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BELL, James Kennedy

b.1862 – d.1918


Although we know from Long Grove’s records that James Kennedy Bell died there in 1918, it has not been possible to find his name in the admissions register, so we do not know how long he was resident in the institution before his death. Neither do we know the reason for James’s admission as none of the documents we have at our disposal give any indication of the mental health problems that would have necessitated treatment in a psychiatric hospital.

James’s parents – Edinburgh

James Kennedy Bell was the son of James Bell and his wife Emily (née Callway). His father, who was born in Edinburgh in 1826, was a journeyman bootmaker. His mother was born in Renton, Devon, in 1830 but in the 1841 Census, she is living with her parents and siblings at Meards Court in Soho. Emily’s father, Edward Callway, was, like her future husband, a bootmaker. The couple married in the parish church of St Marylebone on the 27th of May 1849.

It would appear that James and Emily moved to James’s home town soon after their marriage as we find them in the 1851 Census, living at Stevenlaws Close in Edinburgh, with their baby daughter Jane. Jane was born in Edinburgh in 1850 but, as she does not appear in the 1861 Census, it might be assumed that she was the Jane Bell, daughter of James, who sadly died in Edinburgh in 1851 aged 1. In 1853, Emily gave birth to her second child, Phineas (seemingly named after her grandfather) and a second son, Edward, was born in 1855.

Return to London and James’s birth

Sometime after Edward’s birth, the family returned to London. In the 1861 Census, they are living at 8, Great Crown Court in St James’s with Emily’s now widowed father and her brother, Henry, both of whom are bootmakers. Since moving to London, Emily has given birth to two daughters, Anna (born in 1857) and Isabella (1860). James was born on the 31st of March 1862. However, the joy the family felt at his birth would have been tempered by the death of his six year-old brother, Edward, just two months earlier.

1870s and 1880s

On the 24th of March 1870 James was baptised at the Church of St Peter in Great Windmill Street with his sister Isabella and a younger brother, Alexander Currie, who was born on the 19th of January 1865. At the time of the baptisms, and in the census of the following year, the family was living at 24, Windmill Street in Soho. However, by 1881 the Bells had moved to 5, Bewick Cottages in Battersea. In the census of that year we find that Emily has given birth to a daughter, Margaret, born in 1873, and James, now aged 18, is working as a bootmaker like his father.

1890s – marriage to Harriet

In the 1891 Census, James is living at 13, Alfred Street in Battersea with his sister Isabella and her husband James Alexander Rich who is a bootmaker. James’s parents are living in the same building with his brother Alexander and his wife, Sarah. Like his father, brother and brother-in-law, Alexander is also a bootmaker.

In the 2nd quarter of 1896, James married Harriet Eliza Lowe in Wandsworth. Harriet, who was fourteen years younger than James, was born in Chelsea Barracks on the 23rd of October 1876, to William Lowe, a soldier, and his wife Fanny (née Salt). In the 1891 Census, Harriet was working as a ‘port errand girl’ and living with her widowed mother and her younger brother and sister at 34, Alfred Street in Battersea.

In the 4th quarter of 1899 James’s father, James Bell senior, died aged 73. We do not know for certain when Emily died, although there are records for an Emily Bell, aged 66, whose death was registered in Lewisham in the 4th quarter of 1895. There is another aged 67, whose death was registered in St George Hanover Square in the 2nd quarter of 1896. However, although the name and ages match, there is no other evidence to prove that either of these women is, in fact, James’s mother.


In the 1901 Census, we find James and Harriet living at 46, Knowsley Road in Battersea with their children James Robert Henry (born in 1896), Alexander Thomas (1898) and Isabella Annie (1900). By the time of the 1911 census, however, the family had moved to 14F, Victoria Dwellings, Battersea Park Road. Harriet had given birth to three more children, Harriet (born 1902), Albert (1907) and Alice (1908).

Victoria Dwellings was developed in 1876 by the Metropolitan Artisans’ and Labourers’ Dwellings Association. They consisted of three blocks, one for artisans (98 tenements of 3/4 rooms) and two for labourers (each having 90 tenements of 1/2 rooms). They were of four storeys and were built of yellow stock brick.

Although James is still working as a journeyman bootmaker and his son James is an apprentice baker, it is evident that the family is living in reduced circumstances: James and Emily’s second son, Alexander, is no longer living at home but is an ‘inmate’ at the Boys’ Industrial School, Regent’s Park Road, St Pancras.

According to a contemporary report, this home ‘accommodates…50 poor boys, destitute, but never convicted of crime, who are here rescued from starvation and crime, lodged, clothed, fed, and trained to honest industry…Carpentry, brush making, needle-work and tailoring, shoemaking, firewood cutting and domestic work are taught.’

Mental health problems?

Was James unable to find enough work to support his growing family? Were the mental health problems which would eventually see him admitted to Long Grove preventing him from working at all? There were a number of admissions to asylums by ‘James Bell’ in 1911 and at the beginning of 1912. None of these overlap. Is this our subject manifesting the mental health problems which would dominate the rest of his life or is it another man – or men – with a similar name? From this distance, we can only speculate.

Essex Asylum: 13th of January – 23rd of February
Woking Asylum: 2nd of March – 13th of April
Barming Heath Asylum (Maidstone): 18th of April – 5th of July
Banstead Asylum: 22nd of July – 11th of October
Wandsworth Asylum: 14th of October – 5th of December
London Asylum: 20th of January 1912 – 12th of February 1912

Each episode ended with the patient being discharged and described as ‘recovered’.

Long Grove and death

In July 1911, shortly after the census was taken, Harriet gave birth to her seventh child, a boy named Phineas. James continued to appear on the electoral register until 1915 but then we hear no more about him until his death in Long Grove in 1918 aged 56. He was buried in Horton Cemetery in plot 488b on the 1st of August 1918.

James’s family after his death

James’s son James enlisted in the army in 1914 but sadly died in Flanders on the 27th of March 1917, of wounds sustained in battle. In 1915, Alexander also enlisted in the army after working as a carpenter. He was demobilised from the Royal Field Artillery in 1919.

In the 1921 census we find Harriet, her mother Fanny, and four of her children living at 6, Rollo Street in Battersea. Harriet is an under-cook at a gas-mask factory. Alexander is a carpenter in a building firm and his sister Harriet is working in the Savoy Hotel laundry. Albert is a ‘warehouse boy’ at a wholesale grocers and 10 year-old Phineas is still at school.

In the 1939 register, Harriet and Albert are still living at 6, Rollo Street, with retired gas stoker Robert G Boulton. Harriet is now known as Harriet Boulton. Although both she and Robert are described as married it has not been possible to find a marriage certificate for the couple. Harriet is a ‘charwoman incapacitated’ and Albert is working as a general labourer on Southern Railways. Harriet died in NE Surrey in the 1st quarter of 1957 aged 80.

Unfortunately, it has not been possible to find James’s daughter Isabella after the 1911 Census. However, we know that Alexander died in Colchester in 1979 aged 80. His sister Harriet married William Putman in 1936 and died in Brighton on the 1st of October 1983 aged 81. Albert died in Bromley in 1979 aged 74.

Alice Maud married Arthur Grant in 1934 and then Robert Johnson in 1956. She died in Brighton in 1972 aged 64. Phineas married Ellen Main in 1933 but sadly died aged just 28 at the King Edward VII Hospital in Windsor on the 3rd of September 1939, the day Great Britain declared war on Germany.

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