ISLES, Leavesden Asylum, 1876

September, 2007

Bridget Bedwell (bbedwell @t of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, writes: William Isles, inmate of Leavesden Asylum, formerly a fireman, died on 29th July 1866. There was an inquest carried out by Henry Brabant, Coroner, on 31st July 1876 which found "Disease of the brain and other organs accelerated by scalds accidentally received in a bath." Is it possible to obtain any further information on this brave man, who had received several medals for saving life as a fireman in the East End of London.

Workhouses were set up in the 1830s to provide a pretty minimal support for poor. No-one who could work would want to stay in them longer than necessary and they became dumping places for the seriously mentally ill and the geriatric who could not support themselves. Leavesden Asylum was set up in 1869 specifically to house the large number of people with mental illness who would previously been housed in workhouses in London. It was very much a case of "Out of sight, out of mind." You don't give the age of William Isles, but I suspect he was the William Isles, born circa 1805, in the Wapping Workhouse in the 1871 census.

Henry Brabant was the county coroner for the St Albans district, and I believe his papers have not survived - but if they had I suspect they would say little beyond making one feel sad about how badly the geriatric poor were treated. What William Isles might have done in London before he was dumped in Leavesden Asylum would have been totally irrelevant to the inquest - and it is possible that no-one who gave evidence even knew.

It is of course possible that the inquest was reported in either the Watford Observer or the Herts Advertiser - but inquests of local people who died in the local workhouses would rarely attract coverage, unless the circumstances were particularly newsworthy. After all, the well-to-do who could read and who brought local newspapers were not interested in the "dregs" of society (as they would have seen it) that were housed in such institutions. Someone from London who died in an asylum housing people from London workhouses would be even less newsworthy in the Hertfordshire papers, so if there was any coverage it is likely to be minimal unless someone was to be prosecuted for manslaughter. Having said this, if you were ever in Watford or St Albans it should only take you a few minutes to check the local papers on microfilms held in the towns' local libraries. It is possible that one or both of them probably had a one line death notice.

Should any records survive of William's time in any London workhouse, or in Leavesden Asylum, they will probably be in a London archive (see London Sources).

June, 2008

Bridget Bedwell (bbedwell @t writes: I have made enquires of the London Metropolitan Archives Archives who said that they have admission orders from October 1870 onwards, but the ones up to 1876, when William died, are "unfit" and cannot be consulted.   I don't know which Board of Guardians sent William to Leavesden - the family lived in Bethnal Green, Mile End and Whitechapel (this from various Census records etc.)  The Asylum did have its own burial ground, but the Lon. Archives have no information about the records kept for burial. I think I have come to the end of the road looking for info. re William.

It is a pity that the 1876 records were too fragile to examine - but I have seem old paper records which are likely crumble to dust when handled. Fortunately  there are still some openings. The districts used for the census returns were based on the Poor Law Union districts - so the district which included the census returns should also identify the Poor Law Union - and hence the Workhouse.

Since your original enquiry I have learnt that the National Archives record class MH94  lists all persons admitted to county asylums between 1846 and 1957. Possibly that could help.

There is a web page for The Long Stay Hospitals of the St Albans Area

If you can add to the information given above tell me.


Page updated June 2008