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I was unable to find Mary’s birth on the General Register Office website but her baptism certificate gives her date of birth as 3 November 1849. Her mother’s maiden name was Hunns, sometimes spelt as ‘Huns’. Mary’s asylum case notes mistakenly state her age as 42 in 1899, which would put her year of birth around 1857, rather than 1849.

Mary’s parents, George Allen (b.1812) and Eliza Hunns (b.1811) married in 1834 at St Leonard’s in Shoreditch and appear to have had at least seven children together:

  • Harriet (b.1836)
  • Jesse (b.1838)
  • Henry (b.1840)
  • Charlotte Louisa (b.1843)
  • Richard (b.1848)
  • Mary Ann (b.1849)
  • Eliza (b.1853).

All six of Mary’s siblings appear to have survived until adulthood, which was relatively rare during this period as the infant mortality rate was so high. At least five of them married and had children, excluding Henry, who appears never to have married.

The 1840s

Mary was baptised on 18 November 1949 at St Leonard’s in Shoreditch, Hackney. All of Mary’s siblings were baptised fairly quickly after they were born, so we can speculate that the Allen family were very religious.

Mary’s baptism certificate, showing her baptism on 18 November 1849.

The 1850s

In the 1851 England Census, 1-year-old Mary is living at 19 Cross Street in Shoreditch, London, with her parents and siblings, 15-year-old Harriet, 10-year-old Jesse, 10-year-old Henry, 7-year-old Charlotte and 3-year-old Richard. It states that Mary’s father, George, works as an ‘ostler’, which was a type of horse groomer. We know from the later censuses that he subsequently became a coachman.

The 1860s

In the 1861 England Census, 10-year-old Mary is living at 12 Abbott Road in Hackney with her parents and siblings, 20-year-old Henry, 19-year-old Charlotte, 13-year-old Richard, 8-year-old Eliza and 21-year-old Henry Fowler, who was a boarder. Henry went on to marry Charlotte in December 1861 in Monmouthshire, Wales, which is where Henry had been born. George’s profession is given as a coachman, Eliza was a horsekeeper, Henry was also a coachman, and Henry Fowler was a blacksmith.

By this time, Mary’s older brother, Jesse, was married to Sophia Scott with a child and had moved to Stoke Newington.

The 1870s

In the 1871 England Census, 21-year-old Mary was living in Hackney with her parents, and two siblings, 29-year-old Henry and 18-year-old Eliza. George’s occupation is given as a horsekeeper.

In November 1972, Mary Allen acted as a witness to her brother Richard’s marriage to Caroline Hawkins.

Mary’s sister, Eliza, married Richard Wynn in 1873 at the Parish Church in Hackney. Richard’s profession is given as coachman, so perhaps he worked with Eliza’s father or brother. Mary was a witness to the marriage and signed the marriage certificate along with her brother, Richard. They went on to have a daughter, Isabell Gertrude (b.1877).

The 1880s

In the 1881 England Census, 31-year-old Mary is living at 7 Shacklewell Row in Hackney with her parents and two siblings, 40-year-old Henry and 28-year-old Eliza, as well as Eliza’s daughter, Isabella (an incorrect transcription of Isabell), and 59-year-old Thomas Choat, a lodger. The census gives Isabell’s age as 30 but this is a transcription error as she would have been around 3 years old. It states that Eliza was widowed as her husband Richard had previously died.

​​Mary’s sister, Eliza, married James Smith in December 1883. On their marriage certificate, James’ occupation is given as a farrier (someone who makes and fits horseshoes), making it likely that Eliza met him through her father, who was a coachman. They went on to have two children together, Wilhelmina (b. 1884) and Lilian Amy (b.1885). However, we know that James died some time between roughly 1885 and 1891, as he was not living with the family in 1891 England Census. Eliza was therefore widowed for the second time.

Mary’s mother, Eliza, died in September 1886, aged around 75.

