Florence Victoria Spence (1876 – 1946)

39. Backler/Boulding/Cross: the sad fate of ‘Uncle Fred’, Edwin John Frederick Cross (1856-1916)

In which we follow the sad story of Edwin John Frederick Cross, the half-brother of my great grandmother, Susannah Mary [nee Boulding] Spence. With repeated admissions to different ‘lunatic’ asylums around London, it seems that our ‘Uncle Fred’ was, in effect, disowned by his father after his mother died. The photo (and its reverse) is, I believe, Uncle Fred.  I am not responsible for the touched-up eyes!

In my previous post (38), I followed the fortunes of my g. g. grandmother Susannah [nee Backler] Boulding Cross, the birth and death of two children, and the birth and survival of her son with her second husband, Edwin John Cross.  The three of them were last found together in the 1871 England Census at 130 High Street, Camden Town:    Edwin J Cross (Head, Mar, 37, China Manufacturer, born Middlesex), Susanna (Wife, 53, born Marylebone) and Edwin J F (Unmar, son, 15, born Marylebone).  A few years after this date, young Edwin’s life began what seems to have been a downward spiral.

18 years old – first hospitalisation: For many years, I could not find records for Edwin J F Cross, other than his presence as shown below in the 1891 Census.  As new records come on line, new discoveries are possible, and Edwin’s fate was soon mapped out after the discovery of a record for him on findmypast at the Bethlem Hospital, dated 1874.  The full story and transcript of this record is below, but for the sake of clarity, this section of this post will chronicle what can be found of his stays in various institutions for most of the rest of his life.

The Bethlem Hospital: 9 January 1874 – 11 January 1875.  Discharged ‘uncured’.  A ‘Private’ patient: The Bethlem Hospital was the original ‘Bedlam’, its origins lying in the first hospital dedicated to caring for people with mental illnesses.  In fact the ‘care’ could be cruel, and covered conditions ranging from learning disabilities to dementia and much besides.  In Victorian times people whose behaviour marked them out in some way as ‘inconvenient’, could be admitted on the signature of a medic. When ‘Uncle Fred’ attended in 1874 for a year, the hospital was located south of the river Thames, on what is now the site of the Imperial War Museum.  EJFC was presumably discharged home to 156 Camden High Street, but his period outside institutions was not to last long.

Banstead: Cross Edwd [sic], J F. Pauper Male. 31 July 1877 – 4 January 1878:  Banstead was the third Middlesex Asylum, opened in 1877, for ‘chronically insane pauper lunatics’ (http://studymore.org.uk/4_13_ta.htm#Banstead) It was later transferred to London County Council.  In 1986 it was closed, and two prisons are now in new premises on the grounds. I lived for many years only a couple of miles away.  This period of discharge was to last only a few weeks:

Middlesex County Asylum – Colney Hatch, later Friern Hospital:  Edwin J F Cross. Male Pauper.  8 February 1878 – 24 May 1878.  Discharged Reld. [this means ‘relieved’] (record on Ancestry UK, Lunacy Patients’ Admissions Registers)  Situated in North London, Colney was the second Middlesex Lunatic Asylum, founded in 1851.  It has now been converted into luxury flats, like so many of the Victorian asylums. Edwin was discharged direct back to:

Banstead:  24 May 1878, Edwin J F Cross. Male Pauper.  Discharged 17 June 1881, recovered. (record on Ancestry UK, Lunacy Patients’ Admissions Registers)

1881 Census [April]: Edwin J F Cross is to be found as “E J F C” at The Middlesex County Lunatic Asylum, Banstead, a 24 year old Shorthand Writer. Meanwhile, his parents were at:

1881 Census: Edwin J Cross (Head, 47, China Dealer, born Middx Marylebone) and Susannah (Wife, 63, born Middx Marylebone), at 58a Chalk Farm Road just north of Camden Town.

A period of respite but great change – the early 1880s:  As shown above, Edwin was discharged from Banstead on 17 June, 1881, ‘recovered’.  During the 1880s a number of life-changing events perhaps tipped him over the edge into longterm illness.  The family retains a long and rambling letter to his niece Susanna Spence in New York City in 1882. It was written from the Chalk Farm Road address in which his mother and father were living in the 1881 Census, above. It is dated 7 April 1882.  Extracts and an image are below. In a postscript he wrote to ‘Susie’ that his mother had been taken ill:

P.S.  Since writing the above I am sorry to say dear Mother has been taken very ill with a slight attack of rheumatic fever.  She of course keeps her bed & therefore I feel quite unfit to write to your dear Mama & your Uncle Apsley, but will do so as soon as I can…

