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b.1862 – d.1912.

Thomas’s family

Thomas’s birth is recorded in records variously between 1859 (1891 Census) and 1862 (admission records)and no baptism has been found, but there is a Thomas James Bolton registered in St Pancras  in 2nd Q 1858  that I believe to be him. 

On admittance to Epsom Colony Thomas supplied his own history details and claimed he was the youngest of nine children; however, it would appear that he was actually the oldest living child in a much larger family.

His parents were Thomas James Bolton (1838 – 1912) and Rebecca Carrigan 1840 – 1911) both born in St Pancras.  They were married in St Pancras Old Church on 25 July 1856 and their children were:

  • Elizabeth Jane  1857 –1857 St Pancras
  • Thomas James 1858 – 1912 St Pancras     
  • William Fred’k  1860 St Pancras                     
  • Eleanor (Ellen)  1862  St Pancras                      
  • Charles Joseph 1866-1915 St Pancras             
  • Annie 1868  St Pancras                          
  • Edwin Richard 1870 St Pancras
  • Joseph (Henry) 1872 Islington, Mddx.
  • Rebecca 1875 – 1956 Essex
  • Alice Jane 1877 – 1877 Essex 
  • Rebecca 1875 – 1956 Essex       
  • Catherine 1878 – 1930 Essex 
  • Rebecca 1875 – 1956 Essex                 
  • Jane 1880 – 1956 Essex 
  • Rebecca 1875 – 1956 Essex              
  • Rosetta 1885 – 1940  Hendon, Mddx

The 1860s and 1870s

I have found a record in the 1861 Census for Rebecca and William Frederick age 8 months. She is staying with her sister Sarah Faulkner at Caroline Place, Islington, but there is no record of her husband or son.  

I have found no 1871 Census for the family but, as you see below, things do not seem to have been going well and perhaps life was unsettled and they were ‘flitting’ between addresses.

In 1872 we find the children in the Liverpool Road Workhouse overnight Dec 18-19th though no reason is given.  Joseph is said to be 1 year old but his birth was registered in the 4th Q of 1872 so possibly the children all went in whilst Rebecca gave birth?

The 1880s – Leavesden Asylum

We find the family first recorded together in the census in 1881 living at 12, Bakers Hill, Stamford Hill, Hackney.  Both Thomas James and his son Charles are general labourers and Rebecca is a laundress. William Frederick and his sister Ellen are old enough to be out in the world.

Thomas’ problems had been apparent for some time and during the early 1880’s he had been in and out of the local workhouses as shown in the 1881 Census when he is in the St Pancras Workhouse

We are also missing Elizabeth Jane and Alice Jane, both of whom died within their first year.

According to Booth’s Poverty Survey Bakers Hill was a poor to very poor area inhabited by labourers, which ran up to the River Lea just across from where the Walthamstow Marsh Nature Reserve is today.

There was a large company called Connell’s at the bottom of the hill which employed local women in its dyeing, cleaning and washing factory which is probably where Rebecca worked.

In Thomas’ given history on entering the Colony he says he was admitted to Leavesden Asylum, Hertfordshire in 1882 and remained there until 1890. 

Leavesden opened in 1870 for the purpose of “administering care for the numerous quiet and harmless imbeciles” that were an all too familiar sight in the streets of metropolitan London during those times.”

The 1890s – Banstead Asylum

In the 1891 Census Thomas Jnr is back with the family and they are now living in Earlsbrook Road, Reigate, Surrey.  Thomas James, Rebecca and their son Thomas are all employed in a local laundry where young Thomas is shown as a warehouseman. Having just come out of Leavesden Asylum one can assume that his father, as a laundry foreman, was able to get him a job. 

There was a large asylum in the area at that time called, The Royal Earlswood Hospital and, like the Epsom cluster, it would have had a laundry attached, so it is possible that this is where they worked.

Charles and Ann have moved on and young Catherine, now 12 years old, does not appear but the youngest member of the family, Rosetta, is shown over the page.

It is at this point that Thomas’ health seems to take a downward turn again and on 18 June 1900 he is admitted to Banstead Asylum where he stayed until November of that year when he was discharged as ‘recovered’.

The 1900s

By March, the time of the 1901 Census, we find Thomas again in the St Pancras Workhouse, his occupation given as some kind of porter.

We have no idea how long he remained there this time but we find him admitted again on 18 Aug 1905 when he is said to be a ‘Labourer’ with ‘No home’.   His sister Rebecca is mentioned as his relative. Now married, she is Mrs Rebecca Karns (Cairns) 9, Lind Rd, Sutton, Surrey.

