrick’s fits were treated with chloral hydrate and potassium bromide. Chloral hydrate, a general sedative, was discovered in 1832 and became a common drug used in psychiatric treatment in the later 1800s. Because it was a fast acting sedative, it became a popular drug in asylums. Sir Charles Locock first described the anti-convulsant properties of potassium bromide in 1857, and it became the first effective drug treatment for epilepsy. Locock thought, as many did at the time, that epilepsy was caused by sexual excitement, and believed that bromide’s ability to quell this was the root of its success against epileptic seizures. Potassium bromide became ubiquitous in treating nervous disorders in the late nineteenth century, to the extent that a single hospital often used several tons of it a year. Its use in treating epilepsy was only overtaken by the introduction of phenobarbital in 1912. The use of it to quell soldiers’ sexual appetites however appears to be a myth. From his record, it appears that Patrick was receiving the correct medication as the medical profession understood it, and that after each epileptic episode he received medical attention. He was also periodically kept under observation in case of fits.

We haven’t yet been able to discover what happened to Patrick between leaving the army in 1890 and becoming a resident in Stafford asylum in 1895, but we can surmise that his life continued through periodic crises. On admission he was still suffering from epilepsy, alcoholism and, surprisingly for Wolverhampton, sunstroke – although this could well have been from an earlier episode during his time in the tropics and in southern Africa. Homelessness and worklessness was a problem for many discharged soldiers, and several charities were established to try to find them work, such as the National Association for the Employment of Ex-Soldiers, founded in 1885. We can only guess at his circumstances after discharge, and whether he had a home to go to, or whether he became homeless and jobless, as so many disabled ex-servicemen did.

At the time of the 1901 census, Patrick was again a patient in the asylum, after his first discharge in 1896. His life after his asylum residency is also obscure, although a Patrick Malia died in the 1920s, but the age recorded is six years too low – this could of course be an error by a clerk or doctor.

Patrick’s story illustrates the adventures and dangers of army life for a young man from a poor background in the late 1800s. The army could be an escape, but it could also encourage hard drinking, and if illness ensued, a discharge and the lack of support for ex-soldiers could mean very hard times indeed. The treatment of epilepsy, as shown in Patrick’s case, was still in its infancy, and although the army doctors prescribed the correct treatment for the times, they were only superseded by more effective treatment many years later. The treatments offered at the time for all mental illnesses and other conditions in the asylums largely amounted to sedatives and occupational therapy, as this one case among many illustrates.

Samuel Adcock

By Mike & Sue Bulmer

Samuel Adcock was admitted to Stafford asylum on 22nd October 1894. His case shows how the army was not a place for some men with particular personality traits, and how army service could lead to severe problems, if an individual’s temperament was disinclined towards military discipline.

Samuel was born in 1872, and was unmarried when admitted to the asylum. He was described on admittance as a soldier, with a history of previous attacks of mental illness. He had already been a patient at Moulsford asylum in Berkshire. His treatment was to be paid for by Wolverhampton Poor Law union. Samuel’s illness had lasted some time, according to his admission notes. His illness manifested in ‘rambling statements, many delusions.’ He was ‘fairly well nourished, 9st in weight, diagnosis – mania, cause – not known.’ A contributory factor was believed to be two years imprisonment for striking an officer.

Tracing back through Samuel’s life, a history of anti-social behaviour begins to emerge, perhaps caused by an unsettled childhood, as well as possible underlying mental health problems.

The 1871 census is the first official document in which we find Samuel, as a 7-month-old child. His father John was 55 years old, and was born in Ashby-de-la-Zouch. He was listed as a chimney sweep. John’s wife Jane was aged only 22, and was born in Lambeth.

Living with them in their house in St. Mark’s Ward, Wolverhampton, was 13-year-old Suzannah, who must have been by John’s previous wife. Interestingly, Suzannah had been born in Norfolk. Their next child, Jane, was aged 2 at the time of the census and had been born in Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire. And finally, Samuel was the youngest, aged 7 months and born in Wolverhampton. For some reason, John Adcock had travelled widely in his life, and further investigation is required to trace his previous wife and domestic details.

John and Jane’s first child (also named Jane) was born in the first quarter of 1869, and it is likely that her parents married just before or just after her birth. A record exists of a marriage between John Adcock and Jane Gilday (or Gulday) on 26th January 1869. They were both resident in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, just over the county boundary from Berkhamsted. Jane Gilday may have been from Birmingham. Their son Samuel was born in the third quarter of 1870 which matches up well with the census date of April 2nd 1871. His baptism is recorded on 18th October 1870, in the parish of St. Peter, Wolverhampton. Rev. Charles Bodington performed the ceremony, and, interestingly, John’s profession is recorded as carpenter. At some point between early 1869 and late 1870, the couple had found themselves relocated to the Black Country.

A death record exists for ‘John Adcock’ which could well be the same man. It appears that Samuel’s father died when he was about 3 years old. There is no sign of Samuel in the 1881 census and he disappears from view for most of the next decade, until he reappears in prison records in 1889. The charge was begging on 2nd September 1889 in Cheltenham, and he was sent to the County Goal later that month. These events do not seem to bode well for Samuel. At the time of his arrest, he gave his profession as labourer. One year later he decided to join the British army. The enlistment documents record his details and mention that he was living in Gloucester at the time of enlistment.

He joined the South Wales Borderers at Brecon. His attestation record was dated 14th November 1890, and he was living in Gloucester at the time. Further documents mention his medical condition which seemed to be good. He was 5ft 5¾in tall, with brown eyes and a sallow complexion.

On part of a document there is an entry for next of kin. Samuel’s mother is named as Jane George, living at an address near to Cannock. She remarried, understandably,  as she was still a young woman at the time of her husband’s death – perhaps Samuel didn’t settle with his new father, or perhaps he was turfed out at a young age and ended up begging on the streets. We cannot be sure, but such a scenario would perhaps explain how his wayward path through life began.

His statement of service is perhaps the most telling document we have discovered about Samuel’s personality. His Army career was not one to be proud of:

On 11th July 1891 he deserted, and was recaptured and awaiting trial by early the next year. He was convicted on 26th January 1892, meaning that ‘all prior service (was) forfeited by conviction for desertion’.

He was returned to duty as a Private in March. Later that year he struck an NCO, the result of which was 2 year’s imprisonment with hard labour. Samuel spent 1 year and 338 days in the army, and a total of 164 days in military gaols not including his 2 years imprisonment.

He was dismissed from the Army on 10th October 1892. The sentence as previously mentioned was 2 years Imprisonment with hard labour – his release date would be around 10th of October 1894. Soon after this he finds himself in Stafford Asylum, on 22nd October.

Whilst in the asylum, his treatment consisted mainly of work therapy, according to his admission notes. His time in the hospital did not seem to offer him immediate relief, and a note exists of a suicide attempt in October 1904.

Sadly, whatever troubled Samuel could not be salved by the asylum’s treatment, and there is a death notice for Samuel Adcock in 1910 in Stafford – we must assume that he died without ever leaving the asylum again. Life in the army was tough in the late 1800s, and it seems that Samuel’s temperament did not suit it. For someone seemingly on the margins of society at the time of his enlistment, the army still often served as the ‘employer of last resort’. He may have had pre-existing mental health problems before his enlistment, but his army experience may have been the step which consolidated his problems and led to his sad death in 1910.

Harry Bickerton: A First World War Case

By Mike and Sue Bulmer

1915 was the year when the Great War intensified, with the beginnings of an air campaign against Home Front targets, and continued developments on an increasingly static Western Front – the first use of poison gas at the second battle of Ypres, and the stalemate of the battle of Loos.

Although most army psychiatric casualties found themselves in the new ‘War Hospitals’ established at several mental hospitals up and down the country, other cases received treatment in mental hospitals which were still serving the civilian population, such as Cheddleton asylum.

Harry Bickerton was admitted to Cheddleton on 11th August 1915. He was 21, had been born in about 1894 in Wolstanton, was a pauper (paid for by a Poor Law union), single, and had worked as a grocer’s porter. He had no known previous attacks of mental illness, and had been ill on this occasion for at least two months. His notes state that his health was poor, and he had primary dementia, with the contributory causes of dyspepsia, insane neurosis, alcoholic heredity and war worry. The medical notes therefore indicate that Harry was considerably unwell, and from a variety of causes and with various symptoms.

Tracing Harry’s history back to the turn of the century, he appears in the 1901 census as a 7-year-old boy. At the time he lived with his parents and four siblings in Wolstanton. His father Thomas was 38, and worked as a ‘potter’s earth handler’, making handles for ceramic ware. Thomas’s wife Lizzie was 32. James was 16 and did the same job as his father, as did 14-year-old Samuel. Three other children were not yet of working age – William 10, Fanny 9 and Harry 7.

Handle making in the 1930s (Stoke on Trent Museums/staffspasttrack.org.uk)

By 1911 family circumstances had not changed a great deal, but the family were living at a different address, still in the Wolstanton area. Thomas and Samuel are still potter’s handlers, William Bickerton is 20 and an assistant at a boot shop, Fanny is 19 and an apprentice dressmaker, and Harry, 17, a grocer’s porter. James must have set up home on his own, most probably after getting married.

On the census we get more information on Lizzie and Thomas’s marriage. They had been married for 20 years but there are children that predate this marriage. Harry’s father was previously married, and this first wife died at the very young age of 29. Samuel was born very close to her death. Harry thus has step-brothers only 7 and 9 years older, a not uncommon set of circumstances at a time when child mortality and the survival rate of women who have given birth left much to be desired.

In 1914, only a couple of months after the outbreak of WW1, Harry married Minnie Simpson. In the 1911 census, Minnie was living on a street in Wolstanton, with John and Harriet her parents. John was a bricklayer, a heavy and difficult job. Minnie was 13 and working in a tile warehouse. Three years later, Minnie was a 16-year-old bride, and still working in the pottery industry.

The 1911 census also tells part of the story of Minnie’s mother – tragically, she had given birth 17 times and had lost 7 of her children. With four children still at home, Harriet’s remaining six children must have established their own homes or have been living elsewhere.

Happily, for Harry and Minnie, their first child William was born in 1915, between April and June. His birth must have virtually coincided with Harry deciding to join the Army. Harry went ahead with his plans to join up and enlisted on 6th April 1915.

Harry’s attestation forms detail that he is a 23-year-old potter, and had never been in the army or served as a reservist before. His married address is on a street adjacent to Minnie’s parents’ house. Harry was not tall – 5ft 1¾in, with auburn hair and grey eyes. Some of the army documents are hard to read, but a stamp seems to indicate that he was in the Sherwood Foresters.

It seems that Harry’s army career was cut short by his admittance into Cheddleton on 11th August 1915, after 5 months army service. He had general poor health, and as we can see from his medical notes he was in substantial mental distress. He was officially discharged from the army six weeks later on 29th September 1915.

His official discharge information was that he was ‘not likely to become an efficient soldier’. What happened to Harry and Minnie for the rest of the war needs further research, but their second child, Lily, was born in 1919 suggesting that Harry had left Cheddleton hospital sometime in 1918. Sadly Harry died in July 1919, and the registration district of Newcastle suggests that he was not in Cheddleton asylum at the time. This time did coincide with the third wave of Spanish flu to affect Stoke-on-Trent, so we can only speculate that that may have been a contributory factor. Sadly, Minnie died soon after, also at a desperately young age. The family was gone, and William and Lily were left as orphans.

Francis Cunningham, Soldier

By Mike & Sue Bulmer

Francis Cunningham was admitted to Stafford asylum on 2nd April 1895. He was around 35 years old, had been born in 1860, was unmarried and was funded by Stoke on Trent Poor Law union. Francis had been working as a labourer, had been ill for three days and was violent and dangerous when admitted. His notes list him as a Roman Catholic.

On admission Francis, like all patients, was given a medical and psychiatric assessment: ‘delusions, fear and suspicions. Health fair. Tall, thinly nourished, weight 10st. Heart and lungs not satisfactory. Appeared to be suffering from heavy drinking bout. No marks of violence.’ The conclusion was that he was suffering from acute mania, caused by intemperance.

Francis had been a soldier for 9 years and served in India. On first inspection of his asylum records, Francis’s story seems straightforward, but on further inspection his life is more intriguing.

Francis was born of an Irish family, but there appears to be no reference to them in the 1861 census. His sister Mary is mentioned in the 1871 census, and her birth is given as occurring in Staffordshire in 1854. The family must have moved to England before her birth, perhaps driven by the potato blight and the ensuing mass migrations from 1845 onwards.

Francis was baptised at his local Catholic church, St. Gregory’s in Longton, on 1st September 1861. His mother was Anna (given in the Latin baptism record as Hannah) Cunningham nee Corcoran, and his father Francis Cunningham Snr. His godparents were Michael Kelly and Maria Kelly, Irish friends or relatives of the couple.

