Showing posts with label Banstead Asylum. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Banstead Asylum. Show all posts

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Surname Saturday: Mary Slatter, Melancholy and Demented?

Last month, I wrote about discovering in the Banstead Asylum records a woman named Mary Slatter who was possibly my husband's great-great-grandmother. I was doing a Genealogy Go-Over and learned that more records had become available, so I dove in.

The only way to find out more was to see these records in person, since they're not available in any other format. My wonderful cousin Anna in London was kind enough to visit the London Metropolitan Archives, where she read the admission and discharge registers.

If this was indeed Mary Shehen Slatter, her life was even sadder than the family could have imagined. Get out your hanky. Here's what the records say:
  • Mary was admitted to Banstead Asylum on September 28, 1877, at age 40. (This is within a year or two of the age I would expect her to have been at that point.) She was married, the wife of a laborer, and she was from Whitechapel (these facts fit exactly with the Mary Slatter I'm trying to find).
  • Mary's "previous place of abode" was--oh, dear--Colney Hatch Asylum. In other words, she was institutionalized before she even got to Banstead. Colney was notorious, another place to hold paupers, originally meant to be more humane but then resorting to straight jackets and other restraints. Wait, there's more.
  • Mary's form of mental disorder was characterized as "Melancholy and demented." 
  • Mary's cause of insanity was described as "Misfortune and destitution."
  • The duration of Mary's previous attacks of insanity was 3 years, 4 months.
  • Mary died young of phthisis--meaning tuberculosis--on April 19, 1889, at age 52.
Now my cousin is going to view the Colney Hatch records in person to try to learn more about whether this is indeed our Mary Shehen Slatter.

From what I know about hubby's g-g-grandmother, this could very well be her sad fate. The family was chronically impoverished, I have confirmed from the records and from later comments made by Mary's children as adults.


Mary's first-born child, Thomas John Slatter, didn't live to the age of 11. He was born in 1860 (see him in the 1861 UK census excerpt here, with the Slatter family listed in Whitechapel) and he died sometime before the 1871 UK census. * Was this why Mary was first institutionalized?

I hope the Colney Hatch records will give me more insight into Mary's life. Also, I've sent for Mary Slatter's death cert to see what it says.

* Elizabeth, in a comment below, notes that Thomas seems to be alive and living with his grandparents in the 1871 census. Thanks to her help, I have clues to dig deeper!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Surname Saturday: Tracing the Sad Fate of Mary Shehen Slatter

Was my husband's great-grandma, Mary Shehen Slatter, committed to a London insane asylum in 1877 -- and did she die there in 1889?

Thanks to online records, a phone call, and the kindness of a cousin who lives in London, I'll soon know more about this ancestor's sad fate. This is part of my Genealogy Go-Over, filling in the blanks on the family tree.

I am fairly certain of Mary's birth date, thanks to marriage records, but not her death date nor her whereabouts after the 1871 UK Census, shown here. At that time, Mary and her husband John Slatter and their 5 children lived together in Tower Hamlets, Whitechapel, London--an area known for extreme poverty.

In December, I learned that Mary's 5 children had spent time in a notorious London workhouse.

Checking further, I discovered that a woman with the name of Mary Slatter had been committed to Banstead Asylum in September, 1877. Whether this is our Mary Slatter, I couldn't tell, but it was an intriguing and disturbing thought.

Women were committed to such asylums for a variety of reasons, not just in the 19th century but also well into the 20th century. Click to read what one genealogy researcher found out about her great-grandmother's time in Banstead, circa 1930s. But get out your hanky before you click.



Next, I did an online search and landed at the National Archives in Surrey, England, which has an entire page devoted to Banstead Asylum and Hospital, closed for years. At the very bottom is the statement: "...not clear whether these records are now at either London Metropolitan Archives or Surrey History Centre."

Time for a phone call to the Surrey History Centre. The gentleman who answered the phone listened to my question about where the asylum's records might be found and told me they were definitely at the London Metropolitan Archives. He even gave me the archive catalog code so I could quickly locate what I needed.

On the London Metro Archives site, I found lots and lots of files readily available to the public, subject to the 100 year rule that protects patient privacy. Oh, the archive has patients' records, organized by date and by gender. Also visitors' logs and some photos (possibly only of staff, but maybe I'll get lucky?). What a treasure trove. Only one catch: These files must be accessed in person.

I sent an email to my London cousin Anna, asking whether she would be willing to undertake a field trip to the archives on my behalf. Even though she has no relation to poor Mary Shehen Slatter, my wonderful cousin agreed to visit this spring, armed with what I know and what I want to know. Before the snow melts here in New England, I hope to confirm whether this is hubby's great-grandma Mary and clarify her fate.

Why is Mary Shehen Slatter in my thoughts? Because too often, women are much less visible in family history . . .  especially once they marry and their maiden names disappear from public records. I want to honor and respect the lives these women lived, give them dignity and help them be remembered as more than simply "the wife of" or "the mother of" when I share the family tree with their descendants.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Sepia Saturday: Postcard Leads to Two Shocking Discoveries

For this week's Sepia Saturday, I began by scanning one of the few postcards I have from Dorothy Louise Baker (1897-1981), to her first cousin, Wallis W. Wood (hubby's great uncle).

The year was 1912, and Dorothy was living with her parents (Adelaide Mary Ann Slatter and James Sills Baker) and her younger sister (Edith Eleanor Baker) in Toledo. 

Adelaide Mary Ann Slatter and her four siblings were born in London, and I went to my online tree to do a quick search on her name.

I found something quite shocking. Adelaide and all of her siblings had been admitted to Bromley House--a workhouse--for several nights in May, 1874.

This is the kind of sad place for the poor where, a few lines above the Slatter siblings in this same ledger, a 50-year-old laborer admitted for a few nights was found dead in his bed. Bromley House added to its defenses, according to records, to prevent "inmates" from escaping. Not the sort of place you'd want two little girls, ages 7 and 5, to stay for a few nights.


After catching my breath, I went back to my other research about the Slatter family living in a terribly poverty-stricken part of London, Tower Hamlets in Whitechapel.

I knew the three boys had been sent to a military training ship on the Thames in 1875 and were lucky to escape a devastating fire. All three brothers went on to serve with distinction in the military, with Captain John Daniel Slatter (1864-1954) becoming a renowned band leader based in Toronto.

But until now, I didn't know all five siblings had been bundled off to Bromley House, the workhouse. According to the admission and discharge book, they were sent by the matron of the Forest Gate School.

Why?

Well, I had a guess. I've never been able to find the death date of the mother of these children, Mary Shehen Slatter. Born in 1840, I thought Mary died before 1888, the year when her husband left London forever and came to America.


But maybe I was wrong. This was my second shock. Above, part of a ledger from "UK Lunacy Patients Admission Registers" for the year 1877. A Mary Slatter was admitted to Middlesex County Lunatic Asylum (later called Banstead Asylum) on September 28. This Mary died on April 19, 1889. According to the death index, this Mary was 52 years old.


So if Mary Slatter wasn't able to care for her children from 1874 on, it makes sense that they could be shuttled from school to workhouse to training ship (the boys).

Yet John Slatter sailed off to America and by 1893, was living in Cleveland along with a wife, Louisa (I've never been able to locate a marriage record for these two, so perhaps she was a "wife"). So did he leave a wife in the asylum and start a new life to forget the misery of the old one?

More research is in my future to determine whether the Mary in the asylum was, in fact, my husband's great-grandma.