Amy Ashwell was born in the 2nd quarter of 1861 to William Ashwell and his wife Amy (née Heath). At the time of Amy’s birth the couple were living at 6 Kings Arms Court, Finsbury Square in Islington with their children, Charles, born in 1856 and Mary Ann, born in 1859.
William was born in 1827 in Enfield, Middlesex, to Daniel Ashwell, an agricultural labourer, and his wife Ann. Amy was born on the 25th of March 1834, in Southwark, to James Heath, a labourer, and his wife Maria. The couple were married in Whitechapel in 1856. When Charles was born later that year, the couple were living at 3 Castle Street in Islington and William was working as a carman. In the 1861 Census, however, he is described as a horse keeper or ostler. An ostler was a groom or stableman employed in a stable to take care of horses, usually at an inn.
Sadly, Charles died in the 3rd quarter of 1864, aged just nine, and was buried in Tower Hamlets Cemetery. We do not know the cause of Charles’ death but numerous communicable diseases contributed to the high rate of child mortality in London in the 1800s. These included smallpox, diphtheria, measles, meningitis, scarlet fever and whooping cough. At this time, the family was living in Montague Court, Whitechapel.
The following year, in the 2nd quarter of 1865, Amy gave birth to her fourth child, a daughter called Emma*. However, just three years later, when the family was living at 4 Granger Street in Bethnall Green, tragedy befell the Ashwells once again when Amy died on the 6th of November 1868, aged 34. We do not know the cause of her death and, as there is no trace of the Ashwells in the 1871 census, we do not know if William brought up his three young daughters himself or if they went to live with members of his or Amy’s family.
In the 1881 Census, however, we find William, now aged 50, living at 16 Bradbury Street in Hackney, with his daughters Annie (one must assume that this is Mary Ann), Amy and Emma. Annie, now aged 22, is described as a servant, Amy (20) is a domestic servant and Emma (16) is a purse maker. William is still working as a horse keeper.
On the 10th of July 1881, Mary Ann married carman Frederick Eaton at St Mark’s Church in Dalston. Just two days later, on the 12th of July 1881, Amy, described as a servant, was admitted to Hackney Workhouse.
37 Years of Asylum Life
The following day, by order of the medical officer, she was discharged ‘to the infirmary’ where she remained until the 23rd of July 1881 when she was admitted to Bethnall House Asylum in Cambridge Road.
In the 1891 Census, Amy, aged 30, of no occupation and described as a lunatic, is still a patient in Bethnall House Asylum.
According to Lunacy Patients Admission Records, Amy was not discharged from Bethnall House until the 23rd of December 1893, twelve years after being admitted. The 1893 lunacy records are not available online so we do not know where Amy was transferred to. However, we find in the 1901 Census, that Amy Ashwell, a single female aged 39, of no occupation and birthplace unknown, is a pauper patient in Claybury Asylum, Barkingside, Ilford. It may be assumed that this is Amy and that she remained at Claybury for over thirteen years.
While she was a patient there, her father, William, died, in the fourth quarter of 1897, aged 69.
On the 19th of April 1907, Amy was admitted to York Lunatic Asylum where she remained until the 7th of October 1907, when she was transferred to Long Grove.
Sadly, Amy died in Long Grove on the 19th of March 1918, having spent over 35 years of her life in asylums.
(*Although Emma was registered at birth as Emma Ashwell and there is no birth record for Emma Alice Ashwell between 1863 and 1867, it is possible that Emma is the Emma Alice Ashwell, aged 19, who married William Davis at St Mark’s Church, Dalston, on the 1st of June 1884. Emma’s father, William Ashwell, is described as a carman.)