COOPER, Frederick

This is a story of a tormented soul, a deep turmoil created by untreated epilepsy.

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Frederick was one of six children born to William A Cooper and Mary Ann Taylor, although she is repeatedly referred to as Mary E, Mary Elizabeth or Mary Edith. 

Despite much searching, I have been unable to find a marriage for them although the 1911 Census said that they had been married for 28 years, making the year of their marriage 1883.  Without a marriage certificate showing the father’s name, it has been impossible to tie down their births with any certainty, especially William’s, whose recorded dates of birth range from 1851 (1901 Census) to 1862 (1891 Census)

The 1911 Census also records that they had seven children but that one had died. On admission to the Colony Frederick was unsure if he was one of six or seven children and he was not wrong in his thinking.  

The Children

Their first child William Alfred was born 1885, followed by Agnes in 1886. 

Mary Elizabeth arrived two years later in 1888 and Frances followed in1889. 

Frederick was born 3rd November 1890. His father is shown as a “carman” as he is in the 1891 Census. The address is given as 8, Bertram Street. Mary Ann is shown as ‘formerly Taylor’ indicating a marriage. Looking at the 1891 Census we see that number 8 was unoccupied, so we can see that the family move out following Frederick’s birth.  

11, Bertram Street is given as his mother’s address when Frederick is in the Colony. Obviously Mary liked the area and returned there later in her life.

Finally Ellen (Nellie) was born in 1892.

Although none of the children appear to have been baptised, all their births were registered with the mothers name as Mary. A. Cooper.

The family lived in and around the Highgate, Holloway and Islington area of Middlesex. We can see from Fred’s birth cert that he was.   

1891 Census

In the 1891 Census they were living in Southampton Road, Kentish Town which Booth’s Poverty Maps designate as “mixed, with some comfortable with average earnings and some poor”. Their first four children, including Fredrick had been born in Highgate.  William Senior is said to be 29 years old and a ‘Carman’ (the white van man of his day). Mary (E) was 27 and a ‘Laundress.’

Most of these large houses are now converted into expensive apartments.

Between 1897 and 1899 the family seems to have hit a rough patch and the children, sometimes with their mother and sometimes in small groups without her,  are admitted to the Andover Home in Hornsey Road, sometimes called the “children’s workhouse.”  Mary Ann (Elizabeth) is sometimes noted as in St John’s or Cornwallis Rd WH Islington,’ but no record of William has been found. 

The final entry found is for Mary Jnr and Nellie, admitted 14th July 1899 as “Deserted.”

1901 Census

In 1901 the family are back together and living in Campbell Road, Islington which gets a black rating in Booth’s. It was known as “the worst street in North London” and was said to house the “lowest classes, vicious, semi criminal.” Presumably it was the best they could afford after their troubles.  

William appears to have aged 20 years! He is shown as 50 years old and Mary is 43 years. Somebody’s memory or hearing was at fault here.  

William’s occupation is given as ‘Plate layer G.N.R’ Great Northern Railway, which ran along the bottom of Campbell Road.  Ellen, Mary, Fred and Frances are all living at home. This is the address given when Frederick is admitted to the Epileptic Colony in 1906. Campbell Road no longer exists.

Census 1911

The final census found for the family was taken in 1911 and we find them living at 11, Bertram St, Highgate New Town. A move up in the world although still rated as “poor; 18s – 21s per week for a moderate family.”  It was close to open land and a short walk from Parliament Fields, Bertram Street is now a desirable area. 

William is now shown as 58 years and Mary as 51 years. William’s occupation is ‘coal porter.’  Three of their children are at home on this night: Agnes, Nell and Frances. This address also appears in the visitor’s book for the Colony.

Frederick is admitted

On 20th Dec 1905 Fred is admitted to the St John’s WH and from there on the 27th December, he was sent to Colney Hatch Asylum, Hertfordshire.  He remained there until 9 August 1906 when he was transferred to Ewell Epileptic Colony; Epsom aged just 15yrs old.  

On admission he is said to have no occupation and is chargeable to St Mary’s, Islington.

His father is given as William Cooper of 38, Campbell Rd Finsbury Park and his Mother is named as Mary (Edith) Cooper. 

His history, given by his parents, says that Frederick had no noticeable developmental problems but they give the possible cause of the onset of his fits as, “He was knocked off the front of a brick cart onto the back of his head; he went to the Great N.C. Hospital.”  The Royal Northern Hospital was a large general hospital on the Holloway Road which had an accident and emergency department.

He had no previous illnesses and his habits were good and steady.  There is no family history of alcoholism noted.*… Dangerous, No.*… Suicidal, No.*  

He has light brown hair and grey eyes.

The medical certificate

Signed by M.R. James, it states. “He is dull, apathetic, shows little interest in anything and is unable to look after himself.  His mother says he is, “violent when in fits and she is afraid of him, he is getting worse and took a razor to cut his throat after a fit. *”

His diagnosis on admission gives the principle cause as Epilepsy at age 10 years.

