WILSON, Frederick Leon

Epsom Colony resident, Frederick Leon Wilson

The common story of someone with epilepsy whose life was marred by a lack of understanding of the condition.

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b.1892 – d.1911


Frederick was born on 4th May 1892 at 30, St Albans Street, Lambeth. According to the 1911 census, he was the sixth of fifteen children born to William John Arthur Wilson and Georgina Elizabeth Cullen and was baptised on 26th June 1892 at St Mary’s Church, Lambeth, his Father William is shown as a Policeman.

The family siblings:

  • Georgina Emily 1885-1889
  • Grace Dangerfield 1887-1942
  • James Campbell 1888-1953
  • Thomas Arthur 1889-?
  • Florence Lucy 1891-1940
  • Frederick Leon 1892-1911
  • John Creighton 1893-1913
  • Louise Mary 1895-1957
  • William 1898-1899
  • Mary Ethel 1899-1977
  • Alfred George 1901-?
  • Edward Ernest 1904-1914
  • Frank 1907-1907 and his twin
  • Emily Dora 1907-1909

Amazingly with 15 children they managed to give most of them two names and some unusual names at that, although poor William and Frank did not fair so well.


William and Georgina were married at St Mary’s Church, Lambeth on 3rd August 1884. William was 25yrs old, born in 1858 in Lambeth son of John Wilson and Mary Emily Dangerfield. Georgina was 21yrs old born in about 1863 in Whitechapel daughter of George Cullen and Eliza Corr.

On his marriage certificate Williams says he is a labourer, their first home together was in St Albans Street, Lambeth which we are told by Booth was “29ft from wall to wall with china pots in the windows but a mess of paper in the street.”

Over the years William’s occupation is shown variously on baptism certificates and census returns first as a Labourer then Policeman, and then later in life as a Drayman’s Mate. William initially joined the Metropolitan Police on 1st February 1886, warrant number 71127.

ATTESTATION: Warrant 71127, William John Arthur Wilson, 1st Febry 1886


In the 1891 Census William is shown as a Metropolitan Police Constable and they are living on Brixton Hill, Lambeth next door to a school, and their neighbours have occupations such as Civil Engineer, Insurance Clerk.

1891 Census, Frederick’s Family at Brixton Hill

Frederick is born on 4th May 1892 at 30, St Albans Street, Lambeth. The Baptism record for Frederick, confirms they are living at 30 St. Albans Street.

Frederick Leon Baptism, 26th June 1892


By 1901 Census the family are living at ‘A-Block-9’, Streets Buildings Southwark and everyone in the building is shown as a Labourer. This address is also shown on brother Alfred George’s Baptism record. We do not know why William left the police force sometime in the late 1890s, but it did seem to bring a decline in the family’s situation.

1901 Census, shows the ever growing family

Indications of illness

From his hospital case notes we know that Frederick Leon was a sickly child from a young age suffering ‘convulsions’ at the age of 2yrs, and that in 1896 when he was 4yrs old he suffered from Scarlet Fever and was admitted to the “Metropolitan Asylum, Tooting.” 

Tooting Bec Hospital opened with 1000 beds, in 1886 and was designed to take in ‘such harmless persons of the chronic or imbecile class as could lawfully be detained in a workhouse. The Metropolitan Asylum at Tooting was not built until 1899-1903.

Presumably Frederick was admitted to the hospital due to his Scarlet Fever and not to his mental state at that time, as his father later stated that he reached ‘standard 5’ at school aged 13yrs but that he “would wander away from school and get lost.”

Frederick was admitted to Springfield infants school, Lambeth  in 1896

On 7 April 1906 we see Frederick, aged 14yrs, admitted to the Newington WH, Westmorland Rd when it notes his Epilepsy.

For the next 18 months he yoyos between the Newington WH and St Georges WH, Mint Street, S.8,  and this is where he was living when he was finally transferred to the Ewell Epileptic Colony,  his care remained chargeable to Southwark.

Epileptic Colony

On 31st October 1907 Frederick was admitted to ‘The Epsom Colony’; he was just 15 ¾ yrs old.  

The Epsom Colony’ which had been opened in 1903 to care for the “Epileptic insane of the metropolis” and, in 1907 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 contribute to their costs by working on the farm or in the kitchens or laundry all of which supported the Epsom cluster hospitals.

