George’s parents were George and Annie Gilbert née Coleman. George snr was born in the SQ 1858 in Newington, London and Annie in 1861 in St Pancras, Middlesex. They married on 25th December 1881 at St John’s Church, Walworth.
Many less well off couples married on Christmas day as the fees were less and in some cases could be waived if the Vicar was feeling generous.
In the 1891 Census the family were living in Camberwell and had already had four children: Florence Annie Rachel was born in 1883 and we know she was admitted to Flint Street School in 1887 but she does not appear on the 1891 Census, the most likely death found is SQ 1890 in Greenwich. Grace Edith followed in 1884 (died 1951) then George Frederick (born 12 Dec 1888, died 1912) and finally Lilian Anne (1890 – 1974).
George was baptised at St Luke’s Church, Bermondsey, Surrey.
A death – and remarriage
George later says that his mother died of a fit when he was born but this cannot be true as she went on the have Lillian two years later. Annie actually died in August 1892 in Peckham and was buried on 17th August 1892 in Southwark leaving her husband to bring up three young children.
George also said later that his uncle had fits so heredity is involved here.
Three years later, on 5th March 1895 George married again to a widow with three children, Alice Susan Redfern, née Bristow. Alice’s first husband William Hawthorne Redfern died in 1893 leaving her with Frederick Bristow Redfern (1889 -1918), Frank (William 1890 – 1962) and Elsie Ada Alice (1893 -1987).
Together George and Alice produced three more children, Adelaide Ruby (1899 -1958), Edward A (1900 -1965) and Ernest Stephen (1901 -1968).
This means that George Frederick actually had eight brothers and sisters although when he was admitted to the Colony he said he had 1 brother and 2 sisters, so obviously he was not close to his step family.
George Frederick was admitted to Harper Street School on 16 Jan 1893 aged four years but in 1895, when his father remarried, he left, “gone to Peckham”. In the information he gives when admitted to the Colony, George says he “did not go to school much as his step mother kept him home to run errands.
In the 1901 Census the family is living at 54 Clifton Crescent, Peckham and George Snr is described as “handyman in brewery”.
George’s mental health problems
We don’t know when young George’s problems started to show themselves but on the 22nd of May 1903 when he was 14 years old he was admitted to the Lambeth Workhouse Infirmary where he remained until the 25th of June 1903 when he was discharged at his own request.
In the workhouse record, it says that his father George is living at 55, Harleyford Road, Vauxhall but there is a note to say that his step mother is living at Clifton Crescent, Peckham.
Have George’s problems caused the family to separate or is George Snr living in Vauxhall to be near his son? George Frederick returns to his father but is readmitted to the Infirmary on the 9th of October 1903. No discharge has yet been found.
When he is 15 years old he is again admitted on the 22nd of August 1904 and this time he is discharged to Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum, then in Middlesex, on the 29th of October 1904.
Colney Hatch was opened in 1851, the largest and most modern asylum in Europe and also the most expensive ever built. Numbers grew and by 1857 it housed 2,000 inmates, but by 1858 serious defects in construction began to appear. Expansion continued and in 1899 the control passed from the Middlesex Justices of the Peace to the newly formed LCC. In 1903, the year before George was sent there a fire occurred in a temporary building killing fifty-one people, the worst disaster in English asylum history.
George left Colney Hatch on the 12th of September 1906 when he was sent to ‘The Colony’, Epsom.
The Colony in Epsom
The Colony had been opened in 1903 to care for the “Epileptic insane of the metropolis”. In 1907 it housed approx 400 patients who lived in a collection of villas, avoiding the stigma of living in a mental asylum. The treatment consisted of a specially regulated diet and doses of Potassium bromide, the first effective treatment for controlling epilepsy. The patients were expected to contribute to their costs by working on the farm or in the kitchens or laundry, all of which supported the Epsom cluster hospitals.
George arrives from Colney Hatch
When George was transferred from Colney Hatch the report sent with him did not make good reading. According to the doctor there he “used the foulest and most profane language without apparent understanding.”
He is “dangerous, and stabbed his sisters (children),” and he is “vicious and constantly attacking children and old men in a dangerous way before and after suffering epileptic fits.”
His father is given as “person to contact” and he states that his son is “very dangerous and beyond his control, and does not seem to understand what is said to him.
Tragically George’s father committed suicide in 1st Q 1906 by drinking Oxalic Acid, a horrible way to die.
On being admitted George’s physical health was said to be fair. Hair brown, eyes hazel. There is no sign of T.B. He says he is tee total unlike his father who is “a drinker for as long as he can remember.”
