Tag Archives: asylum

Some lunacy in June 2012 edition of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine

18 May

I was a little surprised when my “cousin” Mike let me know that my blog was featured in the June 2012 issue of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine. I wondered what I had done this time to get myself mentioned in the magazine.

I had to rush out and get a copy, well OK if I am honest I forgot all about it and it was a couple of days before I finally remembered to pick up a copy one morning on the way into work.

I was a little shocked and very flattered to find my blog listed as one of the best websites for researching asylums and mental health records. Of course this is because of my series of blog posts about the search for my 2x great-grandfather George Thomas Gasson.

It has been a couple of years since I wrote those blog posts and on a couple of occasions I have wondered about updating them, or whether there is a need for any updates. I came to the conclusion that it probably wasn’t worth the effort, but maybe I need to re-visit them again.

So thank you WDYTYA Magazine and Jonathan Scott (the article’s author) for spotlighting the story of my lunatic ancestor and the research of mental health and asylums in general. Although I am still surprised that my little blog was included with the likes of The National Archives and The Wellcome Library.

Copyright © 2012 John Gasson.
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Have I discovered Mary TROWER’s secret?

16 Jan

I wasn’t really sure why I ordered the marriage certificate for Emanuel MARX and Mary TROWER. In truth I didn’t really need to order it, but I am glad that I did.

I was certain that this was the marriage of my 3x great-aunt, but the information that Mary’s father was Henry TROWER and he was a farmer confirmed this.

For the record, Mary TROWER married Emanuel MARX on the 14th August 1884 at the Register Office in Pancras Registration District.

I was interested to find out more about the groom, according to the certificate his occupation was interpreter and was living at 183 Albany Street in London. His father was Bernard MARX and he was a clothier.

By the 1891 census Emanuel was described as a commercial traveller and he and Mary were living at 2 Priory Road, Hampstead, London.

Most interesting however were the details for Mary. No occupation was given, which is not that unusual, and her residence was given as H.M. Prison Kingston.

So Mary was living in a prison, which begs the question was she an inmate or did she work there? In the 1881 census Mary had been working in an asylum so it is possible she may have switched from one institution to another as a member of staff rather than as an inmate.

Another interesting research challenge to follow up. I seem to be gathering a few criminal connections, I am really going to have to spend some time studying criminal and prison records.

The hidden art of Hellingly Hospital

15 Dec

An interesting set of photos has turned up on the BBC website, showing the current state of Hellingly Hospital in East Sussex.

My interest in Hellingly Hospital, or the East Sussex County Asylum as it was originally known, comes from the fact that my 2x great-grandfather was a resident there for nearly twenty years (see My Lunatic Ancestor).

There is no shortage of photos (and video) of Hellingly Asylum on the internet, but it is nice to see some of them getting an airing on the BBC website.

The sadness of course is the state of decay that has developed and the fact that the site is soon to be redeveloped, although it sounds as if some of the original buildings may be retained.

It is hard to relate these current photos with what my 2x great-grandfather would have experienced. Which were original features and which were later additions? I can only hope that one day a detailed history of the asylum will be written.

Picture Postcard Parade: The Asylum, Haywards Heath

26 Oct

This postcard fits in well with the Madness Monday theme, as it shows the entrance to the Lunatic Asylum at Haywards Heath, Sussex.

The Asylum, Haywards Heath (front)

The card is not in the best of condition, it was published by Mezzotint Co. of Brighton, probably around 1903-04 and is unused. The writing up the left hand side reads “MEZZOTINT COMPANY YORK HILL LONDON ROAD BRIGHTON”.

It is a shame the postcard was not in colour, then you would see the striking red and yellow brickwork. Even so it does illustrate the thought and effort that went into building the asylum, which could just have easily been a drab and plain building.

If you look very closely, and it is not even clear on the original, there is what looks like a young boy standing in front of the right-hand gate post.

The family connection is through my 2x great grandfather George Thomas GASSON (see My Lunatic Ancestor), who was an inmate here from 1898 to 1903 when he was transferred to newly built asylum at Hellingly, Sussex.

Madness Monday: George Thomas GASSON wasn’t just a lunatic

8 Jun

So far pretty much all I have written about George Thomas GASSON concerns his time at the asylum and his mental illness. I wouldn’t want you to think that George Thomas GASSON was just a lunatic, he was a normal son, brother, husband and father for a large part of his life. So to put my previous posts in some perspective here is a summary of what I also know about George Thomas.

George Thomas GASSON was born in Slaugham, Sussex on the 13th November 1853 and was baptised in the parish church on the 29th January 1854. His birth was registered under the surname GASTON, on the 25th December 1853 by his grandmother Mary MITCHELL, which presumably accounts for the incorrect spelling of his surname (I say incorrect because this is the only time I have seen him referred to as GASTON not GASSON).

