Posted in Ancestors, Derby County Asylum, Derbyshire families, family history

Catherine – was she forgotten by family and friends?

Meet Catherine, may also be known as Cath.

Whilst researching an ancestor who spent 49 years in Derby County Asylum – later to become ‘The Pastures” at Mickleover I took the opportunity to visit the Wellcome Collection in London.

The Wellcome Collection hold and care for a huge archive of medically related items – two of which are photo albums of patients at the Derby Asylum.  The photos are duplicate copies of ones attached to the case notes for some patients. The case notes can be found at Derbyshire Records Office, Matlock.  Be warned though they make for sombre reading.

As I looked through the albums, of mainly non-smiling patients, the lady below captured my gaze – she looked straight at me with that hint of a smile.

Cath M c Nov 1899 Derby County Asylum – Photo courtesy of The Wellcome Collection

Once home I have started to research her and her family but as yet I still have to visit the records office to look for her case notes. To be honest I am a little bit scared of doing this. Some of her notes will be closed under the 75-year restriction. However, her initial admission and several years of her notes should be available.

When researching the wife of my Great Grand Uncle, Emma, the notes were available from 1894 to 1933.

Catherine appears to have been in the asylum from 20 November 1899 till her death, some 59 years later, on 23 November 1958. I am struggling to look at this photo and understand why this seemingly pleasant looking woman is held for so long.

Catherine is the daughter of William and Ellen and is their 6th child out of 7. Catherine also has an older half-sister, Ann, born before her mother’s marriage to William. The family worked and lived in the Ashbourne area of Derbyshire.

William and Ellen marry on 4 June 1860 at St Werburghs, Derby, with Catherine Martha arriving on the scene in 1874.

On the 1891 census, Catherine is 17 and working as a domestic servant for a family at Crich. During that time she meets and marries James marrying on 12th September 1894 in the parish church in Mapleton, (just 2 miles north-west of Ashbourne) and the banns state that they are both ‘of this parish’. He is 23, Catherine is 22. On the marriage certificate, her father is listed as (deceased). I have also been unable to find her mother on the 1891 census.

Following the marriage, the couple has 3 children.

  1. Elizabeth Annie born 1895
  2. Edith Annie born 1898
  3. Alfred Herbert born 6th September 1899 (baptised on 15 October 1899)

Just over two months after Alfred is born Catherine is admitted to the Asylum. I don’t want to jump to conclusions until studying the case notes but my first thought would be puerperal depression – now referred to as Postnatal depression.

By 1901 her husband, aged 28, is living with Maria Ashby, aged 41, a housekeeper, with 2 of their 3 children. Elizabeth aged 6, Alfred aged 1. The address given is 11 Cambridge Street, Spondon, which is less than a mile from where I live now.

Edith and Alfred are listed on the 1911 census as being born in Spondon, so the family moved there between 1895 and 1898.

My first thought was that Edith may have died and was this the reason Catherine was in the Asylum, grief.  There are also a couple of trees on Ancestry listing Edith’s death as 1898. However, on checking I found Edith, aged 3, living with her Uncle and Aunt, George and Ellen Eaton. George is a Farmer at Sturston, near Ashbourne and Ellen is Catherine’s eldest sister.  Ellen is just 23 when she married farmer and bachelor, George aged 55.

By 1911, James, Catherine’s husband (listed as Herbert) is living with his widowed mother, Elizabeth, aged 60, at 21 Longfellow Street, Liverpool. He has described himself on the census return as a widower! Elizabeth (16), Edith (13) and Alfred (11) are with him. He is also sharing the house with two of his younger brothers, Ernest (25) and Stanley (20). The form is filled in by Elizabeth, James Herbert’s mother. What does she know? Everything? If she does why has she described her son as a widower? To save awkward questions? Just what did the James tell his children about their mother – bearing in mind they would be 4, 1 and 2 months old when she entered the asylum?

As always with genealogy too many questions and not enough answers.

The 3 children appear to remain in Liverpool for the rest of their lives.

But what of Catherine and her life after 1899. Once I have plucked up the courage to go to Derbyshire Records Office I will let you know. She shouldn’t be forgotten.

Thanks to

  • Ancestry.co.uk –
    • UK Lunacy Patients Admission Register 1846 – 1912
    • Census returns
    • Birth, marriage and death records
  • Findmypast.co.uk
    • Birth, marriage and death records
  • Wellcomecollection.org –
    • Photo albums c 1895, attributed to E.W. Gregor (Senior assistant medical officer at Derby County Lunatic Asylum) Album 1 containing 241 photographs, Album 2 containing 125 photographs.
    • Derby County Asylum Annual Reports
  • Derbyshire Records Office.
    • Derby County Asylum admission and case study records +
Photo Album attributed to E.W. Gregor c 1895 onwards held at the archive of
The Wellcome Collection, Euston Road, London.
Photo Album attributed to E.W. Gregor c 1895 onwards held at the archive of
The Wellcome Collection, Euston Road, London.

4 thoughts on “Catherine – was she forgotten by family and friends?

    1. I know – just unbelievable. The wife of my Great Grand Uncle was in the asylum from 49 years and on reading her case notes it seems like postnatal depression with delusions. But because her Uncle or Aunt – they can’t seem to make their minds up, had a spell in the asylum or died in one, they keep her in for all that time. Catherine was in for 59 years. Still to research her notes.

      Liked by 1 person

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