George Hutchby & Caterham Asylum

I’ve decided to give up the illusion that I am trying to write about 52 ancestors in 52 weeks. After two years and this being my 15th post, who am I kidding?

As it is a holiday, I have some space in the mush I keep in my head to do some research. Being the highly disciplined person that I am (no choking while you read), I stumbled across Mr George Hutchby in the records of the London’s Workhouses along with his father, Alexander.

George was born in 1847 to, I believe, Alexander Hutchby and his wife, Eliza Appleby. As far as I can tell, the couple had four boys with George being the second eldest.

Alexander was employed as a french polisher and the family were living in the parish of St Pancras until the 1861 census when they are found in Bedford. George and his elder brother, Alexander are also french polishers by this date. The third son, John, is not included in this census and I can only imagine that he has passed away (Oct 1859?).

In 1871 the family are back in London, living in Soho. By 1879, it appears that George’s mother is dead.

In February 1879 he is admitted to the Westminster Union Workhouse with his father. I surmise from the dietclassifications that his father was not well (class 2) and George is dependent on his father. By March they have both been dismissed from the workhouse – Alexander in a coffin and George to Caterham Asylum.

The Caterham Asylum was located in Surrey and was later known as the Caterham Lunatic Asylum for Safe Lunatics and Imbeciles. In the census records, George is described as a lunatic.

(I did a quick bit of googling and determined that lunatic was the term used to describe someone with a mental illness. It is interesting to note that George was never identified as an imbecile in any census records before entering the asylum. It is my assumption (based on thirty minutes of intensive research on the internet) that George may have suffered from the inhalation of the products he used as a french polisher.)

From what I can gather, Caterham was different in regards to other asylums of the time. For one, the people residing there were listed by name not by their initials. For what it’s worth, below is a paragraph describing what George may have experienced while at Caterham:

On the male side the same order and regularity prevailed as on the female. In the workshops I noticed several persons employed on labour which, at first sight, it seemed hardly possible that the idiot’s mind could be brought to understand, or his hands to perform. Shoemaking and tailoring employed a great number. Noticing in the workshops of the shoemakers some very dangerous looking knives, I inquired whether it was not imprudent to leave such weapons in the hands of those who might use them offensively. I was told, however, that no accident had ever occurred among the workmen, and that the knives and awls had never been used as weapons of offence. Besides those at work in the shoemaker’s shop, I found that no fewer than 79 were employed in the cleansing and general economy of the wards, 17 in the upholsterer’s shop, 121 in the grounds, besides several others in the gas-house, the engine-house, the engineer’s office, and the mess room, amounting altogether to 300 of the male patients. These, added to 452 of the female idiots and lunatics, make a grand total of 752 patients employed in what may be termed skilled and profitable labour. The remaining portion of the inmates are either too old, too infirm, or too young to be made useful, though the labour of many of these is occasionally utilised to the fullest degree consistent with their well-being and health.” – 1872, William Gilbert, Good Words Magazine.

George spent the rest of his days in Caterham Asylum, dying in 1904.



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