St. Gregory’s, Longton, c.1910-30 (Potteries Museum & Art Gallery/staffspasttrack.org.uk)

In the 1871 census, Francis lives with his six siblings at Berry Bank in Longton. Francis Snr is working as a labourer,  17 year old Mary is a potter’s paper cutter, Thomas and John, both 13 and so possibly twins, are working in a pottery, as is 11 year old Catherine who is also a paper cutter. The whole of the family of working age, except for their father, are bringing in wages from the local pottery industry, and very likely the same pottery. Francis, Ellen and Patrick are still all of school age.

However, 1871 would prove to be a terrible year for the family, as a tragedy occurred not long after the census. The census day was 2nd April 1871. The death of Francis’s 11-year-old sister Catherine is recorded in the second quarter of the year, so she must have died within weeks of the census.

Another tragedy occurred in 1880 when Francis’ father died at the age of 58, which for the times was not altogether a bad age after a life of manual labour.

By the 1881 census the family are depleted, and living on Berry Lane in Longton, which could be the same house recorded earlier, or very close by. Francis’s mother is now known as Marianne on the census, and is listed as a widow. Francis is now 19 years old and is working as a pottery labourer. With the exception of his youngest sister Ann, and 23-year-old John who is a bricklayer’s labourer, all the children in the house are working at the pottery, as labourers transferrers and burnishers. Six children, aged from 26 down to 6, are still living in the family home.

The family would not all be together for much longer, however, as tragedy struck in late 1883 when Ann (Marianne) Cunningham died. It seems that Mary, being the oldest of the children in the house aged approximately 28 at the time took on the duties of looking after the family. It is perhaps fortunate that they are all working and thus able to remain at the address, as we see later in the 1891 census.

Francis’s slightly elder brother John, who had been working as a bricklayer’s labourer, died in 1888. The 1891 census records that Mary, still unmarried, has attended to her remaining family and has her youngest sister still at home together with a number of boarders. The house in 1891 consisted of 36-year-old Mary, working in the skilled job of pottery transferring, sister Annie, a potter’s scourer, and John Towey, a bricklayer’s labourer.

View of Longton – ‘A Bit Thick for Father Christmas in the Potteries’ – Taken by William Blake, c.1900-1940 (Potteries Museum & Art Gallery/staffspasttrack.org.uk)

Francis had joined the army in 1885, and so is missing from the 1891 household. Joining the army was one of the few options available to a working class man who wanted to escape working in the heavy industry of their home town.

Francis was attested on 23rd May 1885 and joined the 3rd North Staffordshire Regiment. His attestation states that he was 21 years and 8 months old – it appears that he shaved a few years off his age – something that was possible in the days when individuals did not need to have personal documentation. We have managed to trace numerous documents pertaining to Francis’s service with the army. His ‘description on enlistment’ mentions his condition when he enlisted. He weighed 130lb. When he was admitted to the asylum, his weight was 110lb which was a drastic drop.

His military history sheet allows us to track his location and career. It mentions his service in India as per his asylum case notes. Francis spent over 9 years stationed in India. The document also mentions his eldest sister Mary as his next of kin and also her address in Longton. Francis’s medical sheet mentioned that he suffered from a lot of fevers and other ailments, but that might have been a usual occurrence for soldiers when relocated to a tropical climate.

One Quarter Master Sergeant wrote home in 1916 of the effects of the Indian climate, ‘Now the intense heat of the sun is draining the moisture out of the earth with the result that it is like living in the moist fern house at Kew Gardens, only worse, and many men are being bowled over with fever’.[i]

Francis was admitted to Stafford asylum on 2nd Apr 1895, and his notes refer to his 9-year service in India. He had been ill for 3 days: “delusions, fear and suspicions. Health fair. Tall, thinly nourished, weight 10st. Heart and lungs not satisfactory. Appeared to be suffering from heavy drinking bout. No marks of violence.” The diagnosis was acute mania caused by intemperance. He was discharged again on 21st May 1895, and the medical staff were satisfied that he was recovered.

The date of his admission tallies with his military record, having reached home on 16th March 1895. This record, however, states that he was only at home for 5 days. This is a discrepancy which needs further investigation. Some of the dates on this record form appear to be inaccurate however, as his next leave in England is recorded as 21st March to 31st May 1897 – it could be that this is the period which he spent at home in Stafford asylum, but with the wrong year recorded. The length of this time in Britain is also recorded as 2 years and 62 days. It is probable that he was sent home on 21st March 1895, and returned to India on 31st May 1897. These adjusted dates make sense of the asylum records, and of parts of the dates on his military record.

The causes of his illness could well have been a conjunction of habitual hard drinking which was common in the army, as well as fever and illness caused by India’s climate. We cannot be sure, but these explanations would seem to make sense if we put the whole case in its historical context.

The next record we have for Francis is on the 1901 census, at an address in Longton. He was a boarder, and it was 4 years since he was demobbed, fitting with his military record papers. Richard and Annie Baker, a railway porter and a potter’s transferrer in their mid-twenties have taken in two lodgers – Francis, who is working as a bricklayer, and Elizabeth Boylan, a potter’s warehouse woman.

As Francis’s fate appears to have deteriorated, two of his sisters seem to still be together – the last of the nuclear family to be under the same roof, although by 1901 the roof belongs to someone else and they are boarders at another address in Longton.

From here, sadly, it appears that Francis’s condition in life did not improve. In 1911 he was living in a building as one of 24 lodgers – possibly a common lodging house. Three years later in 1914 Francis died.

Francis seems to have had a good start in life in a typical family of the time – but he quickly lost members of his family including his parents, and siblings, some of whom disappear from the record without explanation, and that might have influenced his decision to escape to the Army.

His experiences and health problems in India may have contributed to his mental breakdown, but his recorded history of excessive drinking is likely to have been the immediate cause of his admission to the asylum. Drink was commonplace for many soldiers, and a means of coping with the stresses of military life. It may be that being in the Asylum and the enforced alcohol-free environment may have helped Francis to recover and continue what was left of his Army career. Short stays in the asylum were not uncommon for those with what was termed ‘mania a potu’, which was characterised by violent behaviour and delirium tremens. A sort stay in the asylum ‘drying out’ often led to the relatively quick discharge of such individuals. Francis’s story is not unusual, and serves as a reminder of the extreme harshness of army life in the later nineteenth century, and the mental toll which it must have taken on many soldiers who saw and experienced terrible things, turning to drink for comfort.


[i] Harry Beaumont’s letter home from Rawalpindi, 1916 https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/letters-first-world-war-1916-18/india-bowled-fever/

Selina Giblin Update

One of the cases investigated during the asylums project which has affected us the most was that of Selina Giblin, a young orphan who was sent from the workhouse to Burntwood asylum, soon showed signs of tuberculosis, and who died soon afterwards. We were puzzled and intrigued by some of the details of her case, and wanted to know more about her. Below is the original post from Summer 2019, followed by the new research from our volunteers. Selina’s case is even sadder than we had first thought:

Selina Giblin, by Rebecca Jackson

Selina Giblin’s case is one of the saddest we have come across and the record of her short life leaves us with many questions about her background and family, living conditions, and the care of vulnerable children at the beginning of the 20th century.

The baptism registers for Burton on Trent record that Selina was baptised on 14 November 1894 and her parents were Andrew and Jane Giblin. A further search reveals that Andrew Giblin married Jane Peach at Burton in 1892. The couple had other children: William, born in 1895 and who died aged 1 in 1896; Thomas, born in 1896 who died aged 3 in 1899; and Agnes J. and Thomas, who were born in 1899. Agnes died in 1899 before she was a year old. In 1902 their parents Andrew and Jane died. They were both just 28, and left Selina aged 8 and Thomas aged 3.

Looking at the admission registers for Burton workhouse on the Staffordshire Name Indexes website, we can see that Selina had already been admitted to the workhouse before her parents’ deaths. She was admitted on 13 May 1898 but was discharged on 11 June, only to be readmitted on 23 June the same year. With so many early deaths in the family and given Selina’s later medical notes, it seems likely that TB had spread rapidly though the family. It may be that Selina needed extra care that her parents could not provide, given the trauma of their young children’s deaths and possibly being ill themselves. It would be possible to find out more by looking at the records of Burton Poor Law Union.

Selina was just 9 years old when she arrived at Burntwood Asylum in September 1902 from Burton on Trent workhouse. The case notes state ‘she is an orphan and nothing is known as to her family history or relatives’. From the medical notes it seems that Selina was suffering from muscle spasms and was unable to speak. In December that year tuberculosis was detected and her physical health began to deteriorate. The detached tone of the medical case notes is interrupted briefly when the doctor is moved to say ‘she is a poor little thing’. By May Selina was losing weight rapidly and on 8 July 1903 the doctor recorded ‘Exhaustion having increased from the further spread of the disease this patient gradually sank, and died at 1.55pm in the presence of nurse Matilda Carter’.

Selina’s story leaves several questions unanswered, and our volunteers will be carrying out further research over the next couple of months to try to find out what happened to Selina’s surviving little brother, Thomas.

Selina, from her Burntwood Casebook (Staffordshire Archive Service)

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Selina Giblin update, by Samantha Colclough and Mike Bulmer

Further research by our volunteers Samantha Colclough and Mike Bulmer has resolved some of the mystery of why Selina was away from her parents in the workhouse before their deaths. Sadly, Selina’s story has taken a darker turn.

Further information has come to light about the Giblin family. Andrew Giblin’s father, also Andrew, was born in Ireland around 1841. He married Catherine Coleman in Tamworth in 1866.

His family may have left Ireland due to the disastrous famine that followed many years of potato blight that occurred at this time. Selina’s father Andrew Giblin (Jnr) was born in 1873. In the 1891 census, we find Selina’s father as an 18-year-old lad together with his two brothers, William Giblin 15, and Thomas Giblin, 20 all living in a house in Burton-On-Trent. Andrew Giblin Jnr. married Jane Peach in September 1892 in Burton.

However, this marriage may not be as straightforward as it first seems because before they were married, Jane Peach quite possibly gave birth to a baby girl who was named Fanny Giblin, on the 9th December 1891. The evidence we have is a school admissions document that includes Fanny’s home address and this date of birth. The document is from 1896 and is Fanny’s entry into primary school, giving Fanny’s address as 2 Albert Place, the same as the rest of the young Giblin household. We have yet to pinpoint Fanny’s birth definitively in other sources, but the birth of a ‘Fanny Peach’ was registered in early 1892 in Burton. The evidence seems to suggest that the couple had a nine-month old child when they married.

Interestingly, Andrew and Jane’s first child to be named Thomas, born in 1896 and who died 3 years later (re-using dead children’s names for a sibling born later was a very common practice), was registered as an Anglican.

We have discovered the darker side of Selina’s story in a shocking report from the Derby Mercury on the 18th May 1898.

‘Shocking Cases of Child Neglect’

‘At the Burton Borough Police Court on Friday, Andrew Giblin (24), fitter’s labourer, of Albert Place, Station Street, and Jane his wife, were charged with unlawfully and wilfully ill treating their three children in such a manner as to cause them unnecessary suffering and injury to their health on 10th May. Mr G.A. Capes defended. Sgt. Platt said that on the date named he visited the defendant’s house, and found the three children very poorly clad and dirty, the eldest girl’s hair being in a very shocking condition. She appeared to have been greatly neglected. The second child, aged four, was in a deplorable condition, and picked up and ate in his presence some potato peelings most ravenously. She only weighed 20lbs with her clothes on, whereas the medium weight for a child of four was 41lbs. The youngest, a boy of twenty months, was in a very bad condition, and weighed 15lbs. The bed on which the children slept was covered with filth and vermin, and the stench was simply abominable. Giblin’s average wage was 21s a week. In reply to Mr Capes, a witness said it was not much use making inquiries among the neighbours of the defendants as to how the children had been treated, as there was not much to choose amongst them. Police-constable Duffy gave corroborative evidence, and after a lengthy hearing, during which shocking details were disclosed, the Bench sent both defendants to prison for a month’s hard labour, and ordered the children to be sent to the workhouse’.

Jane and Andrew both died in 1900, rather than 1902 as we first suspected. The notices of burial in the Catholic records state their dates of death and that they were both buried in Burton cemetery: Andrew Giblin, 2 Albert Place, Station Road, died 11 July 1900, buried in Burton-on-Trent Cemetery. Jane Giblin, died 24 Sep 1900, buried Burton-on-Trent Cemetery. It could well be that the children never lived with their parents again after the court case and were inmates of the workhouse for several years. Selina was transferred to the asylum straight from the workhouse, suggesting that the workhouse may have been their permanent home after their neglect.

The eldest girl, who is mentioned in the newspaper report, but who is not named or given an age must be Fanny, as the two other children alive at the time were Selina aged 4 and the first boy to be named Thomas.

Fanny, who at the time of her parents’ death would have been around 8, seems to have escaped from the workhouse at some point, as she was ‘adopted’ by her mother’s brother Richard Peach. Interestingly, their address is in the same street as the old Giblin family home. She is listed in Richard’s house in the 1901 census as ‘adopted daughter’ under the name ‘Fanny Gibling.’

