Three Counties Asylum eastern end seen from the north in 1872 [Z50/2/16]
The following brief entries are for some of the men admitted to The Three Counties Asylum, later Fairfield Hospital in 1880 and 1882 [LF31/6]. Of a total of 250 admitted 22% suffered from epilepsy. It is shocking to our eyes to see that some of them were children, one as young as six. 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.
Walter Groom aged 8 came from Knebworth in Hertfordshire. His case book entry reads: "Goes about crying out and moaning without any reason, unable to speak. Does not know his mother from other persons, requires attention always". On admission he was described as: "a feeble looking boy, can't speaks [sic], makes a moaning noise, seems very demented, dirty. Has been so from birth". He died of epilepsy on 24thMarch 1884 aged 12.
Henry Cook was aged 17 and came from Tempsford. He was summarised thus: "laughs and moves about irregularly, afraid to go anywhere alone also to be left alone. Sometimes won't speak. Little or no sleep, howling and making moaning noises, struck people". On admission he was described as: "a tall, feeble lad, very demented, can't speak, quite idiotic, is very wet and dirty, has a double inguinal rupture".
Samuel Joseph Richards aged 19 from Wandsworth in Middlesex: "Was charged with having stolen two shillings but he does not appear to understand the gravity of the charge for his conduct is childish and silly and when questioned he laughs. He is subject to fits". On admission, he was described as "a pale, stupid looking lad, won't answer when spoken to or he laughs in a meaningless manner, he is quiet, fits seldom and not severe". He was transferred to Wandsworth Asylum four years later.
Henry Allpress Bedford aged 6 came from Huntingdon. His case notes state: "Defect in all the mental faculties, is incapable of uttering few, if any articulate words or of making known by signs the commonest wants. Is inattentive to the calls of nature". On admission his notes read: "He is an idiot, seems in fine health, continually walking about and making a moaning noise. He is dirty in his habits, they say he is very mischievous". He died of epilepsy in 1886, aged just 12.
Sampson Littlechild was aged 25 and came from Saint Albans in Hertfordshire. He was "very violent and unmanageable, constantly endeavouring to kick and bite the attendants &c. Always attacking the attendants and they have great difficulty in restraining him". On admission it was observed. "He appears quiet and is quite blind, apparently from some brain disease, he cannot answer questions well but he makes attempts to do so. He is clean". He died from phthisis (tuberculosis) on 6th March 1893.
Alfred Henry Halfhead aged 8 was admitted from the Luton Poor Law Union workhouse: His background notes read: "He is a boy of very imperfect mental development and requires supervision in an institution for mental diseases. Troublesome and violent at times". On admission it was observed: "He is a strumous looking fairly developed boy in rather thin bodily condition. Left elbow joint is anchylosed. There are numerous strumous ulcers on legs. He seems fairly intelligent. Knows some of his letters, can tell his name and age but is peculiar in his manner and seems to have little mind". Strumous meant that the skin was covered in tuberculosis lesions. Anchylosed is a medical term meaning stiffened.
John Hook aged 10 came from Enfield in Middlesex: His background notes read: "General appearance and manner wanting in intelligence proper for his years. Able to speak a few words but incapable of expressing himself in a suitable manner". On admission he was described as: "Rather small for his age but is in very good bodily condition. He has a high arched palate and notched teeth. Conjunctivitis of left eye. Can only answer a few of the very simplest questions. Is mischievous and rather troublesome at times".
John Stora Chamberlain aged 15 came from Ramsey in Huntingdonshire. His notes read: "Sullen and morose manner – delusions. Said to be mischievous and highly dangerous". On admission he was observed to be: "rather tall for his age and is in thin bodily condition. Slight internal strabismus of right eye. He looks like an imbecile. He stands with his head down and appears to take no notice of anything. His manner is morose. Can write a little and says he can read but fails to do so when shewn a piece of a newspaper. Says he has been in three [Poor Law] Unions and that his parents sent him because he could not work". A strabismus is a squint.
Samuel Newman Parrish was 8 years old and came from Woodstone in Huntingdonshire: "Has no fixed purpose in any of his actions. Is never still unless asleep. Has to be tied up to prevent his running away". On admission he was described as: "A fairly nourished boy. Traces of burns on chest and leg. Won't speak when spoken to though he has been heard to say a few words since his admission. He is very mischievous. Saliva is constantly dribbling from his mouth". He died of meningo-encephalitis in 1884, aged 11.
John Lancaster aged 23 was from Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire. His background notes read: "I have known him the last 14 years as an idiot subject to epilepsy; lately has been violent, bites and hits anyone near him, screams and kicks. Tears his clothes and is very dirty". On admission he was described as: "in fair bodily condition. His right leg is about 4 inches shorter than his left. Right hip is deformed. Walks with difficulty. He is an idiot and cannot answer simple questions. Cannot tell the sum of 2 and 3".
Joseph Norwood was aged 20 and from Bricket Wood in Hertfordshire: "He is idiotic and violent at times and refuses to eat". When he was admitted it was observed: "he is a fairly well built young man in fair bodily condition. He is imbecilic – cannot say where he is or when he came, thinks he is here five months, does not employ himself. He takes his food well and has been quiet since admission". He died in 1885 of epilepsy.
William Kirby aged 42 came from Hitchin. His background notes read: "He has been suffering from disease of his brain with loss of sight for nearly a year and lately has been subject to delusions. A short time since he was under the impression that the old men in his ward played cricket all night and so disturbed him. Delusions that he is persecuted". On admission he was described as: "a tall, well built man in well-nourished condition. He is quite blind and nearly deaf. Talks to himself. Admits his delusions about the old men playing cricket all night. Was inclined to be violent to one of the attendants once since admission".
Frederick Jackson was aged 19 and came from Walworth Road in London: "He does not seem to have intelligence enough to understand speech or sign but makes painful noises and destroys his clothes. He is a fairly nourished boy with a high arched palate. He is an idiot and can only understand very simple direction. He is destructive to his clothing. Has been clean in his habits since admission".
Charles Simmons aged 19 came from Lambeth in Surrey: His background notes said: "That he has a vacant manner, imbecile aspect and maniacal instinct. His utterance is somewhat hesitating. He appears to be very cunning after the manner of many idiotic persons for guessing the purport of my visit he at first runs away after making use of a very abusive expression. Can't read or write and has been violent". On admission he was described as: "a stoutly built, well-nourished young man. Knows some of his letters but cannot read or write. His expression is imbecilic. He seems to be weak-minded. He is clean in his habits. Does some ward work".
Henry Tompkins was aged 27 and came from the Berkhamsted Union workhouse. His background appraisal notes read: "Has constant restlessness, walking about all day, his having a delusion that an old man who was with him was going to murder him, his running away to Tring to escape his supposed enemy. Walking about with his clothes undone". On admission it was noted: "he is in fair bodily condition. Has an imbecilic expression and manner. Palate high arched, memory very defective. Seems to have very little mind".
William Kirby aged 44 from Hitchin: "He suffers from dementia with delusions. He tells me that people follow him about and are underneath his bed with the intention of poisoning him or otherwise harming him, which is not the case. Kicks and strikes at imaginary people". On admission it was noted: "he is a powerfully built, well-nourished man. Is quite blind and nearly completely deaf. He has numerous delusions about people being under his bed. States that they persecute him". He died of a brain tumour four years later.