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CORBETT, John Francis


This story is probably typical of the majority of unfortunate people who passed through the asylum system during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. John was born, baptised into the Christian faith, educated, learned a trade but illness and circumstance led to a downward spiral of incarceration in multiple asylums over the course of his life.


John Francis Corbett was born in 1858 the sixth child in the growing family of Henry James Corbett and his wife Eleanor Mary Ann Allen. He was never short of playmates! His father earns his living as a Gas Fitter and Brass Finisher, a craftsman who polished brass items using a variety of methods of sanding and buffing using belts and wheels.

1860s -1870s

In the 1861 census Henry & Eleanor Corbett are living at 24 High Street, Lambeth with their six children, whose ages range from two to thirteen. By the 1871 census the Corbett family have moved to 92 Regent St, Lambeth. The head of the family, Henry Corbett 49, has continued working his trade as a Gas Fitter and Brass Finisher. His children have worked hard and also learned trades – Amelia 21, Lacquerer, Henry 19, Carpenter & Joiner, Samuel 17, Gas Fitter & Brass Finisher, Laura 14, Percussion Cap Filler. John 12, and his younger brother George 6, are both at school. 

All ten children were baptised at the Parish Church of St Mary, Lambeth.


Sadly for the family Eleanor Corbett died in 1879 at the age of 57 leaving behind her husband and her seven surviving children, three having died in infancy.


In the 1881 census John is living at 82½ East Street in Lambeth, renamed Lollard Street in 1893, with his widowed father and younger brother – Henry Corbett 59, Gas Fitter, John 22, also a Gas Fitter, and George Corbett 16, Potter.


John was committed to Brookwood Asylum, Woking in Surrey on 30 July 1886. He was single and aged 28. His occupation was a Gas Fitter, faith Church of England, address 82½ East Street, off Kennington Rd. His treatment was chargeable to Lambeth. His medical certificate was signed on 29 July 1886 and stated that the form of his mental disorder was Dementia and that the supposed cause of Insanity was Fits. It was not known how long he had experienced these attacks but the record stated that his first attack occurred when he was 28, his current age, seeming to indicate that this was his first attack. Epilepsy was not confirmed since the column was left blank. His bodily condition was fair. John spent three months in Brookwood Asylum. After treatment he was discharged, on 30 Oct 1886, as ‘Recovered’.


Where was John between being discharged from Brookwood Asylum and entering the Workhouse, and subsequent sectioning to the Grove Hall Asylum, a period of 4½ years? I haven’t managed to trace John in the 1891 Census. He was admitted to the workhouse two weeks after the census was taken and may have been an invisible statistic somewhere?


On 18 Apr 1891, four and a half years after his discharge from Brookwood, John was admitted to the Princes Road Workhouse in Lambeth. His occupation, faith and year of birth were confirmed as Gas Fitter, C of E, and 1859. The reason for his admittance is not recorded. John’s health is in decline and after ten days he is transferred to the Infirmary.


After another ten days, on 8 May 1891, John was sectioned and committed to a Private Asylum called Grove Hall in the east of London in Bow. He was discharged two and a half years later on 25 Oct 1893 after being deemed Relieved (RELD) which assumes he was sufficiently well to either return home or be cared for at an ordinary hospital. I haven’t found another entry in the UK, Lunacy Patients Admission Registers, 1846-1912 indicating that John was transferred from Grove Hall to another asylum. The year 1893 is not one of the missing volumes.

During the time spent at Grove Hall sadly John’s father dies at 69 years of age having worked as a gas fitter throughout his life. His father must have been a stabilising influence on John’s life. Upon his release John was still a young man at just 33yrs.


Where was John between his discharge from Grove Hall Asylum and his first admittance to Horton Asylum, a period of 9½ years? 

I have been unable to trace John in the 1901 Census.


On 3 Mar 1902 John was committed to Horton Asylum and received treatment for eighteen months before being discharged as Relieved (RELD) on 11 Sep 1903.


The UK, Lunacy Patients Admission Registers, 1846-1912 covering the year 1903 are missing from this collection, therefore I think we can determine that John was transferred to another asylum on 11 Sep 1903 directly from Horton.  Presumably John only spent a matter of months at this place before being transferred back to Horton, a record which we cannot access at this time – 1903 being the missing year.

The final UK Lunacy record which would give the date of John’s re-admittance to Horton and confirm his date of death is also missing.


The record confirming that John had died at Horton Asylum on 27 Jan 1908, was discovered in the Lambeth Poor Law and Board of Guardian register of Lunatics under the name of Corbett, John but definitely our man since the date of death at Horton is three days before his burial.

It would appear that John had been moved from one asylum to another over a period of almost seventeen years, at best a deeply troubling experience for anyone suffering with their mental health.

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