Mentally he is in touch with his situation giving the day, date, season correctly, his speech is intelligible but the flow of ideas is slow. Past memory is poor, sense of propriety is present but he is not sociable. He is said to be “apathetic but showing no signs of wanting to hurt others.”
In his admission notice to L.C (?) on 17th Sept 1906 he is described using the standard terms.
“Suffering from epileptic imbecility, general weak mindedness, simple and dependent in conversation. “Somewhat ill orientated in time and place.”
The “conditions were explained to the Colonist and parole was obtained!
Considering what had previously been reported this seems very strange, as parole could be obtained for patients if they were considered “recovered or on the way to recovery”. They were then housed in separate villas in preparation for release. There is no further mention of parole in the notes.
A series of fits
On October 3rd it is noted that George had had 68 fits since admission, 16 days previously and 29 since the 1st October. Following a fit he is dazed and wanders and is resistive when wanted to return to bed. He is put to bed in “Pine” the hospital ward.
By December he is settled on medication and his fits have decreased.
March 1907 sees George working well “on the land.” There are no fits to record and he has improved physically and this remains constant throughout the year and into 1908.
The September report of the Sp.R (Superintendent Registrar?) reiterates all the standard terms and certifies that he is “of unsound mind, a proper person to be detained under care and treatment. Presumably these yearly reports were sent to the board of Governors of Lambeth Infirmary who were paying the costs of Georges care.
Over the following year, 1909, George’s fits continued in the lower regions but he was steadily becoming “decidedly duller” and “very irritable and aggressive at times.” In the final quarter of the year 44 fits were recorded.
George is still receiving medication but in 1910 he is reported more and more often as “sullen, irritable, morbidly excitable and quarrelsome.” Occasional fights with other Colonist are mentioned but despite this he is still “working well on the farm.”
In September 1911 it is noted that “shortly after admission his medication abolished his fits with only 1 occurring in 22 weeks. Fits began to recur but meds halved in dose and sometimes not recorded,” obviously something was not as it should be.
New medication was prescribed which seemed to work equally well as the previous treatment. However, at the time of his annual reporting in September he is said to be “becoming excited and using foul language at times. There is no further change and in December he is “still working on the farm fairly well, usually agreeable and sociable if not disturbed by other Colonists.”
Then suddenly on February 7th 1912 George is “transferred to hospital and put to bed in a confused state” During the past 24hrs he has had 40 seizures and was given “Chloretone powders, brandy and digitalis. Later, he “continued to have seizures about every half and hour.” He “became progressively weaker and failed to respond to treatment at all.” Soon after 2pm his condition was “seen to be much worse and he died at 2.35pm”.
Statement of death sent to the Coroner.
George Gilbert. Male. 22yrs. Single. No occupation. Previous abode: Lambeth infirmary.
Cause a) Epilepsy. b) Contributory – succession of fits. No unusual contributory factors or injuries.
Duration of diseases. a) Since infancy. B) 2 days. A Post Mortem was carried out.
George was buried in Horton Cemetery on the 12th of February 1912 in grave 1349a.
George’s family after his death
The 1901 Census shows George and Alice living at 54, Clifton Crescent, Peckham with young George Frederick and some of their blended family. George senior is working as a Handyman in a brewery.
We now know that George senior killed himself in 1906 when George was in the Colney Hatch Asylum.
In the 1911 Census Alice is living in two rooms in Peckham with Frederick, aged 22, Frank, aged 20, Adelaide, aged 12, Edward, aged 9 and Ernest, aged 9.
According to Booth’s map of London the roads where the family lived in Peckham were “fairly comfortable, good ordinary earnings inhabited by artisans and mechanics” although most houses would be shared between two families.
We know that Grace Edith and Elsie Ada Alice both went to Australia where they married and spent the rest of their lives. Frederick Bristow Redfern married but died at Blandford Army camp on the 11th of October 1918. He is buried in Nunhead cemetery, Southwark. The record shows he died of Pneumonia though it is possible he fell prey to the so-called “Spanish Flu” epidemic.
Edward remained single all his life but Frank and Edward both married and remained in the Middlesex area.
Alice Susan Gilbert died in 1934 in Wandsworth, 28 years a widow.
According to the visitors book for the Colony, George was visited by his sisters Grace and Lillian on more than one occasion. Also two of his aunts, his mother Annie’s sisters, Emma Branscombe nee Coleman and Gertrude Coleman visited. His cousin, Edith Branscoombe each visited once, and a friend, A.E. Roberts made the trip from S.E London to see him.
We should not forget that they travelled from some distance to make these visits and obviously held George in some affection despite his past difficulties.