Less than a year later, on 9 February 1883, Susannah Cross [nee Backler, formerly Boulding] died age 66 years, at 156 High Street, Camden Town.  The cause was congestion of the lungs 7 days – presumably pneumonia.  As seen in my previous post, Edwin’s father was not long to remain a widower.  In the June quarter of 1884, he married widow and mother-of-two Frances Ann (nee Lusty) Hilliard.  Not unnaturally, Edwin Sr made a new Will, dated 26 November 1884.  However, somewhat surprisingly, this Will makes no mention at all of his son Edwin J F Cross, leaving everything to his wife and executor, Frances Ann Cross.  Edwin Sr died on 28 October 1889, at 38 Spencer Square, Ramsgate, Kent, ‘formerly’ of 156 High Street Camden Town, Gentleman.  His estate’s gross value was £143 – 14 – 6.

Very shortly after this event, sometime in 1890, his widow Frances Ann Cross, emigrated to the USA with her two sons, a daughter in law and 2 grandchildren.  She appeared with them in Boston in the 1900 US Census, and died there in 1902.

More institutions:  Could it have been his father’s move to Kent which precipitated the placing of Edwin J F Cross back in institutions?Peckham House Asylum: Edwin J Cross, Pauper Male, admitted 12 March 1887 – 23 March 1888 ‘Reld’.  According to the ‘Lost Hospitals of London’ website, this was a small, privately-run establishment, which by the 1880s was one of a handful of such places, catering for both pauper and private patients.  In 1882 there were some 380 patients, making it vastly different from the very large local authority asylums.

1891 Census: Edwin J Cross, a Boarder, 35, single, at 22 Henslowe Road, East Dulwich, a Lawyer’s Clerk.  By this date, Edwin had virtually no living relatives – at least close ones.  His mother and father had died; his half siblings were in America, as was his step-mother.  His mother’s sister, Esther Maria (nee Backler) Abelin was living with her son Algernon Abelin just a few blocks away at 39 Choumert Square, Peckham.  Surely they were in touch with each other?

What resources did E J F Cross have, having received nothing from his father’s will?  Was he in touch with more distant but wealthy Backler relatives – the wife and daughter of Henry McLauchlan Backler – who lived in Camberwell in the Parish of St Giles? 

Workhouse – Parish of St Giles Camberwell: Edwin Cross 1856 CE [Church of England] Clerk. Admitted 20 March 1895 ‘Alleged Insane’.  25 March 1895 – Transferred to Claybury:  There were three workhouses in Camberwell.  Their interesting history can be seen at: http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Camberwell/#Post-1834

Claybury Asylum – admission presumably on 25 March 1895.  Discharge unknown: We do not know how long EJFC stayed at Claybury.  Our next sighting of him is in the 1901 Census, in Leavesden – see below.  Claybury was to be the fourth Middlesex County Asylum, but after the reorganisation of local government, it became the 5th London County Council Asylum (the others being Cane Hill, Hanwell, Friern, and Banstead). A feeling for it is given as follows:

‘The construction of the Asylum was finished in 1893.  It had 2,000 beds and the first patients were admitted on 16th May that year.  From May 1893 until February 1894 some 1,130 patients were transferred from 40 different asylums and Licensed Houses.  The remaining 860 were acute cases admitted as they occurred in London (where people were certified insane at a rate of 70 a week). ..The Asylum was built to accommodate 800 male and 1,200 female pauper lunatics, and had over 20 acres of floor space.  The sexes were strictly segregated.  On admission, each patient was examined and photographed.  Male patients were issued with three suits of clothing – two for everyday working wear, that is, one for summer and one for winter, and one for Sundays – as well as an Inverness overcoat.  The women had no specific uniform.’  https://ezitis.myzen.co.uk/claybury.htm   Our next sighting of Edwin is in the 1901 England Census:

1901 Census.  Metropolitan Asylum Leavesden.  Edwin Frederick Cross, Patient, Single, 42, Commercial Clerk, born London Camberwell [sic], Lunatic:  The Metropolitan Asylums Board had established Leavesden in the 1870s as an Asylum for ‘quiet and harmless imbeciles’.  It is located between Abbots Langley and Watford, to the north of London.

For a photo dated 1907, showing staff and a ward at Leavesden, and for a much longer, and very sobering account of the history of the institution, see http://www.workhouses.org.uk/MAB-Leavesden/ 

At some point the asylum also took people with mental illnesses, as there are many ‘lunatics’ in both the 1901 and 1911 censuses.

1911 Census.  Metropolitan Asylum Leavesden, Edwin Cross, Patient, 55. Born London St Georges [sic]. Lunatic. 

Death: 13 February 1916.  Edwin F Cross, Male, 60 years, of Camberwell Parish formerly a Clerk.  Cause of death: Dysentery P.M. Death Reported by F A Hadden, Deputy Medical Superintendent, Leavesden Asylum Watford.

