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TARR, Samuel Peter


From early adulthood mental illness overshadowed Samuel Peter Tarr’s life. He would spend more than thirty years in mental health institutions and die in Long Grove at the age of 56.

Samuel’s parents

Samuel’s parents were both born in 1835 in Chagford, a village on the north-east edge of Dartmoor in Devon. His mother, Mary (née Collins) was the daughter of James Collins, a carpenter in the village. His father, also called Samuel, was the son of Peter Tarr, a miller, of Rusford Mill in Chagford.

The couple married in Chagford parish church on the 2nd of February 1860. In the register, Samuel is described as a miller and Mary is a milliner. It would seem that they moved to London shortly after their marriage as we find them in the 1861 Census living at 2, David Street in Newington. With them is their eleven month-old son, Alfred James, who was born in 1860. Samuel is working as a ‘mill stone builder’. 

There were several firms in London at the time that specialised in the making of millstones. The industry was mainly centred around the Corn Exchanges in Mark Lane but there were others in the Isle of Dogs, the Old Kent Road, Wandsworth and elsewhere.

Samuel Peter and his family

Samuel Peter was born in Newington in the second quarter of 1862. By the time of the 1871 Census, Mary had given birth to four more sons: 

William Charles (born in 1863), 

Joseph Chown (1866), 

George White (1867) and 

Frederick J (1870). 

However, it has not been possible to find a birth record for Frederick. A Frederick Charles Tarr was born in St Thomas in the 3rd quarter of 1870 but his mother’s maiden name was Taylor, not Collins. Frederick appears in later documents as Frederick John Tarr.

By the time of the census in 1871, the family had moved to 5, Providence Place in Newington though 10 year-old Alfred was now staying with Mary’s parents in Chagford.

Sadly, Samuel died on the 12th of March 1881 at the Deptford Hospital in Kent. He was 46. We do not know if his death was due to illness or accident. 

In the 1881 Census, however, his widow, Mary, is described as an ‘annuitant’, that is, someone who receives the regular payments of a pension or an annuity investment. If Samuel had died in an accident at work it is possible Mary was receiving compensation from his employer. 

Like his father before him, Samuel Peter, now aged 19, is working as a mill stone builder. Mary has had two more children since the previous census, Sidney Albert (born in 1872) and Ann Elizabeth (1875). Tragically, Mary’s fifth child, George, had died in 1873, aged just five. 

In this census, which was taken on the 3rd of April 1881, the family is living at 5, Providence Row. We do not know if the enumerator wrote down the address incorrectly or if Providence Place had been renamed since the previous census. If the latter, then the change appears to have been temporary as on the 31st of May, administration of Samuel’s personal estate, valued at under £100, was granted to his widow, Mary and her address was given as 5, Providence Place.

In November, the value of Samuel’s estate was ‘resworn’ as under £600. This means that in the process of probate the overall value of the estate was found to be more than originally believed.

Brookwood Asylum

On the 30th of December 1882, at the age of just 20, Samuel Peter was admitted to Brookwood Asylum in Woking. According to the register he was suffering from melancholia. The cause of his ‘insanity’ was not known. He was believed to have had the condition for nine months. 

In the late nineteenth century melancholia was a common medical diagnosis, used synonymously with the term ‘depression’. Samuel’s physical condition was also described as ‘weak’. He was to remain in Brookwood for over a year but when he was discharged on the 22nd of January 1884 his condition was ‘not improved’. 

What could have been the cause of Samuel’s depression?

Perhaps he was affected by the death of his father or, being the eldest son still living in the family home, he may have had to assume greater responsibility for the care of his mother and siblings, which may have been a responsibility he found overwhelming. Maybe the cause was genetic, as we will see later that at least one other member of the Tarr family suffered from mental health problems. After such a long time and with no firm evidence we can only speculate as to the reasons for his admission to Brookwood.

Coulsdon Asylum

We next find Samuel in the 1891 Census where he is a patient, described as a lunatic, in the London County Asylum in Coulsdon in Surrey. We do not know when he was admitted to the asylum but it is possible he was transferred there on being discharged from Brookwood. Coulsdon was opened in 1882 as Surrey’s other asylums, Brookwood and Springfield, were filled to capacity. 

While Samuel was in Coulsdon his mother Mary died on the 8th of May 1893 aged 57. From the National Probate Calendar of 1893 we learn that Mary’s effects, valued at £150, were left to her son, Alfred James Tarr, a carpenter. At the time of her death, Mary was living at 5, Pitney Place in the New Kent Road. In the same document we find that Alfred James Tarr has also received his father’s estate of £540. At the end of the entry we read, ‘Former grant May 1881’, referring, one assumes, to Mary’s having been given authority over her husband’s estate when he died.

Samuel’s death

In the 1901 census Samuel is still a patient in Coulsdon Asylum. However, on the 25th of June 1906 he was admitted to Derby Lunatic Asylum where he was a patient for over a year. On the 20th of November 1907 he was transferred to Long Grove where he died on the 16th of April 1917.  Samuel is buried in grave number 1166a in Horton Cemetery.

Samuel’s siblings

  • In December 1889 Alfred James married Bessie Shilston in Chagford. The couple had two daughters, Florence May and Amelia Ellen. Bessie died in the 4th quarter of 1902 and the following year Alfred married widow Emma Sophia Robinson (née Bray). Alfred died in Okehampton, Devon in the 3rd quarter of 1935 aged 75.
  • William Charles married Amelia Searle in Newington in 1891 and they had three children, William, George and Lillie. William was a wood turner throughout his working life. He died in Southwark in 1945 aged 82.
  • In the 1893 electoral register we find Joseph Chown living at 5, Providence Place renting a room from his mother, Mary. In the 1901 census he is living at 80, Blackfriars Road in Southwark. He is single and working as a plasterer. Joseph died in Fulham in 1911 aged 45. As far as we know, he never married.
  • On the 3rd of October 1894, 24 year-old labourer Frederick Tarr was admitted to St George’s Workhouse, Mint Street in Southwark. We do not know the reason for his admission. He was discharged five days later at his own request. In the 1901 census Frederick is lodging at 80, Gravel Lane in Southwark and working as a kitchen porter. Frederick died in Islington in 1932 aged 62.
  • Sidney, described variously as a porter and a hawker, was admitted to and discharged from several workhouses in the periods 1903-1904 and 1920-1921. It has not been possible to find a death date for Sidney.
  • Perhaps mental illness may have run in the Tarr family: Samuel’s sister, Ann, was discharged from Newington Workhouse and admitted to the London County Asylum in Bexley, Kent, on the 24th of April 1899, aged just 24. She remained there for the rest of her life, dying on the 26th of May 1955, fifty-six years after being admitted.

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