Contributory factors    1. Alcoholic heredity (Father.) *  

2. Epilepsy heredity (Brother.)  3. Trauma age 10.   4. Congenital mental defect. 

5. Congential Syphilis.     

Diagnosis…   “Imbecility with Epilepsy.” 

* Note the differences in the history, the original notes and the diagnosis.

Physically the doctor found no signs of any problems.

Mentally it is noted that he gives the correct date and year but his cognition is “impaired” as is his reasoning.  His understanding of current events is fairly good. He only speaks to answer questions and his speech is slow.  He is “general weak mindedness.” He has no noted “impulses” and says he “never took drink.”

Frederick’s Own Account

Following his admission Frederick gave his own account of things to the doctor on 15th August 1906.

His elder brother, William, had fits from about 14 years old (1899) which stopped aged 21 years.

His parents have been tee total for about six years (1900) but before that his father was, “the biggest drunkard out” and his mother used to “drink too much.” This could explain the problems the family had in the late 1890s.

The fall from a cart

His account of his fall from the cart differs from his parents only in that he says,

“A man driving a cart asked him to get up and as soon as he did, he pushed him off.”  He was unconscious and taken to hospital and his first fit occurred 3 days later.  Frederick acknowledged that his mother found him with a razor with the intent to cut his throat, but he has no recollection of this as it followed a fit.

He has a pronounced lisp and is unable to pronounce “th”. “He has certainly the face generally suggestive of congenital Syphilis but his flattened, broken nose comes from a fall on the pavement,” His hearing is “not very good” and his reflexes are all “fairly poor”

When diagnosing congenital syphilis doctors use the ‘Hutchinson triad.’  Named after Sir Jonathan Hutchinson (1828–1913), it is a common pattern of presentation for late congenital syphilis, and consists of three phenomena: interstitial keratitis, malformed teeth (Hutchinson incisors and mulberry molars), and eighth nerve deafness.”

He has a chronic cough which seems to have come on whilst he was at Colney Hatch.  The history from Colney Hatch says he is at times depressed.  He is in good health and well nourished. He has evidence of congenital syphilis.

“Conditions and surroundings explained to him and a satisfactory parole given.” Parole could be given for patient considered recovered or recovering and meant that they lived in separate villas used as a halfway house.

Note* I have come across this twice and in both cases patients were noted as dangerous or suicidal so  I do not understand the reason for “Parole.”

By late September, Frederick is working fairly well on the farm and has had “only one recalcitrant episode which necessitated a visit to Pine Villa.” He is on no medication.  However by late October he is “sullen and depressed and is attempting to beat his head”. He has suffered 21 fits in the last quarter.

1907 Onwards

March 1907 reports no marked changes and by June there is “improvement somewhat of late, he is brighter and works well.”  Sadly in late September he is reported as querulous and inefficient as a worker.

December 1907 and doctors report that he shows stunted development and is puerile and impish; at times he becomes querulous, discontented and full of wants/rants?

Certified still of unsound mind and a proper person to be detained under care and treatment.

Over the next two years Fred’s behaviour becomes more difficult and he is described regularly as troublesome, lazy, careless in his habits and prone to resort to violence.

In 1910 he is said to be “pugilistic” and in need of much supervision. In August he is fighting with another Colonist and had to be separated by and attendant.  He said, “He wished he were dead and pulled his necktie tight on his neck.” He was sent to bed in Pine villa (hospital ward.) Fred is still not receiving any medication and over the next few months he falls several times.

On 28th Feb 1911 a nasty incident occurred when Fred “dipped his right hand into hot Lysol which was being prepared and the lotion, being near boiling point. He sustained a scald on his wrist and back of hand which was dressed.”

Fred’s seizures are increasing but he is still receiving no medication. He is working well but increasingly slowly and this is how he continues for the next few months. 

In July he stated that he “had some rotten cheese and it gave him dancing diabetes” but was not very distressed at the complaint.  It was noted that, “He frequently uses strange terms for the diseases he thinks he has.”

He suffered a severe fit in September and following this he was very excitable and violent and had to be secluded for a day. After a quiet day, he once again became excited and noisy in the evening but “quieted temporarily on the light being left on until about 12.30.  He then became noisy again and rushed out of the dorm and was, after a struggle, got back to bed with help. The doctor saw him just after 1am and gave him medication which settled him. He stated that “there were rats running round his room.” Following two quiet days he was sent back to Lime Villa.

After 1912

The following February 1912 Fred was “transferred to hospital owing to his confused state and later required removal to a padded room owing to noisy, excited and violent state”

Over the next quarter his seizures increase steadily and by December he was having recurrent attacks of acute excitement at times associated with hallucination. “His appearance is very markedly degenerate”…..he is in good health and condition.