Colney Hatch Asylum and Ewell Epileptic Colony

On 16 March 1907 Thomas is admitted to Colney Hatch Asylum in Hertfordshire, and he remains there until he is transferred to Ewell Epileptic Colony on 2 Nov 1907 where he lived until his death in 1912.

Thomas’s physical condition and mental state

The medical certificate that came with him says that Thomas is “of sullen and morose aspect. He accuses other patients of agitating and annoying him and of throwing paper at him”. He admits to having knocked a patient down and threatens to commit suicide if he remains in the workhouse. 

This is confusing as it would appear that he had been in Colney Hatch for the past seven months although his previous residence is given as St Pancras Workhouse.

He gives his own history which is accordingly sparse, but he says that his fits began when he was 15 months old and that he has no warning. He claims that both his mother and father were “drinkers.”

In the doctor’s assessment of Thomas he is said to be 5’ 6” and 11st 5lbs with dark hair and brown eyes. 

He has a slight scoliosis and impaired vascular condition but no respiratory problems. His initial diagnosis was Epilepsy, Arteriosclerosis and Paresis of the left side (muscular weakness caused by nerve damage or disease)

Mentally he has a fair idea of current events and gives correct season and dates. He can hold a normal, relevant conversation.  His reasoning is impaired by general weak mindedness (an often used term.) His memory is fair and he suffers no hallucinations or delusions.  He is cheerful and occasionally excitable, sociable and “practically TT always.”  We must presume that these initial assessments are fairly routine as often they do not resemble previous and later comments.

Thomas’ case notes begin on 9 Nov 1907 and state that he has “Insanity with Epilepsy” the chief feature is “weak mindedness and emotional instability”

His manner and conversation is “simple and dependant and he admits an inability to control his temper” He has been well behaved since admission with no fits, but as time passes the occasional fits leave him “morbidly irritable and agitated, accusing those near him of wanting to do him harm.”

He is given work on the farm and works well but gets irritable when given instructions. 

All those who were able were expected to work in some capacity to support the whole of the hospital cluster which was like a small town.

Throughout 1908 Thomas has very few seizures but becomes “quarrelsome, childish, untruthful, indolent and ineffective.”  Things continue much the same throughout 1909 and then we find a deterioration in his habits and he is said to be a “chronic gambler and slovenly in habits”

In early 1911 Thomas becomes more aggressive, fighting with another colonist, and he begins to show “delusions of persecution, and alleges that the staff are plotting with his sisters against him.” He says that he is upset and worried as “the others call him names”. This is thought to be “largely hallucinatory” but you can imagine the tensions within such an enclosed situation.

In March of 1911 Thomas is given the job of scaring birds from the oats on the farm. He is now “very tired, discontented and resentful of other colonists making fun of him on account of his work.”  He says “if he has to keep on this job he will escape.”

Obviously his complaint brought about a change of job, and in September he is working as a road sweeper but is still said to be delusional and now complains of rheumatic pains in his leg. His seizures remain “very few.”  He appears in the 1911 Census in the Colony, Epsom.

A deterioration in Thomas’s health

Thomas’ physical health begins to deteriorate in 1912 and in August he is hospitalized complaining of acute back pain with a very high temperature.  

There are concerns about a possible growth and an x-ray shows an enlarged liver and signs of lung problems.

In early September Thomas has an operation for an abscess which is still being dressed everyday over a month later. He is given a daily diet of 2 bananas, 2 bars of chocolate (1/4lb ) and 2oz of loaf sugar, presumably to try and build him up.

On November 11th at 12.20 Thomas is “discovered pallid and breathing deeply, he appeared to be recovering from a seizure.” He is moved to a dormitory and hot water bottles applied to his feet and “cold water evaporation to his head.”

“He regained consciousness and could speak plainly though still pallid, and by 6pm he is able to converse intelligibly.”

A “typical fit” followed at 9.10pm but again he was completely recovered by 9.30pm.

Thomas’s death

Now we have a gap.  It’s hard to believe that following these events regular checks and notes were not made, but there is a four day gap until the 15th November when the notes record “died at 11.48am.” 

Generally notes were updated on a regular basis even when nothing particular was happening and especially when there were changes or concerns, so it is difficult to explain the lack of information at this crucial time. However a post-mortem states.

Thomas Bolton. 50yrs. Single. General Labourer. 