Why did no one adopt Selina after her parents died? She is mentioned in the workhouse returns in the 1901 census as an ‘imbecile’, indicating that she had learning difficulties of some kind. The fact that her asylum admission notes state that ‘nothing is known as to her family history or relatives’, suggests that she remained in the workhouse up until her admission to Burntwood, with no one claiming her or showing any interest in her.

Selina’s uncle Thomas was alive and living in Burton, working as a bricklayer’s labourer. Also living with him and his family was Catherine Giblin who was Selina’s grandmother – a widow after her husband Andrew Giblin Snr. had died just over a year earlier – and also Andrew’s other brother William. Thomas and his wife had one child born at around the same time that Selina’s mother and father died. The fact that Selina had a fairly extensive family still living locally raises several questions about her seeming abandonment. The simplest explanation could well be the most likely – that Selina had learning difficulties, and that caring for such a child was not a prospect which her extended family wanted to entertain. At a time when children with learning disabilities were usually hidden away from wider society, perhaps poor Selina became a victim of these contemporary prejudices. We cannot be sure, but we can say with certainty that Selina’s life was one which was full of neglect, in which she did not feel the love of a family who cared for her. Her case truly is a tragic one, and the further we have researched into her story, the clearer this has become. The trail of young Thomas, her brother born in 1899, sadly remains obscure. We can only hope that he had a better fate than poor Selina.

Lucy Annie Johnston

By Mike and Sue Bulmer

Lucy Annie Johnston (named on admission as Johnson) entered Burntwood Hospital on 6th February 1905. Her notes give her date of birth as 1881. She was 24, single and had been working as a governess.

She had previously been a patient at Essex County Asylum, Brentwood, from September 1904, and also at the workhouse in West Hampshire. She had been ill for about six months (which fits with her admission to Brentwood), was in fair health, and was suffering from mania, but the cause of her illness was unknown.

If we look further at Lucy’s background, there is more to her immediate history than we might think, and her family background may well have played a part in her mental illness. Her father’s history plays a large part in Lucy’s life experiences, possibly helping to unsettle his daughter’s mental state.

Tracing back to their wedding, Lucy’s Mother and Father had their banns read out between Sept 7th  and Sept 21st 1879 in Burton-on-Trent: ‘John Thomas Johnston of this parish and Zillah Fogell of the parish of St. Phillips, Hulme, Manchester.’

Interestingly, Zillah also had her banns read out in her home parish in Manchester at the same time. Zillah is a biblical name, and as some of her siblings also has biblical names, it seems safe to say that she may have had a religious background. Their son John was born in the first year of their marriage, and Zillah and John’s daughter Lucy Annie Johnston was born in 1881.

The 1891 census shows a family of four children – John aged 10, Lucy aged 9, William aged 8, and Albert aged 6. The family live in Patch Street, Burton, and must be relatively affluent as a domestic servant also lives with them – Louisa Smith, aged 17. Lucy’s father is working as a clerk at a brewery, and Patch Street was the location of a brewery built by Marstons in 1834. All of his children were of school age, and so his wage from Marstons brewery and other personal resources must have been sufficient to keep a sizeable family without any other wage coming into the house.

Albion Brewery (c.1887-88), by Alfred Barnard (National Brewery Centre, Burton/staffspasttrack.org.uk)

In 1898, Marstons moved their operation to the newer premises of the Albion brewery on Shobnall Road, previously occupied by a different brewer. In 1901 Lucy and her family were living at Shobnall House in Shobnall Road, Burton, near to John Snr’s new workplace. The houses in the road range from typical terraced houses to some very substantial town houses in which the family were most likely to have lived. John Snr’s position at the brewery seems to have improved in recent times, and he is now listed on the census as a ‘Brewery Corp Secretary’.

Lucy was 19 by this date, and had four brothers. With the exception of brother Leslie who was 4 years old everyone appears to have had good jobs (commercial clerk, apprentice to jeweller) except Lucy, who is not working. Whether she is mentally or physically unfit for work is not known, but we do know that she secures some work before her experiences in hospital.

Barely three years later, in early 1905, Lucy is mentioned in the case notes of Burntwood asylum. The family have been on the move since 1904, as Lucy has been a patient in Essex County Asylum. The notes on Lucy’s admission contain some background information on what had happened between 1901 and 1904: ‘father was Secretary at Marston Brewery but was sent to prison for embezzlement having been dealing on the Stock Exchange. The family left Burton and went to London some 12 months ago. When in Burton they were in a very good position, but now they have come down very low.’

It appears that they may well have moved in haste out of the area after John Snr’s problems with the law. The note mentioning Lucy as a former inmate in the Brentwood workhouse could indicate a huge drop in the family’s finances, and could equally indicate the breakdown of Lucy’s mental health as she may have been admitted to a workhouse psychiatric ward, which were still common at this date. At some point between the census and her Burntwood admission, Lucy must have found work as a governess, as this is given as her occupation on admission. Such a position was typical for a middle class young woman.

A year later, and Lucy’s treatment or recuperation was complete. On 13th February 1906, Lucy was discharged ‘recovered’.

Surprisingly, the 1911 census shows Lucy’s family now living at 101 Green Street, Forest Gate, about five miles from the centre of London. Her father is again working as a brewery clerk, and his rehabilitation seems to be complete. Living at the same address is son Albert, working as a jeweller, and son Leslie, who is at school. In 1911, Lucy is living and working as a nursing assistant at a home for epileptics in Godalming. It appears that she died between the Wars in Burton, returning to her roots towards the end of her life.

Lucy’s father’s probate is recorded in 1925, when he was living in Stratford, London, very close to the family’s 1911 address. His estate was left to his wife Zillah. The estate would be worth approx. £16,000 in today’s money (£272 9s).

We can only assume that the fact that the family was in reduced circumstances was due to the father being sent to prison. These events may have played a part in Lucy’s poor mental health, and perhaps worsened existing problems. Fortunately, Lucy seems to have recovered after her time in Burntwood and to have led a much-improved life in the years to come. Sadly, she died at the relatively young age of 47, still unmarried.

Walter Towner

By Mike and Sue Bulmer

Walter Towner’s story illustrates how a life in the Victorian army was a tough one. Walter was admitted to Stafford asylum on 13th July 1904, and his notes state that he had general paralysis caused by syphilis. He was single, aged 36, Roman Catholic and a labourer.

To understand Walter’s experiences, his father’s early life is of some relevance. Walter’s father Abraham Towner was born in Seaford, Sussex in March or April 1831. Seaford at the time was a very small settlement mid-way between Brighton and Eastbourne. Most of the locally available work would have been agricultural.

At the age of 18, Abraham Towner decided to join the British army. His discharge document mentions that he served in the army from 1850 to 1873, 23 years’ service. Of these years, Abraham served 8½ of them in the ‘East Indies’. Abraham was 42 when he left the army, and was still a Private. His discharge papers show that his behaviour has been ‘very good’. Abraham was academically unqualified, as he didn’t even have a school certificate –  not unusual for the times.

Abraham’s Regiment was the Queen’s 9th Lancers. The regiment was in India at the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny in 1857. The 9th Lancers were the only regiment to be present at the three major actions of the campaign, the Siege of Delhi and the Relief and Siege of Lucknow, and were awarded thirteen Victoria Crosses, justifying the unique honour of a salute of twenty-one guns on their departure from India. But perhaps the greatest tribute paid to the 9th was the title ‘The Delhi Spearmen’, bestowed on them by the mutineers who had reason to fear those terrible horsemen who were described by a comrade in arms as ‘the beau ideal of how all the British Cavalry ought to be in Oriental countries.’ For their services in the Mutiny the 9th Lancers received the honours ‘Delhi 1857’, and ‘Lucknow’, and the 12th Lancers received ‘Central India’. A little later, documents show that Abraham is in Aldershot in 1861, as part of the 9th Lancers, on one of his periods in Britain.


Attack of the Mutineers on the Redan Battery at Lucknow, July 30th, 1857, a steel engraving, ca.1860, Unknown Artist (wikimedia commons CC BY)

It is at this point that Abraham’s life takes a turn which was to significantly alter his future. He was ‘involved’ with a woman before he was married to Walter’s mother. The woman was Elizabeth Short, who had been born in Cornwall in 1841. In Feb 1862, Abraham and Elizabeth’s illegitimate child Amelia Towner was born in Farnham, Surrey, just down the road from Aldershot.

On further investigation, Elizabeth dies at a young age in 1866 in southern Ireland, when Amelia is only four years old. Abraham was thus left with the sole responsibility for Amelia, whilst serving as a Private in the army and based at Aldershot barracks. How Amelia was cared for is not known. Within two years, Abraham found a mother for his daughter. He marries Ellen Geary on 3rd August 1868 in Cahir, Tipperary. The fact the marriage took place in Ireland strongly suggests that Abraham was stationed there at the time. Ellen Geary seems to have been a local girl from the town.

A description of Cahir from 1837 describes the town and the barracks at which Abraham must have stayed:

‘The present town owes its rise to the late Earl of Glengall, and has been enlarged and greatly improved by the present Earl, whose seat is within its limits; it is pleasantly situated by the river Suir, and is well built and of handsome appearance. About a mile distant are extensive cavalry barracks, adapted for 23 officers and 346 non-commissioned officers and privates, with stabling for 292 horses, and an hospital attached; and the staff of the Tipperary militia is also stationed in the town. At Scartana, in the vicinity, races are held annually in September or October, and are generally well attended.’

Abraham and Ellen’s first child Walter was born in Ireland one year later in 1869. It appears that at the time of Walter’s birth Abraham was posted to an Army camp at the Curragh, which is close to Newbridge, approximately 30 miles from Dublin. There were numerous training camps organised on the Curragh throughout the nineteenth century, including for the training of militia to defend the country during the Napoleonic Wars.  The first permanent military structures, however, were built in 1855 by British soldiers preparing for the Crimean War. In 1861, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited to inspect troops, including their son (Edward VII—the then Prince of Wales)—who was serving at the camp.

However, Walters mother seems to have had difficulties in her early marriage and in June 1870 with her son Walter only 1 year old, she appeared in many newspapers throughout the country after abusing her step-daughter Amelia; 

Ellen Towner, the wife of a private in the 9th Lancers, stationed in the Hounslow barracks, was charged before the Brentford magistrates on Saturday with ill-treating her step-daughter, a girl nine years of age. The girl stated that her stepmother beat her about the face and back with a brush, and then forced her head into a tin can; her nose and mouth, she said, bled very much. Some of the officers of the regiment said the child was well-behaved, and that her stepmother often beat her. The chairman of the bench said they were, generally speaking, reluctant to send mothers to gaol; but the prisoner’s cruelty merited a severe punishment. Our industrial schools were half filled with children through the bad conduct of stepmothers. The prisoner was sentenced to two month’s hard labour.

A year later, in the 1871 census, Walter and his mother and sibling, who was 6 months old, have moved to Aldershot. Younger son Christopher is mentioned as being born in Aldershot. Abraham is mentioned on another census in Aldershot, which lists those resident in barracks, ‘9th Queens Royal Regiment of Lancers and Depot 5A, Farnham, Surrey.’

Amelia is not mentioned in the 1871 census, suggesting that she was perhaps living with other relatives, or simply moved out of the home for her own safety. More research is required to clarify her journey through these years, but later census returns show that she did live a full life and in 1891 appears on the census as a domestic servant. Whether Abraham had much contact with her is not known, and whether Walter and his siblings knew of her existence is another mystery.

Abraham’s success in the army was recognised in 1872, the year before he retired. The Aldershot Military Gazette of 16th March 1872 carried this report;

Cavalry Brigade Field Day – Yesterday morning (Friday) this brigade was formed in line of quarter columns, in the Long Valley, facing east, and consisted of the 2nd Dragoon Guards, commanded by Major H.H. Steward, the 7th Hussars, under Colonel Hale, and the 9th Lancers, under Major H. Marshall. On the arrival of Major-General Sir T.W. McMahon, Bart., C.B., who was attended by Captain J.W. Hozier (Brigade Major) and Captain J.C. Russell, aide-de-camp. Private Abraham Towner of A Troop, 9th Lancers, was called to the front, and presented with a medal for long service and meritorious conduct. General McMahon in making the presentation expressed himself highly pleased with the duty he had to perform, stating that it was the first medal he had the honour of presenting during his command of the brigade, and after addressing the recipient at some length, concluded by wishing him long life to wear his well earned honour. Towner is also in possession of the Indian Mutiny Medal, with three clasps. The troops then marched past by squadrons at a walk, and by fours, and squadrons at a trot. At the conclusion of the march past, a variety of field movements were performed in a brilliant and faultless manner. Space will not permit of our giving a full report of the movements of the brigade. The troops returned to quarters at one o’clock.

