Saturday, 19 September 2009

The Reading Festival of Crime Writing... Broadmoor Revealed

The first talk I attended at the Festival was on Friday lunchtime and told me all I ever wanted to know about Broadmoor Hospital in Victorian times. I was attracted to this talk, Broadmoor Revealed with professional archivist, Mark Stevens at the Berkshire Record Office, mainly because it was free!
Victorian records from the Broadmoor Hospital Archive are now open for research and reveal what Broadmoor was like 100 years ago. If you were mad and bad, then this was the place to go. Broadmoor provided psychiatric care for patients who would normally be in prison. This was a purpose built, modern lunatic asylum, sited at Crowthorne, isolated but with easy access to London near Bracknell Forest.

The first patients admitted to Broadmoor were female, as the female wing was the first to be completed in May 1863. Eight patients were transferred from Bethlam Hospital in London to Broadmoor. Six of the eight had killed.

Mary Ann Parr, 35 and a labourer from Nottingham was one of these six. She had learning disabilities and at 25 had given birth to an illegitimate child, then suffocated it against her breast. She was sentenced to death, but a medical examination revealed that she was a woman of ‘weak intellect’. She complained of pain in her forehead, had a ‘very irritable temper’ and had cataracts in both eyes. It was recommended that she would benefit from a daily routine of exercise and plenty of fresh air. She was set to work in the laundry at Broadmoor. Broadmoor must have been a relief from the poverty of her usual surroundings. She now had a roof over her head. Mary Ann Parr died in Broadmoor at the age of 71 of kidney disease.

In 1864 the first male inmates were admitted. By this time there were 200 men and 100 women in Broadmoor. A quarter of the men and 40% of the women were murderers. Some were charged with vagrancy, stealing or in the case of the men, for setting fires. Two thirds of the men were married and fewer than half the women.

Many of the women admitted to Broadmoor suffered from intemperance, vice, poverty, fever. These, as well as childbirth, resulted in their madness.

The blocks at the back of Broadmoor were reserved for the more violent prisoners. These blocks faced away from the beautiful views of the countryside the other inmates could benefit from.

Almost all patients at that time had single rooms, 12ft long and 8ft wide. The patients’ day began at 6am in summer and 7am in winter. The asylum had its own farm, so was pretty much self-sufficient. There was no heating in the patients’ rooms at first and no artificial light. The male patients were shaved by a male attendant (couldn’t trust them with blades!). All patients were fed four times a day. Breakfast consisted of tea, bread and butter. Lunch consisted of bread and cheese. The evening meal got a little more interesting and they had something like mutton or beef with vegetables, potatoes followed by a steam pudding. The patients were also allowed three-quarters of a pint of beer, which probably didn’t help the more violent ones much! Supper was again bread, butter and tea.

Not surprisingly, the turnover of staff at Broadmoor was high. Staff discipline was a problem and staff were often dismissed. Reasons for their dismissal ranged from dishonesty, incompetence, drunkenness, using abusive language to letting patients escape. From 1863 to 1873 there were 24 escapes. The boundary wall was seemingly inadequate as were the bars on the windows. Three escapees were never seen again. They were David Maclean who claimed he heard voices; Alice Kay who suffered delusions and thought she was the queen and William Bisgrove from Wells in Somerset who was a murdered and had killed a fellow worker with a stone.

Mark Stevens then went on to tell us about some of the more notorious inmates of Broadmoor in Victorian times. First of all, James Kelly who was a murderer and killed his wife. Apparently, she had lingered in hospital on the brink of death and had forgiven him before she died. In 1888 Kelly escaped from Broadmoor. He had made a fourth key and scaled the wall. He had roots in both London and Liverpool. Years passed and in 1896 he turned up at the British Consul and said he was an escaped lunatic from Broadmoor and wanted to go back. He was put on a ship back to Liverpool where attendants from Broadmoor would be there to meet him and take him back. However, the ship docked a day early and the attendants weren’t there, so Kelly made off. Forty years later in 1927 Kelly presented himself at the main gate of Broadmoor asking to be let in. Apparently, he’d been wandering the world, making a living as an upholsterer. He was now old and profoundly deaf. He knew he would be provided with a roof over his head at Broadmoor and would be looked after in his old age. All the attendants who had been there in Kelly’s time and knew him had now retired, so the present attendants had to go and find one of these retired attendants to come and verify that Kelly was who he said he was. This was done and Kelly was let back in.

Kelly was accused, posthumously, as being Jack The Ripper, as were other Broadmoor inmates, William Bisgrove and James Sadler. Thomas Cutbush was also a suspect, but the year of the Ripper killings in 1888, he been declared ‘very insane’, was closely guarded. Cutbush was violent and tried to bite his mother’s face when in custody. He eventually died of kidney failure.