He was the eldest child of Thomas GASSON (1830-1914) and Harriet MITCHELL (c1835-1904) who were married in the parish church at Slaugham, Sussex on the 17th September 1853. They went on to have twelve children in total, eight boys and four girls.

Around 1859-60 Thomas, Harriet and their three children at the time (George Thomas, Margaret and Alfred) moved to Edmonton, Middlesex whilst Thomas was briefly in the Metropolitan Police. The family are there for the 1861 census and had another child there (Edward, registered Q3 1860). Before long the family were back in Sussex (probably Slaugham), as their next child, a daughter named Harriett was registered in Cuckfield District in Q1 1863.

It is not clear when George Thomas left the family home, he was certainly with his parents during the 1871 census, when the family was in Slaugham, and sometime around 1874-75 the family moved to Bolney, Sussex. It was in Bolney that George Thomas married Mary Ann WALDER at the parish church on the 30th December 1876.

George Thomas and Mary Ann’s first child, George, was born in 1877 (baptised on the 29th April 1877) about the same time as George Thomas’ youngest brother Michael. George Thomas and Mary Ann had fourteen children in total, including in 1893 my great grandmother May GASSON. The youngest was Harold, born in 1898. During this time they were living in Bolney, in the 1881 census at Bee Houses and in 1891 at Chatesgrove.

I have been unable to trace any record of George Thomas’ schooling, if there was any. His working life was spent as a labourer, although there is no evidence that shows where and for whom, presumably he was an agricultural labourer working on one of the farms in the parish.

A couple of their children had died before George Thomas was admitted to the asylum, Edward in 1894 (aged 15) and Albert Henry also in 1894 (aged just 3 months). One son was killed during the First World War, William James (in 1915). The youngest Harold served in the navy during the First World War, but I have been unable to discover where and with whom the others served.

After George Thomas was admitted to the asylum the family seems to have drifted eastwards, firstly to Cuckfield (Cuthedges in 1901) and then to Hurstpierpoint (Gorewood Green in 1911). It was in Hurstpierpoint that Mary Ann died in 1935 aged 78, although she was buried back in Bolney churchyard.

As far as I can tell the majority of their children married, with a couple of exceptions (my great grandmother being one of them) and many went on to have large families (at last count I had positively identified 34 grandchildren).

Madness Monday: George Thomas GASSON the end of the trail

1 Jun

Having viewed the case notes for George Thomas GASSON during his time at Hellingly asylum there really was nowhere else to go.

The case notes were much the same as those from Haywards Heath asylum. There were no major incidents, no sudden changes in condition, just a slow and gradual decline.

There may be a few other administrative records which may mention George Thomas, which may be worth checking, such as the records for Cuckfield Union who paid for his care. They are unlikely to add much to the story of George Thomas, but I need to check them just in case.

These records are unlikely to answer the one big question that still remains with me: Who in the family actually knew what happened to George Thomas GASSON?

I am proud to have uncovered his story and one day (sooner rather than later) I will put together the full story in one document and make sure it is never lost (or hidden) again.

[next week: George Thomas GASSON wasn't just a lunatic - some notes on George Thomas before mental illness took hold]

Madness Monday: a little light relief in the asylum records

25 May

I finally got the permission I was after to view the records I was after and proceeded to order them at the East Sussex Record Office. This was the case book which covered George Thomas GASSON’s time at Hellingly asylum, Sussex from the 29th October 1903 to his death on the 9th May 1922.

This case book (ESRO HE 26/2) was in much the same format as the previous one I had viewed, except the pages were much larger in size (about double the size).

The first page contained details of his mental and physical condition as well as his personal details (which were the same as those from Haywards Heath asylum). The next page and the extra page towards the back of the book contained the “progress of case”, basically similar notes as previously recorded at various intervals.

Much of the first page was not filled out, presumably because he was not a new admission, but had been transfered from Haywards Heath. The most interesting part was the mental assessment that was carried out on the 2nd November 1903.

George Thomas was described as:

a dull looking man with a perplexed appearance. gives name & spells surname. age “somewhere over 50″ Has lost day of week & month & year. came here a few days back was at H.H. 8 yrs. Is restless & fidgets as he talks “a woman full up twice in the place since I  left, don’t you know what it means” speaks thinly, rapidly & indistinctly Quiet and unoccupied since admission. (2ry Dtia)

It didn’t help that the like most of the other notes, punctuation and capitalization were largely missing, but it painted another sad picture of confused but probably harmless old man, with secondary dementia.

One phrase in that description made me laugh, I’m not sure if it was out loud but it certainly brought a smile to my face. When I read gives name & spells surname, I felt like I had made a connection with him, I have been doing that all my life!

Here over a hundred years earlier my 2x great grandfather was doing the same thing. Whether he was prompted to spell it, or whether like me he always spelt it out when I gave it to someone I will never know. But for a moment that shared action made me realise that I did share something in common with him. It still makes me chuckle when I think about it now.

[to be continued]

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