In the 1881 census, Walter’s family are in Wolverhampton, a move which occurs by 1874, as four children are born there after this date. Walter now has a younger sister Rose, whose birthplace is reported as York, which suggests that Walter’s father was posted to an army camp nearby after March 1872, one year before Abraham left the army after 23 years’ service. Between Rose’s birth and the birth of their son Amos in 1874, the couple relocate to Wolverhampton.

Abraham and Ellen now had a sizeable family – Walter, George, Rose, Amos, Frank, Mary and Joseph. They were aged between 13 and one year old. Sadly, Christopher was not mentioned, which suggests his early death.

Walter was now, as the eldest child, 13 years old. Abraham’s occupation in 1881 was listed as carter – which as it suggests involved transporting goods on a cart with a horse. It would seem that Abraham’s previous experience with horses in the army provided him with the skills to be successful in this occupation. The job was quite arduous with much loading and unloading, often with long hours as the horses had to be looked after and attended to both before and after shifts. Nearly all goods had to be moved by carts.

A further item of interest in the 1880s is the baptism of Walter’s father into the Roman Catholic faith, in April 1889. The baptismal document mentions that the baptism is sub conditional, which the priest would add to the document if it was unknown if a previous baptism had taken place or was valid. The reason behind this sudden interest in Catholicism is unknown. His wife, however, was most likely a Catholic, and the children, judging by Walter’s asylum admission, were also raised as Catholics.

So far, we have not been able to trace the family in the 1891 census. Sadly, however, we know that that decade was to prove unlucky for them. Walter’s father died in 1896 in Wolverhampton, aged 65. At the time of Abraham’s death, most of Walters siblings were adults, and Walter was 27 years old.

Sadly, only two years later two of Walter’s siblings died within perhaps a month of each other. We can only speculate as to the cause, but the kind of conditions which a relatively poor family endured may well have been a contributory cause to epidemic disease. Mary Ann, aged 19, died in the spring of 1898, and Frank, 22, died in the summer. Walter’s youngest brother Joseph decided to join the army a few months after his siblings’ deaths. Joseph, at the age of 18, joined the South Staffordshire Regiment. The deaths in his family may have played a part in this, but we cannot be sure. He had been working as a groom and was not married when he joined up.


Mounted British troops and wagons of Sir Redvers Buller’s relief column advance on Ladysmith in February 1900. Unknown photographer, from Imperial War Museums Collection (wikimedia commons CC BY)

The following year Walter also joined the army, in the same regiment as his brother. Walter was 31, a relatively late age at which to make this decision.

A document which details his army career, which didn’t seem to be very long in duration, mentions his service in South Africa. He was in South Africa between March 1900 and May 1901. A ‘Statement of Services’ also seems to indicate that Walter did not take to military discipline, as he was imprisoned for 84 days, remitted to 42 days, for insubordination: ‘insubordinate language to his superior officer.’

In the 1901 census, Walter’s mother, now aged 57, was living at an address in Wolverhampton, seemingly supported by her daughter Rosa who was 25 and working as a domestic servant. Her son Samuel was aged 26 and working as a coal carter, following in his father’s footsteps. Her son William was working at a tram stables, perhaps attending to horses. It was around this time that Walter left the army and presumably began the period of his life which led to the asylum door.

What led to Walter’s mental health problems can possibly be traced to his army days. Every garrison town had its population of female sex workers, known at the time as camp-followers. A Royal Commission on the Health of the Army in 1857 began the panic about the sexual health of soldiers. A large pool of venereal disease was found to be circulating in garrison towns. In a report from the Select Committee on the Contagious Diseases Act, the committee members stated that there had been an outbreak of syphilis at the Aldershot military camp, frequented by many prostitutes. Unfortunately, the Contagious Diseases Act put the blame solely on the sex workers, and enabled the police and other authorities to hold any woman suspected of being a prostitute in order to carry out degrading and often painful medical checks for signs of VD.

It could well be that Walter became infected with syphilis after his enlistment in 1899, unless he was already infected, which was possible if he was sexually active in his twenties. Another possibility is that he contracted it in the womb – his father was a sexually active soldier in Aldershot, and could have passed it his wife if infected. Whenever Walter became infected, the effects were serious enough for him to end up in Stafford asylum with the secondary symptoms of the disease.

He was admitted on 13th July 1904, and by the time of his admission his symptoms included general paralysis, which meant that the disease was at an advanced stage. The onset of symptoms was frequently sudden and dramatic, caused by degeneration in the frontal and temporal lobar cortex of the brain, that usually appeared from 10 to 30 years after a primary infection of syphilis. The slow speed of progress of the disease in most cases suggests that Walter was infected before his army days, but we cannot be sure. Perhaps his lack of discipline in the army could have been down to the mood swings caused by his syphilitic status? It is impossible to diagnose a patient retrospectively, and so such details can only be speculation.

It appears that, as a whole, the army provided the Towner family with an income over many years, but that army service also brought several woes, and that Walter’s decline and death could possibly be linked to it. We cannot be sure, but as with many other families, army life could create conditions which were rough, dangerous and difficult.

Walter died on 15th Feb 1905, and was buried in Merridale cemetery in Wolverhampton. He never left the asylum again after his admission.

John Hodgetts

By Mike and Sue Bulmer

John Hodgetts was admitted to Burntwood asylum on 12th November 1896. He was 29, a soldier – a Royal Artillery Gunner, and had previously been a patient at Stafford asylum. He’d been ill for 7 years, was in poor health and condition, and was suffering from dementia. The cause of his illness was unknown.

Going back into John’s history, he came from a family who were all born in Rowley Regis, near Dudley. The town was surrounded by coal mines, both productive and disused, alongside iron works and quarries – a very industrial landscape which provided jobs for the local people.

John first appeared on the 1871 census. His parents Benjamin and Maria were 36 and 37 and had a sizeable family. William, Sarah, Phoebe, George, John, Benjamin and Esther. John was 5, and the age range of the children was 16 down to under a year old.

The family was large, but during this period the larger the family, the greater the ‘family wage’ which could be pooled at the end of the working week. This was certainly the case for the Hodgetts family – and in an area where poor wages in small industries was the norm, the more hands working the better. Benjamin Snr. worked as a nailer, as did John’s siblings William (16), Sarah (14) and Phoebe (11). The nailing industry was notorious for bad pay and poor conditions – the Hodgetts family had to pull together to make ends meet. It was from such a background and fate that young John may well have sought a way out.

“From morn till night, from early light, we toil for little pay,” was the first line of a well-known nail-making song. It was a line that summed up conditions in a trade where poverty was a way of life. Nail making became a competitive industry, with many family workshops in operation, and for decades the Black Country lived to the sounds of the metal industry.

But the profits made from nail making hid an exploitation of workers that had never been so severe before. As the nail-masters rejoiced in their enormous wealth, workers toiled for hours in hot, cramped conditions. A nail shop was usually tiny, probably ten or twelve feet square, with a central hearth for all family members to work around. As many as six worked around one fire. Nailers rented or owned their own shops, or an individual could rent a ‘standing’ from a fellow nailer, paying for the privilege of using their fire. A nailer needed bellows, anvil, sharpening tools and other small implements.

The Midland Mining Commission report of 1843 includes this description:  ‘The best forges are little brick shops of about 15 feet by 12 feet in which seven or eight individuals constantly work together with no ventilation except the door and two slits, a loop-hole in the wall. The majority of these workplaces are very much smaller and filthy dirty and on looking in upon one of them when the fire is not lighted presents the appearance of a dilapidated coal-hole. In the dirty den there are commonly at work, a man and his wife and daughter, with a boy or girl hired by the year. Sometimes the wife carries on the forge with the aid of the children. The filthiness of the ground, the half-ragged, half-naked, unwashed persons at work, and the hot smoke, ashes, water and clouds of dust are really dreadful.’

On top of these dreadful physical conditions, nailing families were squeezed by the men known as ‘Foggers’. The “Fogger” was a type of middleman brought about by the great amount of surplus labour in the trade in the 19th century. The Fogger preyed upon the poverty of the nailers, supplying them with iron on credit, much as the nail master did, but buying the nails back at well below list prices. It would seem, from pretty much every angle, that the nail maker’s life was not a happy one.

Ten years later in 1881, eldest son William had left the family home. Benjamin Snr, John’s father, was still working as a nail maker together with John’s two sisters Sarah and Phoebe. John’s older brother George was working at a quarry, and John was also working there in his first job as a quarry labourer. The younger siblings were all at school. They lived on the main road through the town at this time.

On 4th January 1887, John’s life took a new turn, when he enlisted in the army at the age of 20. As was the case for many young men, this course of action was a ticket out of heavy industrial areas like the Black Country. It was an extreme course to take, but it was a path towards decent food, regular pay and the prospect of travel and experiences abroad, which would otherwise be completely impossible for working class boys.

His enlistment papers also show that he had been a member of the 3rd Battalion Shropshire Militia, and was working as a labourer when he enlisted. He must have tried to enlist in the regulars before, as the question asking whether a candidate had previously been rejected for military service contains the response – ‘yes – under chest measurement’. It appears that John was probably of small stature, most probably because of undernourishment as a child.        

Quite a few army documents still exist concerning John. His ‘Military History Sheet’ shows that he was at ‘home’ between 4th January 1887 and 8th October 1889 (2 years 278 days) – in other words, in Britain rather than deployed abroad. He was still single when he left the army, and his character was described as ‘good’. 8th October 1889 was the day of his official discharge, at Netley, the army’s largest hospital, which contained the armed forces’ own asylum. His intended place of residence on discharge was ‘the County Lunatic Asylum, Stafford’. He was discharged as medically unfit, suffering from melancholia. It appears that John had been in the psychiatric unit at Netley for some time before his discharge.

When discharged, John had been in the army for just over 2½ years. Another document shows that he had travelled with the army the length and breadth of Britain – in 1887 he was stationed in Carlisle in January, Galway in February, Castlebar in May, Guernsey and Weymouth in the October, and Portsmouth in April 1888.

Netley Hospital, 1859 (Wellcome collection, CC BY 4.0)

However, it also shows that his term of service had been dogged by ill health. He was admitted to hospital on 10th October 1888 with gonorrhoea, severe enough to keep him hospitalised for a month. Two weeks in March 1889 saw him back in hospital, with what looks, from the doctor’s notation, like primary syphilis. From June to July 1889, he was in hospital again, this time suffering from ‘melancholia’: ‘cause unknown, has delusions and has lost his memory and power of thought. Is low spirited, sleep very broken. Tonics and stimulants. Transferred to Netley’. So, on 11th July 1889 he arrived at the asylum at Netley, suffering from melancholia, and stayed there until his discharge in October, to the care of Stafford asylum.

Exactly what caused his illness is impossible to diagnose with any certainty, but it appears from his medical record that he may have contracted syphilis, and this could have played a part in his decline. His prospects, if discharged from the army, would also be poor, and the prospect of returning to a life of poverty-stricken nail making would not have been an enticing one.

To be diagnosed with melancholic depression, a person must present at least one of these symptoms:

  1. Loss of enjoyment from all (or nearly all) activities.
  2. Lack of positive response to objectively pleasurable events.

And at least three of the following:

  1. Despair that is not linked to loss or grief.
  2. Loss of appetite or significant weight loss.
  3. Psychomotor changes: Either physical restlessness or slowed movement.
  4. Diurnal mood variation: Low mood that is worse in the morning.
  5. Waking at least two hours earlier than normal.
  6. Excessive guilt.

Overall, melancholia can impact a person’s relationships, occupation, and health. In severe cases, it may prompt an individual to attempt suicide. Melancholia tends to cause longer periods of suicidal thinking than other types of depression. 

Corridor at Netley Hospital, c.1910 (wikimedia commons/from Wellcome collection CC BY 4.0)

The hospital which John was first sent to, the Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley, was a vast military hospital, and many of the men from the armed forces who we have traced, who were later admitted to Staffordshire’s asylums, passed through this hospital. The hospital was as big as a town, with its own gasworks, bakery, reservoir and even prison. Netley also boasted the first purpose-built military asylum, known as D Block. Here men suffering extreme psychosis were treated, or in many cases simply locked away in padded cells.

The hospital was built at the suggestion of Queen Victoria in 1856, who on hearing of the work done by Florence Nightingale to improve both the conditions and outcomes for soldiers in the Crimean War decided to instigate the building of a military hospital. The Queen had made a personal visit to Fort Pitt in Kent, which was the primary care hospital for the wounded soldiers who made it home, and was shocked at the conditions she saw. She resolved to give her support and encouragement to the development of a new hospital and in January 1856, the site on Southampton Water was purchased, not that far from the Queen’s own home Osborne House, across the water in East Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

John passed through the asylum at Netley during 1889, before being discharged and sent to Stafford in the October of that year. When admitted to Burntwood asylum in 1896, his abode was given as Stafford asylum, which suggests that he had been a patient there from October 1889 to November 1896. Admission notes also give the length of illness as 7 years, which also suggest that he had not made a recovery at any point between 1889-96. Whether he was permanently resident in Stafford asylum for 7 years, with no time outside the hospital is unclear, but his medical record suggests that he was sufficiently ill to have been hospitalised for a full 7 years.