Daniel McNaughton was another famous inmate who died shortly after arriving in Broadmoor. He was a political radical who wanted to kill Sir Robert Peel. However, in a case of mistaken identity he ended up killing the wrong man. McNaughton had a hate campaign against the Tories. He’d been transferred to Broadmoor from Bethlam Hospital in London. The means used to judge his insanity became known as the McNaughton Rules and were used in this country until 1957. They are still used in the USA. Perhaps they should have tested George Bush before he became president?

Richard Dadd, the painter, was a Broadmoor patient. Before he was admitted he was already an artist of some repute. His fairy paintings can be still be seen in Tate Britain. Signs of his insanity emerged during his Grand Tour. He thought he was the descendant of Egyptian incarnation, Asyrus (sp?). Dadd believed his father was the devil in disguise and killed him by cutting his throat. He also had a list of people who he believed must die. Dadd was initially sent to Bethlam Hospital. He was one of the first male inmates of Broadmoor and was housed in Block 2, which was the privilege block. Dadd continued to paint while in Broadmoor, producing some of his best work there. He died of TB.

William Chester Minor, a US citizen who had served in the Civil War, was also an inmate of Broadmoor. A book has been written about him, The Surgeon at Crowthorne, which has recently been made into a film, The Professor and the Madman. He believed men came into his room and abused him. He had been convicted of murdering a man who he believed had come into his room with the intention of abusing him, but he targeted an innocent married man with children who was on his way to work.

Chester Minor was also housed in Privilege Block 2 at Broadmoor. He had two rooms; a bedroom and a dayroom, where he worked on the Oxford English Dictionary. The approach of night was very frightening for Chester Minor and he used to block his door with furniture. Even as an old man he was still a slave to his delusions. Eventually he was taken back to an asylum in the USA by his family.

Another female inmate was Christiana Edmunds from Brighton, known as The Chocolate Cream Poisoner. She had an affair with a married man, Dr Beard. She was jealous of his wife and gave Beard’s wife a box of chocolate creams into which she’d injected strychnine. Beard’s wife didn’t die, but was violently sick. Soon lots of people living in Brighton began to display symptoms of poisoning after eating chocolate creams. One boy died. It turned out that Edmunds used boys as runners to buy chocolate creams from Maynards, then injected them with the poison. She was an odd woman who liked to collect false hair. She liked to deceive for the pure love of deception. She was in Broadmoor for 35 years and didn’t show any remorse for her crimes. Her motive remains a mystery.

Margaret Davenport, 31, was a housekeeper, born in Shropshire and worked in Cheshire as a servant. She married a fellow servant and she began to go insane after the birth of her children. She used to be found wandering the streets naked or dressed in just a nightgown. One day she fetched her two daughters, 6 and 2, and drowned them in the bath tub. Then she tried to hang herself and failed. Then she attempted to slit her wrists and failed. So she laid the girls’ bodies on the bed and went to make tea for her husband who was due to return home, as if nothing had happened. Once she was charged with her daughters’ murders, she was admitted to Broadmoor, having been declared criminally insane. It was discovered she was pregnant on admission. The daughter she gave birth to there was taken from her and eventually, after much protest, her husband, Jack Davenport was made to take the child who died two years later. Mary was moved to an asylum in Liverpool and died there after choking on a bone.
Post natal depression was a common cause of insanity amongst the women inmates of Broadmoor. Often after a spell in the asylum these women were allowed to go back home to their families and went on to have more children.

Sometimes the male and female inmates of Broadmoor formed relationships, as the two sexes had access to each other through social activities and dances. The whole idea behind Broadmoor was to rehabilitate people, preparing them for the outside world.
There were relatively few suicides in Broadmoor in Victorian times, which spoke for Victorian society as a whole.

Attendants were attacked quite frequently and the weapon of choice was a stone in a sling.

At full capacity Broadmoor housed 600 patients in a ratio of 4:1 male to female. Rampton Hospital was built when Broadmoor became full. After the First World War numbers at Broadmoor dropped as lunatics were sent to the front and never returned.

Today Broadmoor is a single sex hospital housing the criminally insane. The Moors Murderer, Ian Brady and The Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe are both inmates. It will be many, many years before their records are made public.


John Ravenscroft said...

Interesting stuff, Jo.

Long ago, I thought about setting a novel in a hospital for the criminally insane. Thinking was as far as it ever got. I need to buy myself some tenacity.

womagwriter said...

Fascinating, thanks for the write-up! I don't seem to be able to get enough of Victorian social history these days.

Jean said...

This is interesting. Margaret Davenport's story reminds me of a book I read a bit back called 'The Cruel Mother' by Sian Busby, which is about Sian Busby's great-grandmother, Beth Wood. In 1919 Beth drowned her twin baby daughters in a bathtub and was sent to Broadmoor.

Kate said...

Really interesting although a little scary. I do wonder what might be uncovered when more records are made public

Kate x