Thomas Forman may well have ended his days in Long Grove Hospital as a direct result of his experiences of serving with the Royal Artillery in India and South Africa. Before he enlisted, there is no indication of any mental health issues, his life apparently quite ordinary and stable. Certainly, there is ample evidence that active service and war impacted greatly on Thomas.
While it has not been possible to find an official birth record for Thomas Forman, we can infer from censuses and other records that he was born in Shoreditch in the East End of London in 1866. He was the fourth, youngest child and only son of William Forman and his wife Ann. Throughout his life, his name was written variously as Forman, Foreman, Fourman and even Fannan.
In the 1851 census, William, born in Ponteland in Northumberland, was lodging with the Lidgate family in Waggon Way, Longbenton, in Newcastle. On March 14th 1853, he married Ann Sopwith (also written as Sopworth and Supwith) in Ann’s hometown of Gateshead, then in County Durham.
We do not know what prompted the couple’s move from the north-east of England to London, but we might assume that William was seeking employment in one of the many iron foundries in the city. As the couple lived most of their married life in the Hoxton/Shoreditch area, it is possible that William first found work in the Regent’s Canal Iron Works, situated on the south bank of the Regent’s Canal at Eagle Wharf Road, Hoxton. In operation from 1841 to 1866 under the noted ironmaster Henry Grissell, it manufactured ironwork for many important buildings and bridges in Great Britain and Northern Island.
On June 4th1854, William and Ann’s first child, Jane, was baptised at the Holy Trinity Church in Hoxton. According to the baptismal record, the family was living at the time at 17, Edward Street in Hoxton.
By the time William and Ann’s second and third daughters, Ann and Elizabeth (Lizzie) were baptised at the church of St Thomas, Charterhouse, in Islington on July 29th1860, the family had moved to 22, Ashley Crescent in Shoreditch. They remain living there at the time of the 1861 census, in which we learn that Jane was born in 1854, Ann in 1858 and Lizzie in 1860. William is working as an iron founder and his wife is a laundress.
In the 1871 census, William and Ann are living at 16, Wenlock Road in Hoxton with their children Jane, Elizabeth and the addition of Thomas who was born in 1866. William is still working as an iron moulder.
13 year-old Ann (Annie) is working as a domestic servant in the home of William Judd and his family at 12, Regent Street in Islington. Mr Judd is the assistant to a veterinary surgeon.
On October 30th1875, 19 year-old Ann married Edwin Webberley, a bookmaker, at the Holy Trinity Church in Hoxton. At the time of their marriage, the couple were living at the Foreman family home, 16, Wenlock Road in Hoxton.
In the 1881 census, 15 year-old Thomas is living with his father, William, now aged 56, and his mother Ann (54) at 19, Windsor Street in the parish of St Leonard’s in Shoreditch. Thomas is working as an errand boy.
Lizzie is at 1 Wenlock Road in Hoxton, the home of Mary Saunders, a dress-maker, employed as her assistant. It has not been possible to trace Jane after the 1871 census.
On the 6th of June 1886 Lizzie married Edward Henry Davison at Islington Parish Church. Edward, a ham and beef dealer, was the son of Stephen Davison, a butcher. At the time, Edward was living at 606, Holloway Road in Islington. This was to be the couple’s home following their marriage.
On September 15th 1888, Thomas enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery (83rd Battery) in Colchester. He was 23 years and 9 months old and his occupation is a ‘coachman’. His rank in the army was ‘driver’, the equivalent to the rank of ‘private’. This rank in the Royal Artillery was that of the men who drove the teams of horses which pulled the guns.
1890s and 1900s
Of interest, on a number of occasions during his army career, Thomas found himself in trouble with the authorities. From his service record, we learn the following:
- On November 22nd 1891 he forfeited his Good Conduct pay
- On November 16th 1893 he was tried, imprisoned and fined £1
- On September 10th 1894 he was tried, imprisoned and fined £1
- On December 21st 1894 he was tried, imprisoned and fined £1
- On July 27th 1895 he was imprisoned by his Commanding Officer
- On December 18th 1897 he was ‘apprehended and imprisoned by a civil power’
Following each spell in prison, Thomas resumed his army service as a driver. Unfortunately, we do not know the nature of Thomas’s offences. Might they have been related to the mental health problems that were to dominate his later life?