John’s death record on 17th May 1899 does not mention if death occurred in Burntwood asylum although this seems to be the likely outcome. John Hodgetts grew up in poverty, with a hard life in quarry labouring or a poorly paid cottage industry ahead of him. His escape to the army was, sadly, short-lived, and like many of the military cases we have investigated, he was either affected by the hard-living lifestyle of soldiering, or became a victim of the harsh conditions he encountered. The army often looked like a passport from poverty, but the reality was often very different.

Emily Frances Bishop Furse

By Mike and Sue Bulmer

Emily Frances Bishop Furse was admitted to Stafford asylum on 12th Nov 1893. She was 30, single, a governess, Roman Catholic and her asylum stay was paid for by Market Drayton union. We know that she was born in Malta.

Her illness had lasted 6 days, and her notes state that she was violent or dangerous: ‘sullen, stubborn, refused to speak, or answer questions for several days; requires to be fed; indifferent to surroundings; delusions relating to the devil.’

‘Health good; cardiac murmur; no proper examination possible as patient resisted everything done for her and kept her eyelids shut.’

Diagnosis – hysterical mania, ‘some days after admission, patient became conversational, giving an account of her illness which appeared, from the report, “to be perfectly correct”. She said she fancied the Devil was in the house, and she had to turn him out “by doing certain peculiar things.”

During her asylum stay, the main treatment offered to her was a diet regime (consisting of what we’re not sure). She was later discharged on 18th December 1893, and her notes say that she was recovered.

At first sight Emily appears similar to many of the women who entered the asylum with some form of mania. However, her background was far more privileged than the majority of patients. Tracing her parents and origins sheds more light on her later story.

In the 1871 census, Emily was 8 years old and living with her father, Paul George Frederick Furse, and mother Marie Matilda Furse. Her sister Alice A. Furse was aged 4. They lived in the very exclusive area of Belgravia. Some of the details in the census, however, give us further leads concerning the family’s origins and activities.

Emily’s father was a Major in the Commissary Army and had been born in Venice. Emily’s Mother was born in Trinidad, and both Emily and her sister Alice were born in Malta. Frederick and Marie were married in 1861, and the records of their marriage give more clues about how the couple came together. At the time, Emily’s father worked as a Deputy Assistant Commissary General. Emily’s mother’s name was omitted from the documents, but her mother’s father’s occupation was listed as Commissary General, along with the fact that he had died in Rome.

It appears that when Paul Furse married Marie in 1861, he was working abroad for the British government. In the British Army, the Commissariat was a uniformed civilian service until 1869, after which date its officers transferred to the new Control Department as commissioned army officers. The supply organisation of the British Army went through a number of incarnations, including the Commissariat and Transport Department, and Staff and Corps, before becoming the Army Service Corps in 1888.

The transfer of Emily’s father into the regular army under the guise of the Army Service Corps is confirmed by an army record we have for his service following the transfer. Emily’s father is also mentioned in an edition of Thom’s Irish Almanac & Official Directory, detailing the Government representatives in Britain, Ireland and across the world. He attained the rank of Major, and was stationed in Natal, South Africa. As a senior officer, it is likely that his family would have been with him.

Emily’s father was stationed in Natal from March 1871, so their inclusion in the 2 April 1871 census is puzzling. In 1879, Emily’s father was still stationed in Natal, meaning that Emily was probably also living in South Africa at the time. This may explain why Emily is not included on the 1881 census.

A document showing Paul’s army service following his transfer details pension payments, but also sadly mentions that he died on 18th March 1888. His widow Marie is mentioned, presumably because she continued to receive an army pension.

There is no record of the family on the 1891 census. This is most probably because they were living in France. Paul’s probate in 1888 was recorded in France with his effects going to his wife Marie. His address was in the town of Dinan, and the recorded sum of £440 is equal to £58,000 in the year 2020.

In the autumn of 1893, Emily was sent to Stafford asylum, and was chargeable to Market Drayton Poor Law union. Exactly what she was doing in Shropshire is hard to confirm, but it is likely that she had begun her career as a governess, as mentioned in her medical notes, and that her latest position was in the Market Drayton area. By 1901, she was back in London working as a governess for the wealthy Pigott family in Stanhope Gardens, Kensington. The census records her as Emilie E. Furse. This is the last definitive record we have of Emily.

According to recent sales, many of the houses in the Stanhope Gardens area now sell for sums of money in excess of £20 million pounds. It is not far from where she was recorded on the 1871 census, so Emily may well have been used to the surroundings in which she found herself, although the family she worked for would be in an even higher social class to her own rather privileged family. Despite her seemingly comfortable childhood, the death of her father may well have led to a downturn in family circumstances, and thus the need to work as a teacher of upper-class children. Emily was one of seven members of staff.

Marian Hubbard, Governess, and the Graham Bell children (1885) (wikimedia commons CC BY)

The household consisted of Agnes Pigott, 45, a widow, and her son John, an 18-year-old undergraduate at Oxford, and Cecily and Dorothy, 12 and 11. All the family members were born in Somerset, suggesting that the family may have relocated after Agnes was widowed, or that the family had two homes in the south of England.

The servants – George Goddard, a 31 year old widower acted as Butler, Catherine Philton, 29, was a housemaid and domestic, Annie Wickman a 19 year old ‘between maid’(junior maid) and domestic, Mary Miles a 29 year old cook and domestic, James Miles the cook’s 1 year old son, born in Kensington (probably in the Pigott house), Emily as Governess and Louise Daumerie, lady’s maid and domestic, a 26 year old Frenchwoman from Calais.

This was 8 years after Emily’s stay in Stafford Asylum, and whether her employers had any knowledge of her past medical history is impossible to say. Emily’s age seems to be, not unusually, in flux in some later documents. She was born around 1863, and so seems to have reduced her age by 7 years. This could be connected with efforts to gain employment, but we cannot be sure.

The French connection in Emily’s family continued with the death of her mother in France on October 7th, 1913 aged 70. She was living in the same town as when her husband died in 1888, but at a different address. She left her estate to her daughter – Emily’s younger sister Alice Agnes, whose full name is revealed in the documents as Alice Agnes Angelica Pia Furse. Her effects came to the total of £392 8s 8d (£45,572 in today’s money).

It is not possible to trace Emily after her employment in Kensington. It could be that she returned to France. Her absence from her mother’s will in 1913 could mean that she had become estranged from the family, or that she had died between 1901 and 1911. She cannot be found on the 1911 census, which suggests that she was either abroad or had died.

There is a reference in a 1939 document to an ‘Alice. A .Furse’, a retired hospital nurse of the right age living at an address in Eastbourne. This Alice could well be Emily’s sister, although we lack corroborative evidence. Where Emily went and what happened to her remains a mystery, for now. The story of the two sisters illustrates how, regardless of background and privilege, the asylum was a place which could be a destination for anybody. The fact that Emily was sent to a public asylum demonstrates both the power of employers over their households, and also that she probably lacked the funds to be treated privately, despite her background. Being a governess was a classic employment choice for well educated women of the period who had fallen on harder times. Although her mother seems to still be financially well off throughout this period, Emily’s illness was dealt with by the Poor Law union, as was the case with most people who needed the help of an asylum admission.

Orlando Henry Bridgeman: Part One

By June Ellis

June Ellis has done extensive research in Stafford Record Office’s Bradford Collection of the Lords Bradford of Weston Hall. Presented here are extended extracts from June’s work, telling the tale of Orlando Bridgeman’s military career and mental illness, told largely through the family letters found in the collection.

The Honourable Orlando Henry Bridgeman; born 6th May 1794, married Lady Selina Needham 5th July 1817, died 28th August 1827.

Son of Orlando Bridgeman, 1st Earl of Bradford and Lucy Elizabeth Bridgeman. Husband of Lady Selina Bridgeman (Needham). Father of Francis Orlando Henry Bridgeman and Selina Bridgeman. Brother of George Augustus Frederick Henry Bridgeman, 2nd Earl of Bradford.

He was a soldier – Captain in the 1st Foot Guards, and fought at Waterloo. Lieutenant and Captain in the Grenadier Guards.

In the 1820s, after a considerable career in the army, Orlando began to experience signs of mental illness. The letters exchanged between family members help to tell the story.

His experiences in the army began at a young age, although it was routine for young men to become soldiers in their mid-teens at the time.

He sailed from Portsmouth on the 15th of May 1812 at the age of eighteen to Cadiz, eventually meeting up with his brother Charles, who at that time was blockaded in Cadiz harbour on board the ‘Revenge’. He was soon regularly stationed at a lookout point at Isla de Leon, a spit of land between Cadiz and the Iberian peninsular, in charge of guard duty etc.

By the end of August 1813, from their base at Oiartzun, they were deployed in the battle of San Sebastian.

He wrote a letter to his mother, which included this passage:

Just as they got to the breach and were mounting it, I received a wound on my left knee, and as I was falling: a large stone I believe it was, struck me on the back, and I recollect no more till I found myself at the bottom of the breach supported by two men; at that time I did not feel my knee, but only my back, and I thought I had been wounded there, for I could scarcely draw my breath. I however, managed to get to the Hospital, but was obliged to rest several times in the trenches, where the scenes I witnessed, as well as those after I arrived at the Hospital, were more horrible than anything I had conceived. As soon as I arrived at the Hospital, I found that the pain in my back was only occasioned by a severe blow, and I cannot conceive it to have been from anything but a stone, for they were flying about almost as fast as the shot.

I got the returns of our loss yesterday but I am not at all sure if it is correct; the numbers I got are 2,311 killed and wounded, killed 718 – missing 30 – Officers killed 48. Number of Officers wounded not known – mind, I give you this return as I got it, and do not vouch for its’ being correct.

By June 1815, Orlando was in Brussels, awaiting the beginning of the Battle of Waterloo.

In a letter home he detailed his involvement:

On Sunday the 18th we were all on our horses at twenty minutes before three in the morning, and everything was quiet; we rode all round the position, and returned to eat something about ten, we then went out again about half past eleven. The enemy showed some columns of Cavalry and Infantry upon which our guns opened. From that time the action increased till two when it was at its height, and it lasted till half past nine at night; no troops could fight more desperately or with greater courage than the French – as for our troops it is impossible to say enough for them, they were determined not to give way and nothing but that: and the general exertions of the Duke of Wellington, who himself saved the day several times, and the rest of the Officers under him, could have procured us the victory we gained.

Denis Dighton, The Battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815 (wikimedia commons CC BY)

Orlando was injured, but escaped the battle. Other letters from 1815 and 1816 about his potential marriage, and also his worries following an operation, and a condition which was likely to return. We cannot know the details of this, but it does show that illness of some kind was with him in these years.

At the end of a letter dated 21st June 1816, ‘Tuesday last was the anniversary of the tremendous battle of Waterloo; it brought back many serious thoughts and reflections to my mind.’

Orlando and Selina married, and by 1825 Selina had had four pregnancies, and two children who survived. Their son Orlando died in Dublin in 1821, which greatly affected the couple.

Orlando wrote to his mother, ‘Oh, my beloved Mother! How can I find words to express to you what must be told; our such little babe is no more, it has pleased God to take him from us, and we must say “God’s will be done;” but I will endeavour to tell you everything.’

He signed off after a moving and detailed letter, ‘Writing this has done me good, it has enabled me to shed tears: which release a heavy oppression from my mind and do me good.’

Orlando was still in the army at this point, serving in Ireland. The death of their child, on top of a previous miscarriage, affected his wife badly, as he details in his letters.

At this point, Lord Bradford, Orlando’s father was seriously ill, and his mother was trying her best to relieve his condition with medical attention. Orlando was in Ireland, and so his deteriorating mental condition was conveyed to her by letter. The family were plunged into very difficult times.

The details above come from the last surviving letter written by Orlando Bridgeman. All the following letters which survive, between this point and his death, detailing his illness from 1824 onwards, were written by others. Part Two follows

Orlando Henry Bridgeman: Part Two

By June Ellis

By 1824, Orlando Bridgeman had been through several traumatic years. He had fought in the Napoleonic Wars and at Waterloo, been injured, and also suffered from ‘an illness’ which we cannot be sure of. He and his wife had also lost two of their four children. Letters from 1824 onwards show us how Orlando’s mental health began to break down.

Letter written at Castle Bromwich Hall, July 28th 1824, from George, Lord Newport, Orlando’s older brother, to their mother.

