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Percy’s family and early life

Percy was born, the eldest of seven children, on 2nd December 1890 and baptised on 22nd February at St John the Divine, Richmond, Surrey. 

The family are living at 7, Sheendale Villas, Richmond, Surrey an area of newly developed small villas which are now part of a conservation area.  

Percy’s parents married in St Mary’s Church, Barnes on 12th Jan 1890.

Henry William was 26yrs old; occupation a Sadler, Henrietta was just 20yrs old.   We know from the census that Henry William was born in Bristol in the 3rd Q of 1861 and Henrietta (née Pritchard) in Newington, Surrey in 1870.

On 12th Nov 1894 Percy is admitted to New Road School, Lambeth aged just 4 yrs. The address given is 79 Sterndale Road, Battersea.

In 1897 we find Percy has been admitted to the Brook Fever Hospital, Southwark. Could this have been due to the onset of his Epileptic fits?

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The 1901 Census

In the 1901 Census we find the family living at 9, Penton Residences, Clerkenwell and Percy, now 10yrs old, has been joined by Henrietta Elizabeth bn 1892 in Richmond, May Florence bn 1895 in Battersea, Lily Maud bn 1898 in Paddington and Henry George bn 1901 in Clerkenwell. Henry William’s occupation is now given as a ‘Harness maker’

Penton Residences were built in 1878/9 for the ‘Sanitary Dwellings Co Ltd’

“Residences was an aspiring name chosen to match the character of its intended tenants” but by 1909 there was “considerable difficulty letting the flats due to the run down nature of the surrounding housing”.  Booth classifies the area as “poor”.  The area is just off the Pentonville Road where there were many Tanners and leather related factories in this area so presumably work for Henry William.

Ewell Colony

In 1909 the Lunacy Register appears to show that Percy was admitted to the Ewell Colony as a private patient, however his admission record says he is chargeable to Holborn Union and certainly the family circumstances would not lead you to believe this. 

 ‘The 1890 Lunacy Act required a reception order from a magistrate for private as well as pauper patients – so the document from the relative (or whoever) became an application, which it has remained. [Application from a relative was only required for private patients].’

We cannot imagine what might bring a family to willingly seek to admit their son to this kind of care but Ewell Epileptic Colony was a new and forward looking facility.

Particulars on admission.

Percy is 18yrs old, single and has no occupation.  He is chargeable to Holborn     (Union.) His previous residence is the City Road Work House and lately of 

9 Penton Residences, Clerkenwell, the same address given for his Father.

Facts indicating insanity observed by Thomas Evans.

“He is mildly demented, subject to Epileptic fits.  His memory is defective, get very confused in mind on the slightest excitement.  He is not able to follow any occupation.  Principle cause, Epilepsy.  Contributing factor, Scarlet Fever”.

Diagnosis…Imbecility with Epilepsy.

His Father, Henry William Bryant gave Percy’s history….”He was backward in learning and speaking, weak minded in early childhood and at school. No standard reached by the age of 14yrs.  He suffered fits/convulsions during teething and they continued from the age of 3yrs becoming more frequent of late. They occur chiefly at night, with no warning and he foams at the mouth, makes a noise and goes black in the face.  Following a fit he complains of pains in the head.”  

Percy was hospitalised with Scarlet Fever 7yrs ago (?) but does not appear to have any other health issues.

Physical condition on admission

Percy is 5’ 4” and of slight build. 

He has Grey eyes and auburn hair and his expression is said to be “rather blunt and dull.”  His general health is fair.

Mentally he seems to have a fair understanding of what is going on and being said but gives the month and year as March 1899.  His speech is intelligible but his reasoning powers are “impaired from mental habitude.” 

His prevailing feelings are said to be dull with some slight depression, he shows not particular “impulses.” He states that he “never took to drink.”

Percy’s case notes

Following his admission in March the doctor notes that “a chat with the Colonist show him to be a simple minded lad with a congenital or early infantile mental defect” Percy says his is the eldest of five (the number varies but I have found seven children including Percy) and none of his siblings have Epilepsy. He remembers he was unable to learn at school and although he had done a little work in shops, his Epilepsy has prevented continued employment.

