When Charles Curson died in Long Grove in 1917, he had spent the last seven years of his life in this institution. A married man with two children and it would appear always in employment. There is nothing in the story of his earlier life to suggest that he would end his days in an asylum and be buried in a pauper’s grave.
Charles Robert Curson was born in Lambeth on the 28th of March 1864 to Robert Curson and his wife Mary Ann (née Jarvis). Robert had been born in East Tuddenham in Norfolk in about 1833, the son of William Curson, an agricultural labourer. In the 1851 census, Robert was still living in East Tuddenham and working, like his father, as an agricultural labourer.
By the time of the 1861 census Robert had moved his family to London and was working as a stableman, lodging with the Davey family at 5, Farnham Place in Lambeth.
On the 13th of February 1863, Robert, described in the marriage register as a horse keeper, married Mary Jarvis at the church of St Alphege in Greenwich. Mary is the daughter of Charles Jarvis, a labourer, born in Staploe in Bedfordshire in about 1843. We do not know when Mary Ann came to London but at the time of the 1861 census, she was still living in Bedfordshire, working as a servant in the home of Salome Geard, in New Street, St Neots.
The 1860s and a family tragedy
On the 17th of June 1866, Charles was baptised at the church of Saint Barnabas in South Kennington with his brother, William Arthur, who had been born on the 26th of February 1866. The family’s address is given as Brewer’s Cottages in Battersea. As these cottages appear to have been attached to the Nine Elms Brewery, it may be assumed that Robert was employed by the brewery.
Sadly, William died in September of that year, aged just 7 months. It has not been possible to determine the cause of William’s death. However, infant mortality was high in London at the time with as many as 150 deaths per 1,000 live births. In 1866, there was a localised outbreak of cholera in the East End of London, which claimed the lives of over 5,000 people. One can only imagine the distress of Charles and Elizabeth on losing their child so young.
The 1870s and 1880s
In the 1871 census, the family is still living at 3, Brewer’s Cottages though Robert is now described as a labourer. 7 year-old Charles has a new younger brother, Jacob, aged just seven months. By the time of the 1881 census, Mary Ann has given birth to two more children. Ellen was born in 1872 and Rebecca in 1880. Robert is now employed as a brewer’s drayman (one assumes at the Nine Elms Brewery) while Charles is working as a railway porter.
The 1890s and Charles’s marriage
In the 1891 census, Charles is now working as a railway carman, a driver of horse-drawn vehicles for transporting goods. Carmen were often employed by railway companies for local deliveries and collections of goods and parcels.
We learn from the census that in 1883, Mary Ann had given birth to her sixth child, a son called Albert. Also we discover that at some point in the previous ten years the family had moved next door to 2, Brewer’s Cottages. 58 year-old Robert is still working as a brewery drayman, while Jacob is now employed as a stonemason and Ellen is a dressmaker.
At the time of the census, 11 year-old Rebecca is visiting Eliza Patterson and her two-month old son William in Southampton. Eliza’s name before her marriage was Curson, so it is likely she was a cousin of Charles’s.
On the 26th of December 1895, Charles married Elizabeth Sarah Rule at All Saints Church in Lambeth. Elizabeth was from the village of Fulbourn, in Cambridgeshire. She was the daughter of Robert Rule, an agricultural labourer (later described as a hawker) and his wife Frances. At the time of their marriage, Charles and Elizabeth were both 31 years of age and living at 4, Brooklands Street in Lambeth. In the marriage register, Charles is described as a porter working for the London and South Western Railway company.
The 1900s and Charles’s admission to Long Grove
In the 1901 census, we find Charles and Elizabeth living in three rooms at 102, Wadhurst Road in Battersea, a property they share with one other family. With them is their three year-old son, Robert, born in 1898, and Charles’s brother Albert who is working as a waiter.
Charles is described as a ‘coachman, domestic’. A domestic coachman was usually employed by a gentry family who had their own stables or a mews. The coachman and his family would often live above accommodation for carriages and horses. He would drive the family horse-drawn vehicles, taking the family on shorter journeys, visiting friends or to the station. If Charles was, indeed, a domestic coachman, it has not been possible to find the name of his employer.
On the 3rd of March 1902, four year-old Robert was admitted to Sleaford Street School in Battersea. According to the register the family was now living at 95, New Road in Battersea.
Charles and Elizabeth’s second son, William Albert, was baptised at St George’s Church in Battersea on the 1st of February 1903. Charles is working as a private omnibus driver. Private omnibuses (or “station buses”) were maintained at country houses and by some hotels and railway companies to convey servants and luggage to and from the railway station. They would usually accommodate four to six passengers inside with room for luggage (and sometimes additional seating) on the roof.
On the 9th of January 1906, 3 year-old William was admitted, like his brother before him, to Sleaford Street School in Battersea. According to the register, the family was now living at 7, Mundella Road in Battersea.
We hear nothing more about the Curson family until Charles is admitted to Long Grove on the 29th of July 1910. From Long Grove’s medical records, we learn that Charles was suffering from ‘confusional insanity’.
This disorder (also known as delirium) is a serious disturbance in mental abilities that results in confused thinking and reduced awareness of the environment. The start of delirium is usually rapid – within hours or a few days. Delirium can often be traced to one or more contributing factors such as severe or chronic illness, changes in metabolic balance, medication, infection, surgery or alcohol or drug intoxication or withdrawal.
According to the doctors at Long Grove the factors that contributed to Charles’s ‘confusional insanity’ were ‘cardio vascular’, ‘bronchitis’, ‘insane heredity’ and ‘alcohol’. Not surprisingly, his general health was described as ‘impaired’.
In the 1911 census we find Elizabeth and her two sons reduced to living in one room at 91, Wadhurst Road in Battersea. 47 year-old Elizabeth is working as a charwoman.
Sadly, Charles died in Long Grove on the 28th of June 1917 aged 53. Charles was buried on the 2nd of July 1917 in Horton Cemetery, plot number 1346a.
Charles’s family after his death
Both Robert and William, like their father at one time, worked for London and South Western Railways. On the 29th of July 1912, Robert started work at Waterloo Station as a ‘van lad’ (a boy who helped a van driver deliver goods) earning 7/- a week.
On the 26th of February 1917, Robert was released for military service as a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery, but he resumed his duties as a parcels porter on the 20th of January 1919. In the 1939 register, we find Robert living in Merton with his wife Edith and working as a railway guard. He died in 1973.
Robert’s brother William also became a railway guard and in 1939 was living with his wife Harriet and their children in Carshalton. William died in 1988.
In the 1939 register, we find Elizabeth, now aged 64, living alone at 34, Wadhurst Road in Battersea. Under ‘occupation’ is ‘domestic duties unpaid’.
Elizabeth never remarried. She died in New Malden on the of 21st of February 1962 aged 98, having lived as a widow for 45 years.
Written by Stephen Munday in December 2021