Died at 11.48am on 15th Nov 1912.

Principle cause    a.  Caries of the spine (TB. Pott’s Paraplegia)*;

Contributory       b.   Psoas  abscess.  (Psoas – large muscle used in flexing the hip)*

                            c.   Epilepsy .                         

Duration              a.   More than 6 months

b.   4 months.

                            c.   Since infancy.

No unusual circumstances or injury.

*Author’s note.

Thomas was buried on 21st November 1912 in the Horton Estate Cemetery, in grave 2100 b.

Now that we have access to the Colony’s visitor book we can see that Thomas was visited once by his sister Rosetta and twice by his sister Jane. Sister Rebecca’s son and daughter also visited once.  Just five visits in the five years he spent in the Colony.

Thomas’s parents

Following Thomas’ descent into care we find his parents, Thomas James and Rebecca in the 1901 Census living in Epsom at 5 White Horse Cottages, Dorking Rd, Epsom.  Thomas is now 62 years old and the census says that he is an “Engine driver stationary” and Rebecca, 61 years, is a laundress.  

Is it possible that they are working at the Epsom Hospital Cluster? The cluster had its own railway bringing in coal and supplies and also various engine houses for water etc.  White Horse Cottages would be an easy walk away from the hospitals so this is a real possibility, or were they working in the Epsom Union Workhouse which was virtually next door on the site of what is now Epsom General Hospital?

We know that Rebecca died in 1904 whilst they were living in Epsom and is buried in Epsom’s Ashley Rd Cemetery.

At some point Thomas moves to Carshalton where much of his family is living and we find him on the 1911 Census living in one room, presumably his grandson, Thomas Cousins age 7 years  was staying with him that night. Thomas is 72 years old and still shown as a “laundry engineer.”

Thomas probably died 4th Q 1912.

Thomas’ siblings. 

Sisters Annie and Eleanor (Ellen) and brothers William Frederick, Edwin Richard and Joseph have proved elusive, with no definite information found.

Charles (Joseph) I believe he was married in 1866 to Katherine Dodds, they lived most of their lives in the Hackney area and had seven surviving children. Charles was a Carman.  One possible death has been found in 1912 in the Epsom Registration District. Most of his siblings were living in this area at this time but Katherine is shown on the 1939 Register living in Hackney with her son Ernest just down the road.

Rebecca married Colin Alfred Cairns in 1896 at St Barnabas Church, Sutton.

Colin was a plasterer and they lived most of their lives in the Sutton area. They had four children.  Rebecca was the contact given when Thomas was admitted to the Colony but never visited him. Rebecca and Colin were still alive in 1939 and I have a possible death for her in 1956.  It appears that she left her money to her nephew William Robert Cousins.

Catherine (possibly baptised Katherine) One of the few possible sightings of Catherine and her sister Jane (see below) comes in 1887 when both are admitted to the Islington Workhouse. Her year of birth is shown as 1878. I can find nothing more definite about her life.

Jane was married in 1905 to Robert Warren Green in St Nicholas’ Church, Sutton. Robert was a green grocer and Jane, like her mother, was a laundress. 

In the 1911 Census it says they had no children.  Military records are poor but suggest that Robert fought in WW1 and spent a year in Salonika. The 1939 Register suggests that Jane is a widow and may have married again. In fact she did marry William G Bryant in 1stQ 1941.  Jane died and was buried on 11 April 1956 in Sutton, Surrey.

Rosetta married Thomas Heber Cousins in 1903 in Epsom. He was a general labourer and Rosetta (Rose) a laundress.  The 1911 Century shows that they have moved to Sheffield. The record shows that they had four children of whom one had died and one was not present that night. 

Thomas fought in WW1 in the 10th East Surrey Regiment but was discharged ‘unfit’ in 1916.

Thomas and Rosetta continued to live in Sutton, next door to three members of the Cairns family. The only possible death found for Rosetta/Rose Cousins is in the following year, 1940, in the Croydon District.

Author’s note

Initially it seems sad that members of this family did not visit Thomas more often if at all, but when you look at the birth dates Rebecca, Catherine, Jane and Rosetta were all under ten years old when Thomas first went into Leavesden Asylum in 1882 so perhaps they never really knew their brother.  And yet it was Jane, Rosetta and Rebecca’s family that kept some contact when he was admitted to the Colony rather than the older children nearer to his age.  

I have found that in some large families, when births are spread over twenty years or more, the younger members of the family barely knew of their older siblings, something we find hard to believe today.

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