As Percy settles to his new surrounding in Beech Villa, he is said to be “fairly well behaved but rather surly in manner and does not associate much with others.”  He is also said to be lazy and resistant to instruction. 

Over the following month his seizures increase to 35 but he is not taking any medication.  In December it is noted that his seizures have reduced slightly but he lacks control over his temper and is lazy and inefficient.


As we move into 1910 we find that Percy is now taking medication, but he is said to be “indolent, irritable and excitable.”  Presumably the medication helps as by June he is “fairly well behaved” and “works fully,” until August, when he gets into a fight with another Colonist over some tobacco and ends up with a black eye.  This is something we find periodically during Percy’s time in the Colony, and he was not alone.

In January 1911 Percy is in Pine (hospital) villa for treatment on his foot, where he managed to get into a fight with another Colonist.

In the Senior Registrars report, after a repetition of the usual descriptive terms he adds that “He has fairly frequent Epileptic attacks……and presents many stigmata of degeneracy.” 

Throughout his time in the Colony Percy worked on the farm and generally seems to have worked well although he is still said to be quarrelsome and easily upset. He ends the year with another fight.

He is shown on the 1911 Census where it is said that he had been Epileptic “from birth”

In hospital

In early February 1912 we find Percy transferred to hospital after a succession of fits, 28 in 24hrs, there he is given Chloreton Powders and Brandy.   A week later he had developed “some signs suggestive of Pneumonia in his right lung, the fits have now stopped, he required tube feeding for a day or two but is now taking food well.”  He remained in hospital and had to be moved to a side room when he became restless and delirious…..  However, his temperature came down but his condition still gave cause for some anxiety.  Later that month he was considerable improved and getting up a little in the evening.

He went on recover from this illness   but in late March was again transferred to hospital following a succession of fits.

In June it is noted that the Colonist “cannot trust himself to behave if he is left alone,” a rather strange statement.

Percy is now given medication to keep him quiet as he is “keeping the others awake” whilst having his fits during the night.  The doctor notes that “He is a quiet imbecile; he is timid and won’t trust himself.  He works on the farm and gives little trouble.”

A deterioration in Percy’s mental health

Percy’s mental health continued to deteriorate and the S.R report in February 1913 says that he has been confined to bed due to poor health and condition due to the fits, between Dec and March they totalled 58. Sadly Percy believes he has only had one fit since Christmas and wants to return home, he thinks he could get work.   This belief seems to have triggered some sort of escape attempt on 20th April when he “helped a Colonist to make a noise and then ran up to the (centre?) He struggled when brought back and bit the attendant.” A group of fits followed but by May was returned to Beech Villa, better.  

There appears to be no significant change mentally throughout the summer but the number of fits is still high, and then in November he is back in hospital with a high temperature and pains in his right side. Breathing problems are detected, he seems to have recovered but some long term damage is noted and Percy is moved to Walnut Villa.

Percy’s death

1914 February 3rd Percy is back in hospital confused and restless and “demanding his pay to enable him to go home.”  On the 5th he is moved again to Thorn Villa and here the story ends, just over two months before his death we read “New Ledger” We know from the visitors book that Percy died on 11th April 1914 but we do not know the circumstances of his death as none of these new ledgers have been recovered.

However, there are some loose notes for Percy at the Surrey History Centre that I hope to see at some point which might finish the story for us.

Sadly Percy only lived to be 23yrs old, he died on the 11th April 1914 and was buried in the Horton Estate Cemetery on17th April 1914 in grave 1017b.

The ‘Colony’, (the Ewell Epileptic Colony) was part of the Epsom Cluster, a collection of five mental hospitals. It had been opened in 1903 to care for “the Epileptic insane of the Metropolis”. 

This new approach housed patients in a collection of villas, avoiding the stigma of living in a mental asylum.  The patients were expected to contribute to their costs by working on the hospital farm or in the kitchens, laundry or bakery all of which supported the Epsom cluster of hospitals.

Percy’s parents after his death

In 1911 when Percy was in Epsom his parents, Henry William and Henrietta continued to live in the Penton Residences and had added two more children to their family.  Sidney Frederick bn 1904 and finally Daisy Alice, bn 1910.  Henry William is shown as a “leather case maker”.