Patient 60325, Wilson, Frederick Leon

In 1907 when Frederick entered the hospital, his mother Georgina had just given birth to twins, Emily Dora and Frank and although we believe that several of their children died young they were still supporting a large family with meagre resources. We can only imagine that as Frederick grew older and stronger his family felt unable to deal with his condition and placed him in the care of the hospital.

Medical Notes

Frederick’s father gave his details in an interview on Nov 3rd 1907. He said that of his family of 15 children, 8 brothers and 6 sisters making 14 (all found) only 10 were living at this date, he said that Frederick was cheerful and excitable with a good disposition.

On admission the doctor noted that he was about 5’ 5” in height with dark hair and blue eyes. Physically he already had “impaired circulation with, breathing hard and laboured but no phthisis,” (Tuberculosis) he was diagnosed with ‘mitral insufficiency’. 

Mentally, he was said to have a “fair understanding of current events, knows the year and the season and has a good memory.” His conversation was “slow but intelligible.” He suffers no hallucinations or delusions.  Currently he is “cheerfully fatuous, (silly and pointless) but sociable, he says that “he never took alcohol to excess.

Just seven days later Frederick’s case notes state his diagnosis as, “Imbecility with Epilepsy” He has a well marked degree of “Congenital defect, with a vacant expression and childish manner. History of excitement and violence associated with numerous epileptic fits. This is the only occasion when violence is mentioned. Signs of Morbus Codis with Dyspnosea (heart disease with breathing difficulties) on the least exertion” 

Despite this, Frederick was “sent out onto the grounds but showed no inclination to work, kept wandering off.  Breathless at the slightest exertion.”  This type of comment continues over time, “lounges about with no inclination to work”… “sits about, takes no notice of others”…”Unfit for any but light work”… very imbecilic and almost useless as a worker”  **Given Frederick’s age and state of physical and mental health I do wonder what they expected of him and found their notes a sad reflection of the times.

Frederick’s physical health did improve a little in the short term and he is usually reported as well behaved and docile. However mentally there is not improvement and at one point he is described as “quite useless as a Colonist” and he is given work “winding yarn in Thorn.”

An escape

In March 1909 we find this report of an ‘escape.’

On his return Frederick continues to be well behaved and good tempered, not quarrelsome and clean in his habits but it is said that he is now “unable to carry on a rational conversation and has advanced cardiac disease”

Throughout the following two years Fredericks seizures increase and he spends most of his time in and out of the infirmary with signs of heart failure and other complications and over this time he deteriorates further mentally. 

1910s and Frederick dies

When the 1911 Census is taken Frederick is living in ‘The Colony’ and he is shown as “lunatic from birth” although on the 1901 Census no mention of any disability had been made. Possibly his problems had not yet developed or perhaps they were just not mentioned due to the stigma involved.

In the final year of his life he continues to suffer in this way, until on 28th Dec 1911 “later in the morning the Colonist had a severe heart attack.” Blood was withdrawn” and the following morning (Dec 29th) he appeared a little better. 

However, at about 4pm he showed little or no improvement and so and enema was given.  “At 7.30pm his breathing became worse and on the arrival of the A.M.O (assistant medical officer) in a few minutes, he was found to be dead”. He was just 19 years old.

A post mortem followed and the principle cause of death is given as ‘Mitral Stenosis and regurgitation.   Indefinite, many years’.  No unusual circumstances or injuries.

Frederick was buried in the Horton Estate Cemetery on 4th Jan 1912 in grave 1189 a.

The Wider Family

The 1911 Census shows his family living at 5 Library Mansions, Borough Rd, Southwark and William is a Brewers drayman’s mate. Nine members of the family are sharing a three-room tenement and the neighbours are mainly trade/labourers.

1911 Census – Frederick’s Family at 5 Library Mansions

The area is shown as poor on Booths maps. The family lived mainly in the Lambeth/Southwark area which was generally poor, with tenements housing and high numbers of families living in close proximity leading to the easy spread of diseases.  Originally the area was marsh land and prone to flooding and the dirty nature of the industries along the river led to an unhealthy atmosphere particularly after the railways arrived in the mid 1800’s.

Family After Frederick

Of their remaining children, we know that seven married, seven died unmarried and at present one is unaccounted for leaving one unknown to make fifteen. Despite much searching, I have never been able to find the 15th child as stated in the 1911 Census and in Frederick’s admission notes

Georgina Elizabeth died in 1936 and William John Arthur Wilson in 1939 in Southwark.

Authors Notes

We do not know why William left the police force sometime in the late 1890s, but it did seem to bring a decline in the family’s situation.

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