The new year does not begin well when, on February 2nd Fred is sent to hospital for “violently assaulting and old man and blacking his eye.”  

Later that month he had a group of fits and on 27th he was demanding a “new suit of clothes to go home.” He was brought to hospital and secluded and was throwing his bedding out of the single room door. One month later he had no recollection of these events.

On April 2nd he is back in hospital with a black eye following another fight and then, on April 28th, he was awake from 8pm until 4am saying that “maggots were coming out of his right ear and his legs were ‘withering.’  This continued the following day, “banging himself and asking for poison” 

Today 30th April, he is “restless, disorientated, hallucinated,” making errors of identity and mixing past and present.  He is secluded in the padded room.

This sad state of affairs continued into May when he was transferred to hospital for fighting. “He frequently becomes excited and harbours delusions. A few weeks ago (presumably the incident in late April), he said he would “rip up his body to let out the worms or, if not allowed to do so would throw himself under a train.  He is somewhat better now but still making treats to kill himself.”

Throughout June and July Fred is confined bed or, when that does not contain him, in a padded room, once allowed up his is fighting again and soon sent back to Pine villa.

In August he is said to be very changeable “one day wishing to exchange his tobacco for jam and the next he wants to return to his tobacco.  He thinks that he has quite got the better of his fits and has not had any for some time – (3 weeks since last fit.)  This behaviour continued until the final note in the ledger dated 30th Nov 1913 when once again we read “See new ledger.”

Frederick dies

At this point in time no loose notes have been found for Frederick Cooper and unfortunately his death certificate is not available to view digitally, but we do know that he died on 24th Jan 1914 just under 8 weeks after the last entry.

Fred was buried on 29th Jan 1914 in Horton Estate Cemetery in grave 981a. 

Frederick’s family

It is frustrating that I have not been able to tie down William’s birth or family but I believe he probably died in 1919 in the Kensington district.  He was with the family in 1911 but was recorded as “deceased” on Frances’s marriage certificate in 1923.   

Mary Ann (Elizabeth) still remains a mystery and I don’t know when she died.

William Alfred Junior.  The 1911 Census is the first time we have a second name for William and it’s likely it is his father’s second name as well, but unconfirmed.  He married in 1905 to Annie Pennington and they had several children: Annie Ada 1908, William Frederick 1910, (possibly named for his brother?) Arthur Edward 1914.

On the 1911 Census they are living in Inkerman Rd, Highgate and William is working for the Great Northern Railway. William, Annie and William Jnr appear in the 1939 register still living in Islington and young William has joined his father working on the railway. I believe William died in 1964 in Islington.

Agnes married in 1913 to Charles Jeuitt whose name appears in the visitor’s book for the Colony.  Unfortunately Charles died in Jan 1919 leaving Agnes with a daughter Ada Rosanna born 1916. Agnes re-married in 1921 to William Charles who, according to the 1939 Register was 22 years older that her. No confirmed death has been found.

Mary E.  Mary Elizabeth is still living with her parents on the 1911 Census and working as a cook.  I have found a Mary Elizabeth Cooper/Cole Widow on the 1939 Register living in Enfield, Middx born1886, and a Cooper/Cole marriage 1921 St Pancras but the name is Rose M. Cooper ? So yet another mystery.

Ellen  I have three possibilities for Ellen (Nellie) 1. She died in the Marylebone Infirmary age 21 years.  2. She married (not found) and then divorced a Mr Hartley and had a child called Colin. They are found on the 1939 Register living in Hampstead. Or 3. She remained unmarried and is recorded in the Reg as a housekeeper living in Hackney. Both women were born in 1892.

Frances She married George Roberts in 1923 in Holloway, Islington. George was a Carman and they were both 24 years old.  Her father is deceased but the two witnesses are Nellie Henry (presumably her sister but again I haven’t found a Cooper/Henry marriage) and Wm Cooper.  George came from the same area and had a similar childhood, in and out of the workhouse until, in the 1911 Census we find him in Upton House, Certified Industrial School, Homerton. 

Perhaps this was the chance that helped George break the cycle of the WH.

Authors note

This has been a very complex and confusing story to research and I am grateful for the suggestions offered by fellow researchers.

The Cooper children had a really difficult start in life, constantly in and out of the workhouse children’s home.  Without the earlier background of William and Mary Ann (Elizabeth) it’s hard to guess what sent them spiralling down into drink causing so much unhappiness.  Made all the worse when both their sons developed epilepsy.  However, once they made the change and put the drink behind them it seems that they provided a hardworking home for the family even if it I wasn’t always in the best environment. 

Looking at the visitors book it seems that no visitors came to see Fred during the first 3 years he was in the Colony, but later he was visited once by his mother, twice by his brother William, the last time just 3 months before he died and also by his brother in law Charles Jeuitt. 

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