Three Counties Asylum seen from the south-west about 1870 [Z50/2/6]
The following brief entries are for some of the women admitted to The Three Counties Asylum, later Fairfield Hospital, in 1880 and 1881 [LF29/6]. Of a total of 250 admitted 10% suffered from epilepsy. It is shocking to our eyes to see that some of them were children, one as young as five. It is also sad to see that people with learning difficulties were sent to the asylum as well as those suffering from mental illness.
It is also shocking to modern eyes to see Terms such as idiot and imbecile. It is important to remember that these insults were originally medical terms. An idiot was defined as someone with the most severe learning difficulties and an imbecile as someone with slightly lesser difficulties but still severe. Such terms were abandoned by the medical profession during the 20th century because of the use of them as insults.
It is important to note that some patients were discharged as being recovered. Others were transferred elsewhere, presumably closer to their place of origin, as with Emma James. Sadly, others died in the asylum.
Emma Maria James was aged 31 when she was admitted. She was from Walworth Road in London and had been mentally handicapped from birth. Her case notes read: "She is very sullen and when questioned will at times answer by using words of a very disgusting import. When she answers there is much incoherence and it is broken by sudden fits of laughter or tears. She insists on keeping herself partly undressed". Her physical description was: "a stunted girl with large jaw and mouth and narrow features". She could: "answer simple questions correctly but does not seem to have much memory". She was transferred to Cane Hill Asylum in Coulsdon [Surrey] in 1884.
Harriet Maling was aged 55 and came from Ware in Hertfordshire. She, too, was mentally handicapped from birth. She was described as: "Imbecile from birth. Latterly has become violent and difficult to control". On admission, her notes read: "an imbecile, tall and fresh coloured, with a bad cough". She died on 24 November 1880 from phthisis (tuberculosis).
Ann Marshall aged 29 came from Hertford. The notes say: "Incessant rambling and incoherent talk about the spirits and the Bible. John Marshall, the father of the patient, states that she has frequently applied to him to kill her, that she is in the habit of pulling up her clothes and exposing her person. This patient was very noisy and excited on admission. She is deformed, refuses food and thin, pale and feeble. Has fits in which she usually does not fall, but screams, very excited extravagant in her actions for a few days after her admission". She died of epilepsy on 5th February 1883.
Mary Tuley aged 32 came from Ayot Saint Peter in Hertfordshire. She was: "congenitally deficient in intellect and therefore cannot take care of herself. Great taciturnity but says she is not violent or abusive although she undoubtedly is so. Mrs. Hine, living next door, says she has quite changed in her conduct, formerly she was quiet and inoffensive, now at times most violent in her manner and obscene in her language and in her paroxysms of fury threatening to destroy herself". On admission she was described as: "a fairly nourished young woman with rather prominent eyes". She was discharged as recovered after a year.
Emily Louisa Johnson was aged just twelve. Like Harriet Maling she came from Ware. Her case entry notes: "That she does not appear to understand what is said to her and is inclined to be violent and dangerous. She is also dumb. On admission it is stated that this patient's mother was paralyzed also that she has five brothers and sisters none of whom are idiots. She is an idiot who can only say a few words and cannot walk well. Not dirty in her habits. Does not amuse herself with toys".
Elizabeth Beeby aged 28 came from Clapham. Her notes reveal: "She sits in a chair and will answer no question put to her. On admission it is stated that this patient was never quite right. She is an idiotic looking woman who walks in a peculiar manner with her head forward and back rather bent". Elizabeth died of phthisis on 25th April 1887.
Elizabeth East aged 19 was simply noted as: "origin unknown" which suggests she may have been disowned by her family. Her notes say: "She is an idiot from birth only lately she has become indecent in her habits and she is not fit to be in a room with children or other patients". On admission she was described as: "An idiot who can scarcely answer the simplest question, dirty in her habits, unemployed". She was removed to Fulbourn Asylum in Cambridgeshire after eleven years.
Louisa Jane Scrivener came from Luton and was only five years old. Her diagnosis was: "Idiocy, cannot understand the commonest questions, but to most questions replies "let us go home" and continues repeating the same words. Will try to set fire to things, to drink out of a kettle containing boiling water and trying to seriously injure another child. It is stated that this child has been queer from birth and has been subject to fits for two years, that her mother and uncle have suffered from consumption, that she has a younger brother who is well and that the fits occur about every six weeks. She is a well nourished child and of fair intelligence, knows some of her letters and can answer simple questions". She was discharged as recovered three years later.