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Did Ada’s pregnancy lead her to the asylum?

Ada Eyre was only 26 when she died, a young married woman who was pregnant on arrival at Long Grove. What provoked her admission into a Lunatic Asylum is not known as there are no records to be found at present, but her story can still be told.

The family

Her parents had married on 28 December 1875 in Bangalore, Karnataka in India. Her father Benjamin Wray Heath was a Military man aged 29 and had been posted there. Her mother was Grace Brooking aged only 17. It is unclear how she came to be in India. Her father was a Portsmouth Tailor who may have travelled the world as Grace’s eldest sister stated she was born in Canada. 

The newly married couple remained overseas for at least a year as their eldest son, named after his father, was baptised in Bangalore on 28 December 1876.

From Census returns and General Record Office sources the following children appear to have been born to the couple –

1876, Benjamin Wray in Bangalore, India

1879, Frederick in Shorncliffe, Kent

1881, William in Aldershot, Hampshire

1884, Ada in Normanton, Derbyshire

1886, Gordon Frank in Hendon, Middlesex

1889, Harold Charles in Hendon, Middlesex

The 1880’s

In 1881 the family had been posted to Aldershot in Hampshire which is where the census records find them, and the family unit is shown as follows –

Benjamin Heath, married, aged 34, a Corporal in the 45th Regiment of the Sherwood Foresters, Grace his wife aged 31 from Canada (this turns out not to be her place of birth as will be seen in later census returns) The children were Benjamin, aged 4, born in the East Indies, Frederick, aged 2, born in Shorncliffe and William who was under 1 month old, born in Aldershot.

The family were obviously posted again as Ada, the only daughter of the couple, was born in 1884 although I cannot find her birth certificate and only have census information to suggest she was born in Derbyshire. She was baptised on 9th January 1885 in the parish of St Giles, Normanton, which is a southern suburb of Derby. Benjamin, her father, was now a Colour Sergeant in the 1st Derbyshire Regiment having been promoted on 1 March 1883. The family were presumably living in Normanton Barracks which were the headquarters of the Sherwood Foresters Regiment.

It was during this year that Benjamin Wray retired from the Army on 7th April after 21 years’ service and he became registered as an Army Pensioner. With the retirement there appears to be yet another move as by the late 1880’s the family were living at 21 Claremont Road in West Kilburn which was where Ada’s younger brothers Harold and Frank were born. Benjamin senior was now working as a School Board Officer.

The 1890’s and a decline of fortunes

The decade started with no indication that the Heath family’s fortunes were about to change. The 1891 census shows them still living at 21 Claremont Road just around the corner from Kilburn Park Road.  Benjamin Heath senior, aged 43, was still working as a School Inspector. Grace, aged 37, from Portsmouth and the children Benjamin junior, aged 14, who was working as a Booksellers Assistant, Frederick, aged 12, Harry who was previously called William aged 10, Ada aged 8, Harold aged 6 and Gordon aged 3 were all described as scholars.

Just a few months later Benjamin senior died on 13 August 1891 aged only 45. This left Grace with 6 children ranging from 14 to 3 years old. Ada was only 7 years old.  Although her husband would have been in line for his Army pension, his wife was not. At this time widows could not be beneficiaries of their late husband’s Army pension rights. There is evidence this had a profound effect on the family, especially the younger children Ada, Harold and Gordon Frank known as Frank. Both boys found themselves in the Workhouse receiving indoor relief in May 1893 and it appears they were removed to possibly Wandsworth Union and then later in the year to Edgeware House Workhouse. From there, we learn, they are sent “to school”. There is no mention of Ada being in a workhouse so her mother must have struggled to keep her daughter with her.

The 1900’s

In the 1901 Census the family are all back together and can be found in Belgravia at 52 Moreton Street in London where the widowed Grace, aged 41, is now working as a Tailoress. A later census indicates she was making Military Clothing.  Ada is living with her, now aged 17 and working as a Button Tacker, probably helping her mother because of the large number of buttons involved in military clothing. Her brother Harold, aged 14, is working as an Office Boy and Frank, aged 12, is still at School.

Ada’s older brothers had long left home with Benjamin and Harry joining the Royal Marines but Frederick’s whereabouts are not known. 