My dearest Mother,

After the much more favourable account Georgina (his wife) wrote you on Monday of poor Orlando, you will be disappointed and distressed by the very melancholy one it is my most painful duty to write you tonight. Alas! he returned here from Leamington at about 3 o’clock completely out of his mind, and I can scarcely say he has had one lucid interval since. He first joined Georgina in the garden and shocked her much. She brought him to me, and after he had eaten some cold beef in the most extraordinary manner, he went with me to the Drawing room. I soon after persuaded him to go upstairs to his room. He had (as you know) seen Dr. Johnstone in Birmingham with me last Friday, who ordered him some pills and some mixture: the former to be taken two each night to keep his bowels open, the other two tablespoons 3 or 4 times a day to quiet his nerves. Well: on getting him to his room yesterday, I perceived the latter had not been touched, and I found him out by some guess, which he took from me willingly…I then left him and rode to Bagot’s to consult him how to act, and he kindly returned with me to dinner.

While I was away it seems from Orlando’s confusion that he had swallowed up the bottle of mixture and 2 of the pills; before dinner was over he suddenly left the room complaining of pain. I followed him to the Drawing room – he there complained of faintness, but did not faint. He then went to the water closet, where he remained that long that I went to look for him; nothing particular however was amiss. He then was returning to the Dining room when he suddenly became violently sick and brought up such quantities in the Hall (with a great deal of bile) as I ever saw. Bagot then advised my sending off immediately to Birmingham for Dr. Johnstone, which I did. We got him upstairs to bed, but not without him exposing himself much and indelicately. I helped him to everything, but he wandered sadly; was dissatisfied with his bed and everything, and his mind quite gone – however, being exhausted, he dropped asleep almost instantly I believe (though I had come away) and slept soundly till 6 or 7 in the morning.

This morning, soon after 7, Orlando had a little tea and bread and butter; he told someone he was much better, but on my going to his room at 8, I found him quite out of his mind. He was making some incoherent objection to his bed, (though he had slept in it all night without waking:) he had pulled every article of his bedding about his floor, and was most wildly twisting one of the sheets in his hands. He had nothing on but a cotton bed-gown, without shirt or stockings…From 7 o’clock till near 1 he remained in the naked state I have described above, with only his bed-gown and his windows open all that time; he had not so much begun to wash himself, and yet when I pressed him to dress he was angry, and declared he was doing so as quick as he could, and that he had not been idle a moment, but when I caused him to be so by several times going to his room – at last he began in earnest; washed and shaved himself, and was quite dressed soon after 2. I confess I was in fear and trembling while he was shaving, but seeing how much he wished to be left alone, I left him so the whole hour for fear of greater irritation. I had in vain endeavoured to persuade him to quit shaving, as he shaved late only yesterday.

Castle Bromwich Hall, c.1809 (wikimedia commons CC BY 4.0)

Just as Orlando was near dressed, Mr. Johnstone came again, and I went to the former to beg he would remain in his room till he saw Dr. Johnstone, which he promised to do. I went down to Dr. Johnstone who was talking to the ladies, and had only brought him as far as the Drawing room when Cattell came up to say Orlando was just gone out, and in the North garden. I went with Dr. Johnstone to him, and then left them; they sat and walked together a long time and Orlando was at first very open and communicative with him, but afterwards quite altered, and denied what he had first said. I am sorry to say that the Doctor’s opinion of him today was very unfavourable, and he fears we shall very soon find it necessary to call in the assistance of somebody used to the care of lunatics to manage him. He desires to take him off meat, though occasionally a little bit of chicken, and only one glass of wine a day diluted with water; this he has adhered to today, but with incessant grumbling at its being cruel and not necessary; in short, he has unfortunately taken a great dislike to the Doctor. The violent sickness of last night was entirely on his taking so improperly and wildly the pills and large quantities of the mixture. However, Dr. Johnstone thinks was very fortunate, though he should not like it repeated. He wished for him to be cupped, and that was done this evening, which he bore quietly. We had great difficulty getting him to go to bed since he was angry with us about it, but the Dr. thought it very necessary we should manage to get him to bed, and though he would not go to it while I was in the room, his servant has since seen him in it.

Poor Georgina (George’s wife), who is weak and nervous, is of course suffering from all these agitating circumstances; she has however kept in her bedroom: pretending illness to Orlando with whom I dined downstairs. He is dissatisfied with everything, and I find the anxiety and responsibility in which I am placed almost too much for me. My wife has written to poor Selina (Orlando’s wife) today, and told her the true states of the case, for we thought it best on the whole, and indeed quite necessary to do so. Oh! This is a sad trial for her and alas! how sad for himself, poor fellow. Dr. Johnstone says it is very desirable if possible that Orlando and Selina should not meet or be together while he is in this state; he says nothing would have a worse effect on him, yet here on my poor wife’s account, he cannot remain for ever; and unless he soon gets better there will be no alternative but his being put under care somewhere by himself. The Doctor suggests his going to some cottage near a medical man of that line, with a servant of his own and a person placed about him by that medical man, and who must be supported by him to be another servant; and also some friend or confidential person to see that he was well and kindly treated. This is supposing him to get yet worse than he yet is; but as Dr. Johnstone fears it must come to this, it is necessary to consider over the plan as more than a possibility.

Part Three to follow

Orlando Henry Bridgeman: Part Three

By June Ellis

After the initial shock of Orlando Bridgeman’s descent into a manic state, the various family members slowly adjusted to the stress of the new reality.

His brother George’s wife Georgina was a first hand witness of Orlando’s condition, and she wrote on 28th July 1824, ‘His (Orlando’s) is a real and positive derangement of mind shewing itself sometimes in nervous lowness, at others in acts of real madness, and to expect influence from Selina is out of the question since he considers her of all others the person whom he is most at liberty to bully and vent his anger on if contradicted by her. For the last two days I kept my room, for as I could do him no good poor fellow: I think from the nervousness it occasions me.’

Orlando’s wife Selina wrote to her mother in law in July, intimating in her letter that this was not the first time that Orlando had become manic, ‘Since my arrival (at Castle Bromwich Hall) I have been fortunate as to see Cattel (George’s valet) and to hear a better account of my poor Orlando, and I fancy he has not been more unstable than I have often seen him, though God knows that is having been very wretchedly so; and to them who have not been seasoned to it as I have, could be very alarming, but thank God, the eyes of his family are at length opened to the state of his mind, and proper and vigorous measures will now be pursued…’.

The summer of 1824, then, was not the beginnings of Orlando’s mental health problems. Exactly when they started is unclear. Could his mystery illness from the later 1810s be connected? As 1824 wore on, his condition continued to be monitored closely. Contemporary remedies were tried out on him, which could have had no real effect, although his sister in law Georgina thought they did in a letter from 1 Aug 1824: ‘He has been very much better these last two or three days, ever since the cuppings and lowering system was adopted; so much so that I have ventured to join the party as normal, but it was evident enough in the midst of his apparent and great improvement, he said occasionally things that proved a wandering mind. He had a bad night, and from some slight cause of irritation went twice to Selina’s room where such a scene of violence took place that she – trembling for her life almost, locked the door to prevent him coming back again. He is less well today, and acknowledges himself so.’

In their next exchange of letters, Lady Bradford recommended using Colchicum (Autumn Crocus) to Selina, but the idea was dismissed in favour of what the doctors prescribe.

A letter from George to his mother states that Selina told Orlando that they must not meet for a while, for the sake of both of them. He also told her that Orlando’s mind was now very weak and childlike. Orlando was to remain at Castle Bromwich Hall.

George worried about the possibility of his brother self-harming, ‘On the subject of his razors – his shaving himself; his being shaved by a hairdresser once from Birmingham etc: etc: they may tell you several anecdotes which would hardly bear writing. I have no apprehension myself at present of his harming himself. He has not seen Dr. Wood since Sunday: he likes him, but still harps at the expense of paying him, and continues to hate Dr. Johnstone, whom he has not seen since the day after his return from Leamington.’

George, 2nd Earl of Bradford c.1835 by Sir George Hayter (wikimedia commons CC BY)

As August continued, Orlando was clearly still in the full throes of a manic attack. His sister in law wrote again on August 7th: ‘Mr. Wood saw him yesterday and he continued greatly better all the day, though perfectly silent the whole afternoon; seeming, as he generally does, unconscious almost to what is passing round him. When I had gone to bed, Orlando had a scene of great agitation with Lord Newport; collected, but expressing great misery and distress at his prospects, that he was sure he should lose his head etc: talked of what he called the disgrace of being turned out of his own home by his wife (though she was perfectly right, he said, in doing so). He became very loud and violent, and rather less himself, Lord Newport says. After they had both gone to their rooms he came to Lord Newport very mildly and amiably to apologize for having talked so violently.

I shall be delighted when Charles comes tomorrow, for indeed my dear Lady Bradford, this is too much for Lord Newport, and I most earnestly wish some plan were formed and acted upon to remove him from hence. I am not entirely selfish in it, though I own that for my own sake too, I wish him away, but I am sure Lord Newport will be ill if this goes on much longer; the constant worry of the thing, and the teasing way he hunts him from room to room when comparatively better, preventing him even getting common exercise, has already made him far from well.’

August 12th 1824, written by Georgina from Castle Bromwich Hall.

On Sunday Orlando went to every church, Monday was a less good day with him; he was very low till towards the evening, distressed about himself and could not bear to be alone, and asked to change his room again from finding the one he was in (the East room) noisy. He is now in the Gallery room. Yesterday he was very much better all day: took a ride with Charles, and was in great spirits all the evening, having some fits of laughter that I thought much too nearly allied to nervousness. He is not ill today however, though he complains of giddiness a little. I have seen little of him however, for in the mornings he always avoids me poor fellow, perhaps from the consciousness of the possibility of distressing me.

Orlando’s mood, as we can see in these letters, was far from stable. What would happen in the longer term, and whether he would start to recover in the absence of his wife, would not be immediately obvious.

Part Four Follows.

Orlando Henry Bridgeman: Part Four

By June Ellis

As we saw in previous instalments, Orlando and his wife Selina were separated during the early part of his illness, to aid his recovery. As the summer of 1824 wore on, Selina began to suspect that her husband was about to suggest a reunion. At some point in mid-August she expressed her fears to her mother in law, of both allowing him home, and also of denying him their reunion:

Orlando wants to come home – at least Lord Newport thinks he means to propose it to me by letter soon; I own to you dear Lady Bradford (unnatural as it may seem) it is the last step I should wish him to take, but how can I refuse it? To stay at Castle Bromwich much longer is out of the question, and where else can he go? In his present very irritable state, to deny his coming home might have the most serious consequences; in short, I can’t do it, and his brother can’t. Lord Newport wants me to make the whole known to my family – Lady Bradford, if my Uncle were to know the full content of my poor Orlando’s misfortune, he would: I really believe, suffer more than any of us. My Aunt knows a great deal, though not quite the full content. I have had a letter from her today, and she says “Your Uncle thinks your husband is ill, but is not at all aware of the real state of the case, and until you think it absolutely necessary, I shall be as silent as I can to him.” Oh! If you will urge Lord Newport to say nothing more about telling them, it will be a weight off my mind.

Things soon, however, took a more dramatic turn. As Orlando’s brother George reported on 13th August 1824, in a letter to his mother from Castle Bromwich Hall, where Orlando was still under his supervision:

Alas, my dearest Mother, I have very bad news for you today. Poor Orlando has last night and still more today, become a complete and most distressing lunatic. We have had Dr. Johnstone here, and Charles and I, with his assistance, have come to the resolution that we should be unjustifiable in delaying any longer in putting him under Dr. Sutherland’s care. Orlando has raved sadly, and at times very violent, but never himself for a moment. We dare not answer for the consequences longer; we are obliged to restrain him to prevent violence to his servant sometimes.

Charles and I think of accompanying him to London, Georgina (George’s wife) is very nervous, and of course I am frightened for her, and Dr.Johnstone urges strongly the scene should be removed from her.

George took action quickly, on the same day, and contacted Dr. Sutherland in London.

I have now a brother in my house who for some time past has been in a very distressing state of health which has at last put on such decided appearances of lunacy, that another of my brothers and myself feel we should not be justified in delaying any longer to place him under your care. We have therefore to request you will be so kind as to take a lodging for him near your residence in Brompton, to which we will take the earliest opportunity of bringing him, and we further request you to be so good as to send down here immediately a proper person instructed by you, to superintend him and accompany him to London.

The following day, the Doctor replied that he had selected someone to collect Orlando, and accompany him to No.6 Brompton Square, London, where he could be confined: ‘I have reason to believe everything comfortable will be met with for this distressing emergency.

Georgina reported back from Castle Bromwich Hall to her mother in law. Along with the news that she was pregnant, she gave Lady Bradford a commentary on the events of the day, with the arrival of the Doctor’s aide from London:

The person from Dr. Sutherland arrived this morning, and it is all pleasantly and quietly settled with poor Orlando, that he is to set out for London tomorrow morning; that William (Orlando’s servant) is to be sent back to Ravenhill with his horse, and that a person more accustomed to attend an invalid is to be procured for him, in which capacity this man is to be brought to him the first convenient opportunity. There was an idea of setting out tonight in the fear of his being either less willing or less able to go tomorrow, but that seems now to be relinquished, and I hope nothing will occur to make it more difficult. He is in a miserably low and wretched state today, but is so much more conscious, that it makes it doubly heart-rending to those who feel it is their duty to persevere in the steps now taking, but God in His mercy grant that his being placed there at once in the hands of proper medical authorities may be the means of making his illness of shorter duration. The lodging Dr. Sutherland has taken for him is No.6 Brompton Square, and they have secured a carriage belonging to Mr. Browne to make the journey, to avoid if possible being recognized on the road, as our carriage being seen on such an errand might give rise to unpleasant reports.