In his enlistment papers Thomas named his father as his next-of-kin and gave his address as 11, Cavendish Street, York Road, (Marylebone) in London. One would assume that Thomas would have spent his leaves from the army with his family but on at least eight occasions from 1897 – following his tour of duty in India – to 1900, he was admitted to the Holborn Union Workhouse in Western Road, Mitcham and discharged at his own request:
- admitted November 10th 1897 and discharged on the 23rd of November 1897
- admitted February 17th 1898 and discharged on the 24th of February 1898
- admitted March 16th 1898 and discharged on the 21st of March 1898
- admitted December 24th 1898 and discharged on the 3rd of January 1899
- admitted March 8th 1899 and discharged on the 13th of March 1899
- admitted November 15th 1899 and discharged on the 1st of December 1899
- admitted December 29th 1899 and discharged on the 2nd of January 1900
- admitted January 4th 1900 and discharged on the 9th of January
Thomas also spent the nights of December 14th and 15th 1899 in St. Luke’s Workhouse in the City Road in Holborn.
We do not know why Thomas was admitted to the workhouse so frequently but he may already have been experiencing mental health problems. Although the concept of combat stress did not then exist, it was recognised that soldiers could become debilitated by the accumulated effects of active service. Having treated the sick and wounded of the Boer War, Anthony Bowlby (1855-1929) concluded that, “the excitement of battle often following prolonged mental strain and bodily fatigue” could produce a form of neurasthenia characterised by “the appearance of functional nervous symptoms”.
Thomas remained in the army for more than 12 years until his discharge on April 30th 1901. He had served in India from October 10th 1889 until February 17th 1896. Then, despite his spells in prison and possible mental health issues, Thomas had been recalled to service under a ‘special army order’ on December 16th 1899. The Boer War had begun two months before and Thomas was to be part of the force deployed in South Africa from January 1900. At the time this was the largest force Britain had ever sent overseas, amounting to some 180,000 men. Thomas began his tour of duty on March 26th 1900.
Sadly, shortly after his deployment, in the second quarter of 1900, Thomas’s mother, Ann, died in Islington at the age of 73.
Thomas’s mental state appears to have deteriorated significantly while he was in South Africa. He was sent back to England after February 18th 1901 and, on April 30th, a medical officer at the Royal Victoria Military Hospital in Netley, near Southampton, declared him ‘insane’. He was discharged from the army ‘in consequence of his having been found medically unfit for further service’.
Life after the army and death
In Thomas’s discharge papers, his ‘intended place of residence on discharge’ is first given as the Union Workhouse in Shoreditch. However, this has later been amended to 606, Holloway Road in Islington, the home of his sister Lizzie and her husband Edward Davison. Thomas cannot live with his father as, according to the 1901 census, William, now a widower, is living in a lodging house at 16 Little George Street in Marylebone. He is 74 and working as a street messenger. The following year William died in Ladbroke Grove Infirmary.
Later that year, on September 11th 1901, Thomas was admitted to Liverpool Road Workhouse in Islington.
He remained there for two weeks , following which he was transferred to Bexley Asylum in Kent on September 24th.
He remained there until June 18th 1907, when he was admitted to Long Grove.
Thomas died in Long Grove on the 16th of April 1918, aged 52, having spent the last seventeen years of his life in asylums. He is buried in plot #696b in Horton Cemetery.
Lizzie, Thomas’s sister, continued to live in Islington and in 1930 was listed in a post office directory as a beef and ham dealer. In 1934, in the same directory she is listed as a beef, ham and tongue dealer still at 606, Holloway Road. She appears to have died before the 1939 census.