Despite extensive searches I have not been able to trace Ellen’s background. There have been a number of leads but they led to dead ends and show who she is not rather than who she might be. However, what has been uncovered is a record of her life in various asylums which was traced by manual searching page by page of online records when traditional searching uncovered very little. So, it is this story that will be told.
Is this Ellen?
We know from her Asylum records that she was born around 1873/74 but there is a possibility that she was born in St Pancras Workhouse to a Mary Ann King on 14 December 1872 and baptised on 21 March 1873 at Old St Pancras church. It shows “Ellen” as her name with “Mary” crossed out. There are many leads for Mary Ann King but nothing can definitely be proved. It is a theory none the less.
There are no positive sightings of Ellen in the 1881 and 1891 Censuses.
However, there is an entry tucked away in the Settlement Relief papers for St Pancras that may be relevant. There is an entry for a child named Ellen Elizabeth King dated 8 June 1896. This relates to an illegitimate baby who was 9 weeks old and her mother was Ellen King aged 25 making her year of birth around 1871.
The mother is said to be a single woman and a servant who is convalescing at University College Hospital suffering from Puerperal Fever which at that time was a devastating disease. This affected women within 3 days of giving birth causing severe abdominal pain, fever and debility.
On 22nd June 1896, the Settlement department for the Workhouse asks for the address of the child’s aunt, her mother’s sister. The information given is, “Mrs Good, 10 Railway Street, Islington”. The decision was made that on the mother’s recovery the child would be discharged to her. That was not to be, as the poor little girl died on 24th July 1896 and was buried on 10 October 1896 at Camden. It seems her mother did not recover as quickly as was thought or hoped for.
Addresses given for the mother were:
10 Railway Street, Islington 3/12
20 Henry Street, Lambeth 9/12
74 Vauxhall Street, Lambeth 1 year
16 Tracey Street, Lambeth 3 1/2 years
16 years in South Africa. Returned in 1890. Born in Ashdown Street, Kentish Town”.
Is this the reason why there are no earlier records that can be found for Ellen, that she was out of the country? I am not convinced.
Who was the mysterious Mrs Good? No trace can be found of her at any of the addresses. It cannot be proved at this point that this is Ellen Mary King and again this is just a theory as to who she might be.
However what follows can be directly linked to Ellen Mary King.
Ellen’s life in Lunatic Asylums
The first definite record that can be found for Ellen Mary King is dated 8 November 1897 when she is admitted to Claybury Asylum. How and for what reasons is not known, but hidden away in Paddington Workhouse, Poor Law and Guardian Records is an entry dated 30 November 1897 for Ellen confirming she is at Claybury and the Parish that is chargeable is St Pancras based on residency. This was accepted and the sum of 3 pounds, 18 shillings and 10d was paid on 6 May 1898.
So, it appears Ellen may have been admitted to Paddington Workhouse at some point before going to Claybury. No record can be found of this, but St Pancras admitted responsibility due to residency.
On 1 January 1900, Ellen aged 25 is listed in St Pancras Lunatic Register as being in Claybury, at a weekly cost for maintenance and clothing of 9 shillings and 11 pennies (just under 50p) which was chargeable to her parish of residence. This was equal to a day’s wage for a skilled tradesman. By 1 January 1901, the weekly cost had increased to 10 shillings and 9 and half pennies (54p).
In April 1901, Ellen is still at Claybury and can be found in the census as “E M King” aged 26 and a clerk from Surrey although it says in brackets (unknown).
On 19 June 1901, Ellen is transferred to Leicester Borough Asylum aged 27 with 7 other female inmates from Claybury. Her weekly maintenance cost there was 11 shillings 9 ¾ pennies (just under 60p). Was there overcrowding in Claybury that prompted this? From newspaper reports of the time Leicester Borough Asylum was taking in patients from Lincolnshire so it seems it had capacity. It was a much smaller institution with a capacity of 551 patients but it would have been an unsettling move and was only temporary.
On 15 November 1902, Ellen was transferred from Leicester to the newly built Horton Hospital which would be her final destination. Now her weekly cost of maintenance is slightly lower at 11 shillings and 8 pennies.
In the list of lunatics chargeable to St Pancras, Ellen’s weekly cost of maintenance decreases over the years, from 11 shillings 8d a week in 1903 to 10 shillings 9 ½ pennies in 1908.
Ellen’s physical and mental decline
We can also see Ellen’s mental and physical decline through entries in the County Lunatic Asylum Reports. These were reports made to the various boards about the health of the patients chargeable to them.
In July 1906, Ellen (patient number 849) is now aged 32 and is certified as a “lunatic”. At this point she is not considered dangerous to herself or others, she does not have “dirty habits” and her mental state was “dementia”. This was a description given to someone losing their mental faculties. She may have had moments of lucidity and an understanding of where she was and what was happening to her. Her bodily state was thought to be “fair”. So, she was physically quite robust at this time.
These reports were made every 6 months, and by January 1907 she is thought to be a danger to herself and others. She has no dirty habits but her mental state is described as “mania” which suggests she may have had confused and excitable moments at this time but her bodily condition is still “fair”.
By July 1907 she seems to have entered a more settled stage and is no longer a danger to herself and others and the word mania is not used to describe her mental state.
The next group of reports start two years later in July 1909. Ellen is now 35 years old and nearing the end of her life. She is now considered a danger to herself and others. Her mental health is considered “dementia” whilst her bodily health is still “fair”.
In January 1910 Ellen’s health can be seen to be declining. Now not only a danger to herself and others, she has “dirty habits” which meant she had become incontinent. Her mental health is labelled as “dementia” so mentally she must have continued to deteriorate and her bodily condition is “moderate”. In July the situation remains unchanged with no improvement and this is the last report we see for Ellen as sadly she died on 14th October 1910. After 13 years in institutions, the inevitable had happened.
She was buried in Horton Cemetery on 20 October in Grave number 913b.
Ellen would have been viewed by the officials as just a number and a financial cost to her parish. To the public at large she was someone they did not want to see and considered a drain on society. This can clearly be seen by the surviving records of how she is viewed in monetary amounts and the labels attached to her condition. Very impersonal, in their eyes she was not Ellen, just patient 849.
But who was she? According to the 1901 Census, she once had a job as a clerk so she had an active meaningful life. Was she the girl who fell pregnant and had puerperal fever? Did she then as a result have post-natal depression that would have gone untreated and undiagnosed?
Ellen is sadly one of many who we can only see through her life of incarceration. Labelled with a number and some random descriptions into her mental and bodily state. She was treated by the system and whilst being kept safe, fed and clothed there was no real chance of getting better. She was just on an inevitable slow spiral towards death.