Later in the same year that Percy died, 1914, WW1 began and his father, William Henry Bryant enlisted.   Although past 50yrs he joined the Royal Army Service Corps and held the rank of ‘Sadler’.  His skills would have been invaluable for the maintenance of the tack needed for the thousands of horses used during the war.  Henry William appears to have died whilst still serving, on 25 Jan 1922 although by this time he was in England and he is buried in Islington.

Henrietta, Percy’s mother, lived on into her 70’s and appears in the 1939 Reg’ living in Chertsey, Surrey with her daughter Daisy and son Sidney.  She died in Dec 1944 and was buried on 29 Dec 1944 in St Mary’s, West Byfleet, Surrey.

Percy’s siblings.

Henrietta Elizabeth bn 6 Nov 1892. Baptised at St Mary Magdalene Church, Richmond on 22nd Jan 1893.  At the time the family were living at 13, Hyde Rd, Albert Rd, Richmond in the house shown below. 

In 1897 she was admitted to the Campbell Street School, Paddington by which time they had moved to 9. Adpar Street, Camberwell, a “poor area of tightly packed houses and flats.” In 4th Q 1910 Henrietta, ages just 18yrs married David W Lee,  they are found on  the 1939 Reg’ living at 124 Oyster Lane, Woking.  No children have been found.   Henrietta died in 1968 in Thanet, Kent.

May Florence bn 25 May 1895 and baptised at St Andrews Church, Battersea on 7th July 1895.  The family were then living at 79 Sterndale Rd, Battersea.

On 17 Oct 1914 May married Robert Charles Drawbridge, they spent their life in the Hackney/Shoreditch area of London and appear to have had nine children.

   May died in 1964 in the Romford district of Essex.

Lilly Maud bn 28 Sept 1898 in Paddington and was baptised on 4 Dec 1898 at St Mary’s, Paddington Green.  In Sept 1926 Lily married Ernest George Galletly and in the 1939 Reg they are living in Ramsgate, Kent.  In 1959 they sailed from Tilbury to Melbourne, Australia on the “Strathmore”. Their previous address is given as 243 married quarters RAF Malling, Kent. 

Lilly Maud died on 12 Aug 1989 in Hobart, Tasmania.  They appear to have had three children.

Henry George bn 12 Feb 1901 Clerkenwell.  Baptised 19 Mar 1901 at St Silas Church, Penton Street.  Henry appears to have joined the Dorset Regiment on 

7 April 1919 but the records suggest that he deserted on 16 Jan 1920. No other information found.

Sidney Frederick bn 13 Mar 1904 and baptised at St Silas’s Church on 3 April 1904.  In 1908 Sidney became a “lost boy” for one night in the Islington workhouse.

The 1939 Reg show him living with his widowed mother at 3, Fairleigh Rd, Chertsey, he is an “aircraft fitter”.  Previously Sidney served in the Royal Navy; he signed on for 12yrs in 1922 but gained a “fee discharge” in 1924.  Sidney married in 1939 to Doris Bowman, he died in 1973.

Daisy Alice bn 24 April 1910. Baptised on 7 May 1910 at All Saints Mission Chapel, Islington.  In the 1939 Reg  she is living at 8, Kelvine Rd, Islington and is a “Radio Worker”, later in the electoral roll of 1945 she is living alone at 

18, Oyster Lane, Woking near her sister Henrietta. No further info found.

Author’s note. 

When Percy was admitted to the Ewell Epileptic Colony in 1909 his youngest sister Daisy Alice was yet to be born and his oldest sister, Henrietta Elizabeth, was planning her wedding the following year.  When Percy died in 1914 war was looming, his father Henry William would soon enlist in the army and May Florence was to be married in the October.  It makes me wonder how much Percy illness and admittance to the asylum impacted the family, was it a relief to have him “out of the way”, did his death just get swept up in the turmoil of life. 

The visitors book notes only one address, that of Percy’s Father.  It also shows us that nobody ever visited Percy during his time he in the Colony.

However many stories I research I still find it difficult to come to terms with the language used.  Percy was obviously very young when his troubles began and appeared to come from a good, loving family.  He didn’t drink, and appeared to be mild, even timorous, but still he is labelled an “imbecile,” with many of the “stigmata of degeneracy.” Harsh words.

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