Medical record, Edwin J F Cross, aged 18 years:  Here below is the transcript of EJFC’s medical record when he was admitted aged 18 to the Bethlem Asylum.  Like everything in this report, it makes sobering and sad reading.

Edwin John Frederick Cross.  Age 18. Admitted Jan 9. Previous abode, Camden Town. Occupation Shorthand Clerk. Single. First attack, lasting about three weeks. Supposed cause of insanity ‘over study’.  Not suicidal or dangerous to others.  Has sober habits, good education, weak state of bodily health, religious persuasion – non-conformist. No relatives similarly afflicted.

“1st Medical Certificate

  1. Facts indicating Insanity observed by myself: Religious delusions – imagines himself to be lost since his connection with the Chapel
  2. Other facts (if any) indicating Insanity communicated to me by others: His father states that he has been violent and required restraint about twice a day – that he has delusions about seeing his brother who is now in Canada. [Note here and below that Apsley Samuel Boulding had gone to America, and is not known to have been in Canada, although it is possible that he was].Wm Adams –  Harrington Square

2nd Medical Certificate

  1. Facts indicating Insanity observed by myself: States he has blasphemed the Holy Spirit, but cannot explain in what way or by what act he has done so
  2. Other facts (if any) indicating Insanity communicated to me by others: His father says he told him he had seen his brother on Saturday last – his brother at the same time being in Canada – also told them that he had met his late employer without his arm. Charles Astley Wakefield, St Marylebone”  [He was a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons, and a Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries] 

Discharged “Uncured 6 Jan 1875 WR Williams”

Medical record:  “Informant father.  No insanity in family – No Phthisis [tuberculosis]. Naturally quiet in disposition, but cheerful, steady in conduct. A shorthand clerk. No serious illness or accidents, his health has been fair.

“In October observed to be vacant in manner – slow in answering questions. Was discharged from his employment on this account in October – since then under Medical care – becoming more vacant – A month ago delusions observed – for last fortnight has taken little food – getting weaker though observed to be stouter about the neck and waist – Clothes not meeting – Much constipation – Sleeping badly for the last few days before admission – but complaining of being disturbed at night by voices for a month previously – Reserved and morose in behaviour  from commencement of attack – On Saturday (Jan 3) he lost control of himself, and showed some Violence toward his parents, and had to be forcibly restrained – Under constant control since then is excitable  Not extravagant  – Not suspicious –”

[Different handwriting] “Janry 16. A fat, flabby sallow looking youth suffering from a partial dementia. He is unoccupied & solitary. Eats  fairly & sleeps better. Takes no interest in things around him.

“Janry 24 About the same. Neither sociable nor industrious. Personally tidy and clean”  [there is a galvanic chart to the right of this date entry] 

[next page – to the right of the entries through March 15 are three galvanic charts]

Janry 31st. No improvement

Febry 7. Pale, anemic, indolent & untidy. Given to self abuse. Demented.

Feby 14, 21, 28; March 5:  No change

April 1 To be fed with Stomach Pump once daily.

” 7 To be fed twice daily with Pump. He lies in bed & is in a peculiar cataleptic state

” 10 Takes his food At least some of it

” 14 Takes more food, Still in bed

” 20. Gets up daily Less cataleptic He is gaining strength

” 28. Talks more & reads the paper a little

May 4, 20. About the same

June 5

”  10 Continue galvanism  He is rather brighter. He cries during the Application

[ to the right of this entry are galvanic data and a chart] 

June 20 Galvanism not continued Some slight improvements in cleanliness. Less cataleptic

July 1 A little better but I fear good for nothing

July 22 No change

Aug 28 –  No change

Sept 4 Rather more tidy and brighter

Sept. 10 Still brighter

Sep. 20 Relapsed. As untidy and silly as ever

Oct 9. Brighter and more healthy looking Quite robust and jolly

Oct 20 Now he is talkative & uses strong language very freely. He is rather witty as well as blasphemous

Nov 1 Again untidy and dirty

” 14   Varying

” 30. Again abusive & chappy

Dr. 10 Quiet & less troublesome

” 28 Variable

At one time masturbating & excited Untidy and impulsive.  At another pallid, dirty & sullen

There is no very great regularity as to time in the accesses [sic]; no true “jolie circulaire” [an alternating form of disease with periods of depression and mania, possibly now referred to as bipolar]

He will probably end by becoming a dement

Janry 3 Today without any warning sprang up and smashed a window in the dining room. He then struck one of the doctors in the face
He was put in seclusion for the rest of the day.

Jany 6,  Discharged uncured.