In this letter, Georgina displays the secrecy which was needed in transporting Orlando to London, such was the shame of being associated with madness. Her brother in law would be treated in a private house, in secret, and tended to by a trustworthy servant able to deal with his potential violence and mood swings.

Here we leave Orlando’s story for now, but we will return to June Ellis’s narrative of Orlando soon, and resume the story in London.

William Cadman

By Mike and Sue Bulmer

William Cadman was admitted to Burntwood asylum in July 1915. He was 31 years old (born in 1884), and was a ‘pauper’, unmarried, his occupation a moulder.

In the 1891 census, William was 7 years old. The family household, in Handsworth, West Bromwich union, consisted of William’s widowed mother Rebecca Cadman (47), who was listed as housekeeper, Nellie Cadman (12) and William Cadman (7). The head of the household was George F. Burns (42), a carriage trimmer (installer of railway coach interiors). Another young person, Albert E. Skidmore (20) also lived at the address and worked as a brass floater. Rebecca and Albert were both born in Deepfields, Worcestershire, and the rest of the household were born in Birmingham. This is explained by the sad early experiences of Rebecca.

Rebecca’s married life contained within it several tragedies. She was born Rebecca Bennett in Deepfields, Worcestershire. She married John Skidmore in the third quarter of 1867, but he died only four years later in 1871. They had one son, Albert, who was living with his mother in 1891.

Rebecca remarried in December 1878, to John Cadman, a 32 year old wood turner, three years Rebecca’s junior. As we can see on the 1891 census, Rebecca and John had two children – Nellie and William. Disaster struck Rebecca again when John died in 1886 aged only 40, barely 2 years after William was born.

William later fell into crime, and his victim, Amelia Marvin, lived at this time on Hill Row, Smethwick. In the 1901 census, Rebecca and family, including William, had moved to Hill Row, probably becoming neighbours with the Marvins for a time. Amelia no longer lived in the street in 1901. Rebecca, Nellie and William were all still together in the one household. Rebecca was now 57, had not remarried, and was listed as born in Sedgley. Nellie was 21 and a warehouse girl in a screw works. William was now 17 and a moulder at a gun shell works. Many companies were making sheet metal and ammunition parts in the areas, including Kynoch and Evered and Company. The household also contained a boarder, Samuel Snow (18) who also worked as a moulder at a gun shell works, probably a work colleague of young William.It appears from the reports and documents concerning later events that the young men worked at Astbury and Sons of Rolfe Street in Smethwick. Astbury’s was a well-established iron founder and ordnance manufacturer. Into the world of a seemingly average Midlands family, working in the metal trades which employed so many, a chain of events now occurred which eventually led to the door of the asylum.

It appears that William and Amelia Marvin got to know each other well, having once probably been neighbours. Their relationship appeared to be developing and leading towards potential marriage. The couple had been courting for 18 months, and had become engaged, when William committed an act from which there was no return. The case must have attracted considerable attention, as it was covered in a newspaper based in Preston.

The Preston Herald of 26th July 1905, reported: ‘Revenge is Sweet – Rejected Lover’s Muderous Attack’. ‘Unrequited love was responsible for a murderous attack upon his sweetheart, Amelia Marvin, by a youth named William Cadman, who was sentenced at Stafford Assizes to ten years’ penal servitude. The couple had been walking out together for eighteen months, but the girl broke off the courtship and the prisoner tried to strangle her and produced a revolver.’ As a moulder in a munitions works, William must have had access to fire arms. ‘When she refused to have anything more to do with him he exclaimed “Revenge is sweet. If I don’t have you, nobody else will.” He threw the girl down and stabbed her three times. He then cut his own throat. The defence was insanity through disappointment in love, but Mr Justice Darling said that if that suggestion were to be accepted, there would have to be more asylums built.’

Another report gives further details, ‘On June 17, the date of the offence, she met him casually just before eleven o’clock at night in Rolfe-street. He asked to walk with her, but she refused, and he then told her that if she did not have him she would have nobody else. He followed her, remarking ‘Revenge is sweet’, and in High Park-road he seized her by the neck and stabbed her in the left side near the heart with a knife he pulled from his pocket. Fortunately, the blade caught against a rib in her corsets, or the charge might have been more serious. She fell, and he again stabbed her in the back. Two men rushed up in response to her screams, and took her to the surgery of Dr. Stevens where the wounds were dressed. The prisoner then went onto some waste ground and inflicted several serious wounds in his neck.’

By 1907, the dust had not settled on the case, and William was ready to appeal.

The intriguingly titled Smethwick Telephone of 6th April 1907 reported on ‘Petitions for Smethwick Prisoners’, ‘There has been much activity displayed during the holidays at the Six Ways in the matter of promoting a petition to the Home Secretary for a reduction in the sentence of a young man who nearly two years ago was sentenced by Justice Darling at Stafford, upon a charge of attempting to murder his former lover. The case created considerable comment at the time. It was alleged that a young man named Cadman stabbed his sweetheart on the waste land in High Park Road, and then made a very determined attempt to take his own life. At the subsequent trial at Stafford the man was sentenced to ten years’ penal servitude. The peculiar circumstances of the case have led to the matter  being taken up by a number of prominent residents with a view to the case being brought before the Home Secretary. Mr J. Kimberley is the chairman of a strong committee, and Mr. W Carless is the Secretary. Sympathy has always been felt for Cadman, and it is hoped that this effort will have the desired effect. The petition is as follows:- “To the Right Honorable Herbert Gladstone, M.P., His Majesty’s principal Secretary of State for Home affairs. The humble petition of the undersigned inhabitants of the Borough of Smethwick in the County of Stafford showeth: 1 that William Cadman, who was indicted and tried at Stafford Summer Assizes, 1905 – before Mr. Justice Darling and a jury – for feloniously and unlawfully wounding one, Amelia Marvin, at Smethwick in the County of Stafford, on the 17th day of June 1905, with intent in so doing feloniously, wilfully and with malice aforethought to kill and murder the said Amelia Marvin. The jury found the said William Cadman guilty and the learned judge sentenced him to penal servitude for ten years. 2. That at the same Assizes the said William Cadman was also indicted upon a further charge of attempted suicide, but such indictment was not proceeded with after the finding of the jury on the aforementioned indictment. 3. That the said William Cadman was but twenty one years of age at the time the offence was committed. 4 That being in poor and humble circumstances, the said William Cadman had not the means of opportunity afforded him of obtaining the assistance of a learned counsel to defend him upon his trial, and consequently he was undefended. 5. That the evidence of the prosecution given at the trial of the said William Cadman was unchallenged, and no cross-examination of the witnesses made on his behalf; neither was any defence offered or evidence called in his favour. 6. That the said William Cadman at the time the offence was committed, and for which he was convicted, was temporarily suffering (from various causes) from mental instability and under great excitement which prevented his having normal control over his actions, whilst his act was entirely an impulsive one, done without forethought or the slightest premeditation, and was followed almost immediately by a serious and almost successful attempt upon his own life. 7. That the injuries upon the said Amelia Marvin were but slight, and in no way serious, for within a fortnight or three weeks of receiving same she was able to resume her work. 8. That the said William Cadman is a man of excellent character, never having had any charge or conviction against him of any kind; that he is a moulder by trade, having been in the employ of Messrs Astbury and Sons of Rolfe Street, Smethwick, for over four years, and he is given an excellent character by his employers. 9. That the said William Cadman was the only support of his widowed mother, who at the age of sixty-three years is now left entirely unprovided for. 10. Your petitioners further humbly pray that you, sir, will be pleased to take the above matters into your careful consideration, and that you may feel able to advise His Majesty to graciously grant, at least, a considerable reduction of the said sentence. Mr. A.J. Glover is the solicitor engaged in the matter.’

Broadmoor Prison (wellcome collection, CC BY 4.0)

We have looked more closely at what happened to Amelia after William’s imprisonment. It appears that Amelia’s break with William was based on another affection, as she married a man called George Lewis only months after the incident. It would appear that the news Amelia gave to William that fateful night was definitely not what he wanted to hear, as it seems likely that Amelia was telling him of her involvement with another man and perhaps her intention to marry. That information was too much for William to bear resulting in his attack on Amelia and his attempted suicide.

It appears that for the latter part of his sentence, William was sent to Broadmoor, which was the national prison for the criminally insane. This may indicate a partial success for the petitioning on William’s behalf, although he was not released before the end of his sentence. On discharge from Broadmoor in July 1915, he was sent to Burntwood Mental Hospital, ‘insane, penal servitude expired’. The notes on his discharge record show that he had a scar across his throat caused by his attempted suicide, but also a series of tattoos, including Britannia and an anchor and various heads.

Sadly, it appears that William never recovered enough to live outside an institution, and that he died in Burntwood on 10th April 1918.

Rachel Wallbank

Throughout our project, we have investigated many case studies. Amongst the most memorable, and the ones which often speak most directly to us, are the ones which are accompanied by a photograph. The faces of the patients look out at us from the casebook and are more identifiable as personalities in their own right, rather than a set of case notes and symptoms. One patient for whom we have a particularly poignant photograph is Rachel Wallbank. Rachel features prominently on the banners at the top of our web pages, and we wanted to investigate her life story further.

Rachel Wallbank’s first admission to Stafford asylum was on 5th September 1879. She was aged 26 (born in 1853), married, Church of England and was a housewife from Wolstanton near Newcastle-under-Lyme. Her stay in the asylum was paid for by Wolstanton Poor Law Union. She was diagnosed with mania, believed to have hereditary roots, and linked to childbirth (puerperal mania). Her health was indifferent, and she had been ill for three months. She was later discharged on 26th Sep 1879, in a ‘relieved’ state. A further look at Rachel’s life story illuminates the events which led her to the asylum door.

Rachel first appeared in historical records at around eight years old in the 1861 census, living in May Bank, Newcastle, together with her family – Rachel’s father and elder brothers were all working in the pottery industry.

The census shows a house full of people – Samuel Mathews (50) potter, Elizabeth (45) no occupation, Herbert (23) potter, James (21) crate maker (probably in a pottery), Elisha (19) potter, Harriet (17) no occupation, Rachel (8), and Alma (6). It is probable that young Alma, born in 1855, was named after the Battle of Alma which occurred only months before, in which the British and French scattered Russian forces in one of the first significant battles of the Crimean War. A rare name before this date, Alma became a popular girl’s name, alongside other Crimean names which entered the English language such as Inkerman and Balaklava. Samuel and Elizabeth were born in Wolstanton and Burslem respectively, and so had not moved far from their childhood homes. All their children were born in Wolstanton.

Rachael or Rachel Matthews (spelt Matthews on the baptism form) was born in Wolstanton and baptised on 9th January 1853. Samuel was listed as a potter at the time, most probably his occupation since a youth. The family were hit by disaster in 1864 when, at the age of 53, Samuel died. Rachel was around 12, and must have seen a deterioration in her family’s circumstances.

The next substantial evidence we have concerning Rachel is the 1871 census, in which the Matthews’ details are difficult to read. Rachael was now 18 years old and the family lived in Lily Street, Wolstanton, an area of working-class housing in the town centre which still stands today. The Matthews were sharing their home with a family of lodgers, a situation which must have been common in the overcrowded worker’s districts around Stoke and Newcastle. Elizabeth was now 54, and several of her children were still with her – Rachel (18), Alma (16), and Samuel (11). Samuel was born in 1860, and yet was not featured on the 1861 census. The Taylor family are listed as lodgers – Henry and Harriet (25), and their children Hannah (3), and George (under 1).The details of occupations are hard to read, but Rachel’s job is listed as paintress, and it appears that all the other household members also worked in the pottery industry.

The next milestone in Rachel’s life was her marriage to Dennis (Demas)? Wallbank in the third quarter of 1873. Various transcriptions use different ways of spelling Dennis’ name, and could also include considerable transcription errors. This period of happiness was interrupted by the death of Elizabeth, Rachel’s mother, in 1875, at the age of 59. A few years later, in September 1879, Rachel was admitted to Stafford asylum for the first time. She was diagnosed with mania – hereditary and puerperal – and had been ill for three months. A few weeks later she was discharged, recovered to some extent. At the time of her admission to Stafford, Rachel had one child and may have just given birth to her second child Albert, or still been pregnant, explaining the ‘puerperal’ nature of her mania.