The 1890s

In the 1891 England Census, 41-year-old Mary is living in Hackney with her father and two siblings, 50-year-old Henry and 38-year-old Eliza. By this time, Mary’s father, George, had been widowed. They also live with Eliza’s three daughters, 13-year-old Isabell Wynn, 7-year-old Wilhelmina Smith and 5-year-old Lilian Amy Smith.

In the census, Henry’s profession is given as a cabman, Mary is a charwoman and Eliza is a needlewoman. The three granddaughters are named as scholars.

On Charles Booth’s poverty map in the 1890s, Shacklewell Road is categorised as ‘Fairly comfortable. Good ordinary earnings’ to ‘Middle class. Well-to-do’.

Mary’s father, George, appears to have died in June 1891 in Hackney, only a couple of months after the 1891 Census was taken.

Mary was admitted to Fisherton House Asylum in Salisbury, Wiltshire on 3 January 1895 and was transferred to Manor Asylum on 17 June 1899. This is confirmed by her case notes. Manor Asylum only opened in 1899 and lots of patients were transferred here from other asylums when it opened.

UK, Lunacy Patients Admission Registers, 1846-1921 showing Mary’s admission to Fisherton House on 3 January 1895.

UK, Lunacy Patients Admission Registers, 1846-1921 showing Mary’s admission to Manor.

The case notes state that Mary is single, her occupation is a needlewoman and that this is her first attack, at the age of 41. The duration of the present attack is given as ‘1 year’ and the supposed cause is ‘change of life’. The death of Mary’s parents likely contributed to this onset of mental illness. It is not known whether she had any near relative ‘afflicted with insanity’. It states that the Notice of Death is to be sent to her sister, Eliza Smith, living at Shacklewell Road, Shacklewell.

They state that ‘she is under the delusion that she has been drugged by her minister for improper purposes [and] that she is pregnant. She says her sisters [and] others are conspiring with the clergyman for the purpose of ruining her.’

Mary’s case notes from her admission to Manor Asylum.

The 1900s

In the 1901 Census, Mary’s sister, Eliza, is living as the head of the household at 7 Shacklewell Row with her three daughters, 23-year-old Isabell, 16-year-old Wilhelmina, and 15-year-old Lilian.

The 1901 England Census shows 52-year-old Mary (listed only as ‘MAA’) living at Manor Asylum as a ‘pauper patient’. All of the patients on record appear only by their initials. The census mistakenly lists Mary’s age as 45 and gives her profession as a dressmaker. It states that Mary was born in Shoreditch, London. We know that Mary was born in Finsbury, London, but her family at this time were living in Shoreditch. It states that Mary, along with all the other asylum patients, is a ‘lunatic’.

Mary on the 1901 England Census.

Mary’s older sister, Charlotte, died in 1901 aged 57.

The 1910s

Mary on the 1911 England Census.

The 1911 England Census shows 59-year-old Mary still living as a patient at Manor Asylum, listed only by her initials ‘MA’. Her occupation is listed as a needlewoman.

Mary died on 27 June 1913 at Manor Asylum, aged 61 years.

The copy (without notes) of statement of death sent to coroner for Mary.

The statement of death states that Mary died of ‘hypertrophy of heart some years, debilitation of heart, 12 days’. The cause of death was ascertained by a post-mortem examination.

Mary’s niece, Wilhelmina, died the same year, only six months after Mary died in December 1913. She had given birth to her first child six months previously, after marrying Henry Ravenscroft in 1911. We can speculate that she died of complications from childbirth.


It’s surprising that I couldn’t find the birth registration for Mary or her brother, Richard, on the General Register Office website. This is likely due to a transcription error, which was relatively common when the records were handwritten.

I still find it shocking that in a lot of asylum census records, the patients are listed only by their initials. From today’s perspective, it feels very disrespectful to the patients to not write down their full names. On a more practical note, it also makes it very difficult to find particular patients on the censuses as many patients had the same initials.

The fact that Allen is a relatively common surname has made my research more difficult. There were lots of Allen families living in the same area during this period.

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