Apr 042018
 

Our members are participating in the A-Z Blogging Challenge for 2018 with the theme People of My Place. Today's entry is from Alex Coles.


W.D. is one of nine Wing-born patients in the Buckinghamshire County Lunatic Asylum in the parish of Stone on 2 April 1911. The patients at Stone were recorded by their initials, rather than their names. So who was W.D. and what can I learn about him?

W.D. of Wing Buckinghamshire in 1911 census

According to his census record W.D. was male, 37 (so born around 1873-1874), single, and a general labourer. His infirmity is given as “imbecile birth”. Statistically, “imbecile” was the third-most common infirmity listed in the 1911 census behind lunatic and feeble-minded, and as W.D. was under hospital care and the census record would have been completed by the staff we can have reasonable assurance that this reflected his actual diagnosis. Imbecile was one of the categories of lunacy for statistical purposes, specifically refers to “all the major degrees of congenital mental defect”, and was applied to 0.0704% of the UK population that year, or around 25,000 people in total.

In the 1911 census the age at which the infirmity came on was required to be given, but “imbecile” (I just can’t bring myself to write that without quote marks) was evidently a life-long affliction. This suggests something about the life he would have led and the impact on his family. The census report notes that there is probably under-reporting of mental unsoundness in under-10s as parents are reluctant to accept that their child might not grow into a normal-minded individual, and as W.D. has an occupation (even though it is just general labourer, which was quite possibly the default occupation attributed to patients) we could speculate that he did indeed grow up within his family and even work, until some point at adulthood when there was no longer anyone available or willing to watch out for him. At what point was he placed into the care of authorities?

To further narrow this down, I checked for Wing-born residents in the Stone asylum in 1901. There were none. It transpired, unfortunately, that this is because the census enumerators that year didn’t include any of the patients’ birthplaces at all! They DID include full names though, so I scanned through 24 pages looking for any male W.D.s and found no age-appropriate candidates. This means W.D. was most likely admitted at some point between 1901 and 1911.

The next (easily-accessible) port of call is the 1901 census in Wing itself, as W.D. is most likely to still have been living there then. There are four W.D.s including no less than three William Dimmocks, one of whom is 26 at that point. He’s a farm and general labourer, with no infirmity noted, living with his widowed shoemaker father Matthew. Tracing this pair back, Matthew had been widowed by 1891 (William is listed as 18 that year, again with no infirmity). However that year’s census also reveals another candidate for W.D., a William Dickens agricultural labourer age 19 (2 years off the expected age per 1911 though).

By this point I’m over my word count for this blogpost and wondering where I can go next to solve this research mystery quickly! The most obvious would be the admissions book for the Stone asylum, but the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies doesn’t have this online. However I do make an exciting discovery while Googling – a few years ago while I wasn’t looking Ancestry added a Lunacy Patients Admissions Registers 1846-1912 database. It transpires this is a master UK index from The National Archives with names and dates of admission and discharge – no ages, and no birthplaces so of limited use for a one-place study, but still useful in confirming or disproving candidates. I’m not sure it helps though – there’s both a William Dimmock admitted 30 June 1890 and discharged as recovered 26 March 1891 and a William Dickens admitted 13 December 1906 and discharged as recovered 29 November 1909, and no sign of re-admission for either that would cover the 1911 census date.

And with that, I call it a day. Next port of call will be the parish baptisms to see if I can find some more potential W.D.s born around 1873, but ultimately I might have to pay a professional researcher in the UK to go and check the Stone admissions records directly for me. Some one-place study mysteries take time to solve!

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