The 1881 census makes the family situation clearer – Rachel and Dennis had two children, Dennis (5) and Albert (1), and they lived in Wolstanton. Dennis Snr. worked as a cratemaker, probably used to transport finished pottery wares, and Rachel as a ‘potter’ (probably still as a paintress). Making crates strong enough to transport goods was an arduous job, and would have taken its toll on Dennis. By the 1891 census, Dennis ‘Wallbanks’ was 54, and still making crates, but Rachel no longer had a listed occupation. It could be that her mental health was still fragile. The family now lived in Burslem, and consisted of Albert (13), Herbert (7) and daughter Francis (sic) (4). Young Dennis does not appear, although later evidence suggests that he may not have died.

A few years later, in April 1895, Rachel was admitted to Stafford asylum again. She was now 45, and listed as a housewife. She had been ill for a few days, and was deemed suicidal on admission. She was ‘restless, depressed, emotional and dazed.’ She also apparently had religious hallucinations and delusions. She was not in very good health, and her overall condition was described as ‘melancholia’. Rachel’s photograph was taken for the asylum casebook, probably on admission. There is a strong dignity to Rachel’s face, but also perhaps the signs of a life burdened with illness and hard work. Several months later in the September of 1895, Rachel was well enough to be discharged.

Our next evidence of Rachel’s life appears on the 1901 census, when the family were still in Burslem. ‘Deamus’ Wallbank, Rachel’s husband, was now 67 and listed as a ‘potter’s crate maker and packing worker’. Rachel has no listed occupation. Young Dennis, or ‘Deamus’ as he was recorded, was 27 (or a bit younger, if we follow earlier census returns) and a general labourer. Herbert was 18 and a potter’s printer, and Frances was 14. Sadly, Frances died aged 17 in October 1904. The bad news continued for Rachel three years later as there was a death recorded in 1907 of Dennis H. Wallbanks. This is likely to be Dennis as he is nowhere to be seen after this date.

By 1911, Rachel’s circumstances had worsened. She was a boarder in a house in Hanley, occupied by William Knapper, a widowed engine driver, and his children Annie and Arthur, who both worked in the pottery industry. Rachel was listed as a charwoman, and married (most probably a transcription error). The census mentions that one of her children had died. Whether Rachel was working in the house in which she lived is unclear, and it could be that she was working as a housekeeper and also working for other households. The exact relationship between Rachel and the Knappers requires further investigation. What happened to Rachel’s family is also not entirely clear, but both of her sons joined the army during the Great War. Rachel died in 1912, around the age of 59, although her death registration provides an age of 63. Sadly, the further we have investigated Rachel’s life, the more it seems that she could not escape the problems which were thrown at her, and that her two asylum admissions did not lead to an appreciable improvement in her life. Like so many other working-class women of the times, she worked hard and received seemingly little reward.

Orlando Henry Bridgeman Part Five

By June Ellis

In February, we began the story of Orlando Bridgeman, the son of the Earl of Bradford.  When we left the story, he had been removed to a private house in London, under Dr. Sutherland. His wife Selina was still separated from him (for the good of his illness), and was at their home in Staffordshire. His insanity seemed to be getting worse. His brother George had gone with him, leaving his pregnant wife Georgina at home at Castle Bromwich Hall.

Here we resume Orlando’s story.

William Wolryche Whitmore, who in 1820 had been elected liberal MP for Bridgnorth, and was married to Orlando’s sister Lucy, went to London with Orlando’s party. On 17th August 1824 he wrote to his mother-in-law:

My dear Lady Bradford, George having a good deal on his hands this morning, has requested I would write to you – you are perhaps aware that I accompanied the party to London; our journey was a prosperous one of about twelve hours. Orlando bore it well and was perhaps somewhat re-assured by it.  His lodging is in Brompton Square, very near Dr. Sutherland’s house and is a very nice one; the rent is £4.4.0 per week. Orlando was much pleased with it: not however with the man Dr. Sutherland sent down: to him he has taken a great dislike, and notwithstanding Dr. Sutherland spent some time with him last night endeavouring to remove his objections, he has not yet been able to carry this point. George slept at Orlando’s lodgings last night, Charles and myself at Scotts. I have had two conversations with Dr. Sutherland – his manners are very mild and pleasing. As yet: of course, he can give no decided opinion in this case. I think however that the leaning of his mind is towards a slight paralytic stroke being the cause of the malady; the attack at Castle Bromwich in which Orlando for a very short time seemed to lose the use of his legs, and which Dr. Johnstone thought of an epileptic nature. The difficulty of clear utterances, the tending to idiocy and irritability: seemed in his opinion to be symptoms leading to that conclusion.

William Wolryche-Whitmore (1787-1858), MP; National Trust, Dudmaston (wikimedia commons, CC BY)

19th August 1824, Written by George from ‘Boodles’ (a Gentlemen’s Club on Pall Mall)

We were with Dr. Sutherland at Parliament Street beyond Whitehall and afterwards went to Brompton Square – poor Orlando was comfortable and satisfied and tolerably sensible, but in truth his mind is sadly weak. Yesterday, I am sorry to say, he was less well but not violent, or more than usually deprived of sense, but he was very sulky and ill-humoured all the morning, and dissatisfied with everything and everybody. Towards evening he was wretchedly low we hear, and rather better again before night, and today he is again much more comfortable and less unhappy. His changes are as rapid and frequent as they are always unaccountable, Dr. Sutherland finds his case very difficult and perplexing, but it is too soon for him to speak any decided opinion of him. He thinks there is paralysis in it, certainly that or Epilepsy. These are both very discouraging symptoms, Dr. Sutherland certainly looks on the case with much doubt. I fear that at best his recovery will take a long time – a year at least (or even two). Orlando certainly does not seem to enjoy our society, and quarrels with every word we say, and all attempts to reason with him are absolutely in vain. Yesterday he was so ill-humoured he would hardly speak to us, so we did not return to him after dinner but we mean to go to him tonight. He perpetually expresses a desire for society, yet seems to dislike that of everybody he sees – Dr. Sutherland fortunately excepted: and in him he seems to place confidence, and to like his visits much. He wishes every acquaintance he has in Town to call upon him, and perplexes and pains us sadly by questions and remarks of this nature – it would be quite wrong and impossible to ask people to go and call on him and see him expose himself, yet how one pities him at the same time and longs to be able to comply with his wish. He cannot read much, nor understand the little he does, nor occupy himself in any way. Of course they do not allow him to go out: one’s only consolation is that: wretched as his life is now, yet it is the only possible chance of his recovery. Home he really could not go, for the lives of his wife and children would be in danger, even if it would be right on his own, which it would not.

I slept at his lodgings Monday night, but since then at Scotts: Cattell I left with him until his own servant arrives, which he will probably do tomorrow morning. Orlando wished for him, and Dr. Sutherland had no objection at to his coming, so I wrote for him to come. We went to John Cobb’s (a trusted former servant of Lord Newport’s) and told him the true state of the case, and we asked him to come to Orlando sometimes, about once a week to see him, and superintend his comforts and expenditure. Orlando has got a delightful house in Brompton Square; clean and capitally furnished with 2 small Drawing rooms and a Dining room, two best and two servants’ bedrooms, very airy and quiet without being at all dull. Linen, plate, knives, cookery utensils are found him, and he is to pay nothing extra for cooking, or housemaid’s work. For the house with these advantages he is to pay £4.4.0 (four guineas) a week, and to pay for the washing of the linen used, then he has to find coals and candles and eating and drinking; and if you add to that his own personal expenses for clothes, washing etc: and his two men’s wages and board, with Dr. Sutherland’s salary, medicines etc: I fear his expenditure will be very great.

Dr. Sutherland told us this morning he feared in Orlando’s case it would prove necessary to have also some young medical practitioner to reside with him, and be devoted to him, because he wants some society and yet cannot occupy and amuse himself with reading or anything, on account of the great weakness of his mind, and yet has sufficient sense not to be satisfied with the society or presence with him, and the sort of managing servant Dr. Sutherland puts about him. Altogether I fear the least we can calculate his expenses at is £800 a year. He has taken the greatest abhorrence at the man sent by Dr. Sutherland for him, and wanted him sent away immediately, but Dr. Sutherland says he or some such person must remain in the house in case of a violent fit needing such assistance. I cannot say when Charles and I may get away, perhaps in eight or ten days time.

To be continued.

Orlando Henry Bridgeman Part Six

By June Ellis

So far, we have seen that Orlando Bridgeman’s family largely acted in a unified way during the early part of his illness. However, letters from Orlando’s wife’s aunt, Mrs. Pigot, show that not everyone was convinced of dealing with the situation in the same way. Orlando’s wife, Selina, was still separated from him in order to aid his recovery. Mrs. Pigot wrote to Lady Bradford:

My dearest Lady Bradford,

I cannot express the additional misery your letter has caused me; you have quite misunderstood my meaning – never did I think for one moment suppose that Selina could be otherwise than kindly and most affectionately treated by you and all Orlando’s family – as to give Pigot’s opinion, he is not yet fully acquainted with all of this sad and cruel business, he has the gout flying about him. I did not dare tell him the truth, which now he must hear. Again I entreat you to forgive me if you thought me wrong, or that in a moment of haste I too strongly expressed myself; I never did or could mean that you or any of Orlando’s family would force Selina to do anything against her wishes, and I saw her so completely wretched – so sorry for having parted herself from Orlando, so anxious to live again with him, and so resolved to do anything in her power to make him happy; that: thinking that this might succeed, I agreed with her that her home was the only proper place; but all these things vanish from my mind under the present affliction.

The south front of Weston Hall, where Lady Bradford awaited news from London (County Archaeology Department, staffspasttrack.org.uk)

In London, meanwhile, Dr. Sutherland was monitoring Orlando’s condition. It appears that he was going through a phase of delusional euphoria, as the Doctor reported to Selina:

The distressing nature of the case alluded to, has prevented my offering any consolatory report, from which circumstance I have delayed answering till requested by your Ladyship. Since my last letter there has never been, at any one visit, an absence of positive delusion but which has been of a character so truly pleasurable, that it may be said to be happiness in excess. There have been no disappointment experienced that I am aware of: his return home was spoken of for two or three days, but by no means in a way that called for opposition – it has been completely lost sight of for other arrangements which at present predominate in his mind. These are lamentably delusive, partaking of a paralytic character or disorder, which must I lament to say, be considered most formidable. It is a matter of sincere regret that I have it not in my power to write more favourably respecting the case of my very interesting patient.

Mrs. Pigot again wrote to Lady Bradford on 21st November 1824, from Hertford Street in London:

My dear Lady Bradford,

You have requested me to tell you everything about our poor Orlando, and I will hasten to begin. I walked with General Pigot on Wednesday morning to Dr. Sutherland’s whose report was exactly the same as we had heard before; the state of happiness of your poor son never seems to change, he fancies he is in Heaven and all with him – he has power, riches, wives, children – in short: all that can constitute his idea of happiness, and Dr. Sutherland asserted he had no reason to believe he would change to melancholy. This is a blessed thing, for it keeps him calm and composed, and he allows them to treat him like a child; does everything his servant desires, but then he feels the power he has over him, and the Doctor says he might not be the same to anyone else. The day before he left Mrs. Mailing, she went up to him (as he was very fond of her) to remain a short time during his servant’s absence: he called her his wife (for he says she is one of them) and was walking up and down the room with her, when, on asking her for something she had promised him (a book I believe) and she not having it to give him, he gave her a blow and knocked her down, and when Dr. Sutherland remonstrated with him, he said he only served her as she deserved. Does not this prove what would be my poor Selina’s situation if with him? Indeed, Sutherland told us it must not be, for there is no saying the effect it might have on Orlando, and, by putting other ideas into his mind, might destroy all the calm and composure he now experienced.

But we must not tell this to Selina till after she is safe (her baby being born), please God to preserve her over her hour of trial; then she must know the truth and all the truth, and hear it from the medical men. Now, it is absolutely necessary to give her hopes, for her mind has been so cruelly distressed by having been told the sight of her would not hurt him – who was it dear Lady Bradford, that could tell her this? It has done most incalculable mischief never to be undone, as; while she believed the sight of her might add to Orlando’s disorder, she remained content to give up her own feelings for his sake. I find they have written her word Orlando had a fit on Monday – the name of a fit is so frightful, it was only a headache and that he had been living too full for some days. Dr. Sutherland told us he was quite well again, and he gave him nothing but salts and ordered him to live less well. General Pigot went to Orlando the day before yesterday, and he knew him and hoped he would dine with him in Heaven Sunday, talked in this way of his going there in 2 hours, read the Lord’s Prayer to him and another long prayer; in short, this subject and horses seem his present thoughts, he only named Selina once.

What a comfort it is Orlando being so situated with excellent John Cobb and his wife, though she is not allowed to see much of him, but he has every comfort General Pigot says, and looks particularly well. I had John Cobb with me this morning an hour; Orlando was quite well and enjoying the fine day, as he likes walking, and the rain had kept him in two days.

PS. Forgive blunders, I cannot read my letter over, pray inform Lord Newport that General Pigot saw Orlando and all about his reception, and that the General perfectly agrees Selina must not see him at present.

To be continued