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    Borough of Epsom and Ewell’s
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Alfred Skinner was just 19 years old when he was admitted to Long Grove Hospital. He was in the minority being a young man, as most of the patients were older than him. How did he find himself there? There are only a few records surviving for him but we can trace his family and do have a glimpse at his occupation.

Early life

Alfred’s parents were William and Anne Skinner. They were married on 3 August 1884 at All Saints church in St Pancras, London. They gave their address as 13 Mortimer Market. William was a bachelor aged 26, who stated his occupation as a carpenter and his father Joseph a wheelwright.

Anne, his wife was a spinster, aged 24 and her father was Frederick, also a wheelwright. William and Ann shared the same surname and they were in fact first cousins, their fathers being brothers’. Both were sons of Daniel and Charlotte Skinner from Bovingdon in Hertfordshire.

In April 1891, just prior to Alfred’s birth, the family were living at 17 Castle Road, St Pancras. William aged 44 (he was in fact 34) worked as a carpenter born in Bovingdon. Alos listed are Anne, his wife aged 31 and their children Ellen (6), George (4) and William (2) all of whom had been born in St Pancras.

Sarah Ann Skinner, a widow, aged 34, also lived there with her four children. She was William’s sister-in-law, the widow of his late brother Frederick who had only just died the month before.

Alfred was born on 12 June 1891 as their fourth child into what would have been a crowded busy home. No baptism record can be found for him. His date of birth was confirmed when he was admitted to Great College Street School in Camden on 1 July 1898. His address was given as 52 Clarence Road.


By the 1901 Census, the Skinner family were still living at 52 Clarence Road in the Parish of Holy Trinity. The area is described as fairly comfortable by Booths Maps.

There were 15 people at the address, 3 households and a boarder. The Skinner family had expanded and comprised of William aged 44 still working as a carpenter, born in Hemel Hempstead. Anne, his wife aged 41 was born in St Pancras. Their child Ellen M was aged 16 and was working at a Playing Card Printing Factory. (She would have been employed at Goodalls of Great College Street, the World’s largest manufacturer of playing cards at the time). George, their son aged 14 was working as a Grocers Errand Boy. Also listed are William (12), Alfred (9), Charles (7), Emily (5), Ada (3) and Henry (1), all born in St Pancras.

The Colourman

When he was admitted to the workhouse, Alfred’s occupation was described as a “Colourman”. What was this work and what did it entail? This work is broadly described as a person who deals in paints. Further investigation suggests that he could have been grinding pigments to make paints for artists.

The area where Alfred lived was known as being the home of the artists Walter Sickert and Spencer Gore who founded the Camden Town Group in 1911. Was he making paints for individuals or was he working at Charles Goodalls making paints for the manufacture of playing cards? Or possibly a supplier? Could this have produced health risks? Undoubtedly breathing in pigments such as Cadmium and Cobalt caused breathing problems. Whether it caused any mental health issues for Alfred is unclear.

Journey to the Asylum

Whatever happened to Alfred in the intervening years between 1901 and 1910 may never be known but the journey from institution to death was swift and short.

On 27 August 1910 Alfred was admitted to St Pancras Workhouse, Number 3 Ward and his address was 16/242 Great College Street. His stay was brief and on 7 September 1910 he was discharged to Long Grove Asylum. This suggests a diagnosis was made quickly and there seemed no doubt he was to be admitted to an asylum at the tender age of 19.

There is a suggested entry for him in the April 1911 Census at Long Grove under the initials of “A S”. Aged 21, a single man of no occupation is listed as a “imbecile”. My understanding of this is someone the Victorians described as being “feeble minded” or of a low IQ.

The Lunacy Register gives his date of death as 21 June 1911 which shows he lasted no longer than 9 months at Long Grove. His death certificate shows that he died of Pulmonary Tuberculosis a disease he probably had before he was admitted.

A contagious bacterial infection the disease affects the lungs and, if left untreated, leads to death. Less commonly, it can affect other organs and cause persistent headaches and seizures. I can only conjecture how this disease manifested itself in Alfred’s case. His Mother Anne was the informant of the death to the Registrar.

He was buried at Horton Estate Cemetery on 27 June 1911 in Grave 1171a.

Authors thoughts

The first thing I considered was what were the health risks to children of first cousins? Investigation shows there is a greater risk of genetic problems occurring as the parents share 12.5% of their genetic material.

So, my understanding is if there is a faulty gene it doubles the risk compared to unrelated parents. It’s hard to say if the cause of Alfred’s problem was that of a genetic one but if the 1911 census is correct and he was what was termed as an “imbecile”, this could suggest a problem.

I have investigated the wider family to see if there was any evidence of health issues. Alfred had an Uncle Joseph who was described as a cripple but there is no evidence of any mental health issues, but it does not mean it did not exist within the family. All his siblings survived to adulthood so as far as we can tell this suggests a strong well-nourished family.

Unfortunately, there is little more that can be discovered at this moment in time about poor Alfred Skinner. His life was brief but lived in what appeared to be a stable family. Perhaps in the course of time we will find out more about this young man who disappeared swiftly into the asylum and never recovered from his crippling illness.

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