On 20th September 1908 Ada, aged 23, married George Arthur Eyre, an Engineer aged 24 in St Simeon Zelotes church in Chelsea. The address given for the couple was 6 Leverett Street, Chelsea. George was the son of George Eyre, deceased, a Cutler.

Ada’s pregnancy and admission to Long Grove

A stable and happy married life did not last long as on 20 April 1909 Ada was admitted to Britten Street Workhouse but discharged 6 days later to her husband. She was described as a Tailoress by occupation and there is a crossed-out note “to lying in ward” which suggests she was pregnant. Within a couple of weeks poor Ada was back in Britten Street Workhouse on 9 May 1909 and sent to the “Observation Ward”. This time she did not return home but was sent to Long Grove Hospital on 14 May 1909. It is not clear why. Her religion interestingly was described as a “Salvationist”. 

She could have been displaying feelings of depression, or panic attacks or fear of giving birth. All things are possible during pregnancy which were not understood at the time. These are just my thoughts and as there no records one can only surmise.

Ada was indeed pregnant, and a baby boy was born to her on 14 June 1909 at Long Grove Hospital. He was named after his father, George Arthur.

Sadly, Ada died just over 18 months later, on the first day of January 1911. It reveals she had Pulmonary Tuberculosis for 16 months and Tuberculosis Enteritis for about a month. From the information on the Death certificate, it appears she contracted TB whilst she was in Long Grove. There is still no indication as to why she was admitted to Long Grove.  She is buried in Grave 963b in Horton Cemetery.

What became of Ada’s husband and son?

Baby George was baptised on 26 August 1909 at St Luke’s church in Chelsea. Both parents are shown, and the address given is 27 Godfrey Street, Chelsea. No occupation was shown for his father.

There are entries for an Arthur Eyre, date of birth 16 June 1909, who was admitted to Britten Street Workhouse on 5 August 1909 and discharged to the Infirmary on 21 August 1909. This could be Ada’s baby. This is prior to his baptism on 26 August. It is possible that he was taken to St Luke’s by the Workhouse to be baptised. I have found a death certificate entry showing an Arthur Eyre aged 0 dying in the Chelsea area in the month of September 1909. This may be him as I can find no further records of his existence.

What of George Arthur Eyre, Ada’s husband? He married again in December 1914 to Dora Lyons. She was the sister of Emily Lyons who married Bertie Eyre – George’s brother. They had a son, Victor George Eyre, who was born 24 May 1916. Sadly, George Arthur died on 25 July 1916 in the Kingston area of Surrey two months after the birth of his second son.

Were there mental health issues in the Heath family?

It is unclear what led to Ada being admitted to Long Grove asylum. There is some evidence of possible mental health problems in the Heath family. Ada’s Uncle William Wray Heath was admitted to Banstead Lunatic Asylum on 22 August 1912 and died there on 18 December 1912. Two of his daughters – Ada’s cousins Norah and Louisa Heath – were admitted to Lunatic Asylums. Strangely, Norah was admitted to Long Grove only 15 days after Ada in May 1909. She had previously been in Fulham Road Workhouse and was judged to be a Lunatic. She was discharged as “Relieved” on 15 April 1910 so she must have improved but was not released but by the time of the 1911 census she was working as a servant in Fulham. Norah does not seem to have had any further episodes.

Louisa on the other hand appears in the UK Lunacy Register many times. In the period between 31 July 1900 and 23 December 1912 she was admitted to Bexley and Hanwell Asylum 6 times though there are gaps in the records. Each time she was relieved with no information as to where she went. The workhouse records state that she too was judged to be a lunatic. In 1939, at the time of the Register, Louisa is a patient in Banstead Hospital.

Was there a connection to Ada’s problems or is it a coincidence?

Author’s thoughts

Ada was born into a military family, the only daughter surrounded by 5 brothers. The family seem to have had a comfortable life even after her father was discharged from the Army. The turning point for the family seems to be his death. There was no financial support from an Army pension and Ada’s mother struggled to keep the family together. Ada does appear to stay with her mother helping with her mother’s work of making military clothing until she got married in 1908.

Her married life was brief, and she appears to have fallen pregnant very shortly after she got married. Did she have some kind of mental illness relating to her pregnancy? One month after her admission she gave birth to her son who was returned, it seems, to his father. Sadly, we will never know how she coped with this separation and how aware she was of it. She died 17 months later from a contagious deadly disease that was very common in Asylums. She never had the opportunity to be a mother.

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