JB”

The Admission and Discharge Register shows:

Discharge: 1875 Jany 11.  Date of last Admission: Jany 9th 1874.  No in Register of Patients 5316.  Edwin John Frederick Cross.  Male.  Private. Discharged Not Improved.

A letter to his half-niece Susanna Spence in New York City:  The following is the letter written to Susanna Mary Spence (1872 – 1933). Her siblings were born as follows: Sarah Charlotte Spence, (1874 – 1959); Florence Victoria Spence (1876 – 1946); Elizabeth J Spence (c. 1878 – ?1951); William Frederick Spence [named after Uncle Fred?] (1879 – 1956); Arthur Boulding Spence  (1882 – 1966)]

53a Chalk Farm Road. Haverstock Hill N W

London April 7th 1882

My dearest Niece

I now take the first opportunity I have had for some time to answer your dear & beautiful little letter you so kindly sent me. It is beautifully written, so clear and neat, and gives bright hopes for prospects in the future.  Now dear before commencing to do so I sincerely ask you to forgive my absence of mind or whatever it may be as dear Mother puts it, rather, of finding or making time to reply & without tiring you with details you will I trust take my apology for not having more quickly done so.

You don’t know how I prize your note. I shall put it in my Cash Box & keep it there for an unknown future, never to part with it, for its sweet, and simple & loving ray of childlike expressions & the willingness so readily displayed in satisfying your uncle Fred’s wish to receive a letter from you so soon as you would be able to send one.

Now tell your dear Mamma to kiss you a thousand times for such a letter as this, at any rate one from her must act as equivalent to it.  What should I say if I could only be amongst you & your dear little Brothers & Sisters.  I am afraid I should never leave you.  It would be a great joy to me to see you all.

I hope I am not fatiguing you at all, because if I am say so & leave the rest for another day.

It pleases me to know you are progressing so nicely in your studies. Dear Susie, depend upon it you cannot use your time better than having something to do – something which will place you one step more in advance of what you were yesterday.  God’s first commandment says “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul and with all thy mind.  This is the first & great commandment”  And therefore if we love him so, we shall do everything in that same earnest spirit.  We shall be loved for what we do & shall be pleased to do it, & then we shall be a pleasure to those around us whom we love.

Now I dare say you already know that if you half do a thing your play is not half so joyous & happy as it would have been had you done it properly.  Why is this: Because you are dissatisfied with what you have done & that dissatisfaction is troubling you all the while you are at play.

Whatever we have to do let us do it in our best.  For instance if Mamma asks you to do a little thing which perhaps costs just a little trouble & denial do not forget dear there is One above who watches over you & sees you in all you do or say & who holds the Reward in his hand, not the reward which any earthly parent or friend can offer, but one far higher and nobler & we can all try for it.  Please God & you are sure to please (…) your earthly parents & friends. Don’t mind what any little companions may have to say to you to coax you out of it, as being too much trouble & requiring too much self denial, & say, I don’t take as much trouble as that, I just do it & that is sufficient, for me. I am speaking of great things now & young people are too apt to forget them.  Small they call them but small as they may appear, bring about great results either for good or evil.

“Whatever deserves doing at all, deserves doing well.”

[After a quote from Matthew 7, there are then four verses, the first of which begins “There is a path that leads to God…”  This is followed by another verse of a hymn.]

The letter continues:
I am glad to hear dear that your sister Sarah is sharing in your success at school & that Florie is going soon.

Your dear Grandmama is very pleased at the names your little Brother has had given him [Presumably referring to newborn Arthur Boulding Spence. James Boulding’s sister Charlotte’s son was named Arthur Boulding Cole, and in turn he had a child in 1876 also named Arthur Boulding Cole. It seems possible, then, that Uncle Fred was also in touch with his mother’s Boulding relatives.]  Remember me kindly to your dear little Brothers & Sisters & kiss them all for me & accept much love for yourself, your dear Papa & Mamma included.

Believe me to remain,
Your affectionate Uncle Fred

P.S.  Since writing the above I am sorry to say dear Mother has been taken very ill with a slight attack of rheumatic fever.  She of course keeps her bed & therefore I feel quite unfit to write to your dear Mama & your Uncle Apsley, but will do so as soon as I can…

P.S. 2. Be sure you all have a ride on Jumbo.  He is a beautiful creature.  [Presumably referring to Jumbo the elephant…]

And with that, we say a sad goodbye to Uncle Fred.  Perhaps he found security in the confines of the institutions in which he spent so many years.  The stark details outlined here were replicated for many thousands of men and women who spent years of their lives in institutions in the 19th and 20th centuries.  His half nephew, Arthur Boulding Spence, would repeat this pattern in the mid-20th century in New York State, hopefully in more humane and enlightened surroundings than those which Uncle Fred experienced.