Before we left Canada to visit England and Wales for two weeks in June this year, I contacted the Shropshire Archives in Shrewsbury by email to see if they had any records available regarding my husband’s paternal great grandfather, Thomas Nagington. I’ve written about Thomas before here and here and here.
Alison Mussell, Archives Assistant, kindly replied back to say that they did have some records available for us to view. We applied online for readers’ tickets and Alison booked us time in the Archives on the morning of June 20.
When we arrived, it took about 15 minutes to register, get our photos taken for our readers’ tickets, obtain a locker key and pay £10 for the ability to take photographs of any documents found. We were then admitted to a locked viewing room where the staff had placed a file folder on the table for us.
The folder contained a small booklet – the record of Thomas Nagington’s admission to the lunatic asylum at Bicton Heath, near Shrewsbury on 9 Nov 1912.
We were about to finally discover why Thomas was placed in the asylum and what happened to him in the years to follow.
The order to admit Thomas to Bicton Heath was given by local magistrate, Charles William Clifford and Dr Charles Milburn Hope of Cheswardine. On the first page of the admission document, Thomas is noted to be a person of ‘unsound mind’. He was 32 years old, married, a shepherd, and member of the Church of England. This was his ‘first attack’ which had begun five weeks previously. The cause of the attack was not known. He was not epileptic, suicidal, or dangerous to others. It was not known whether any other relatives had been inflicted with insanity. Address of his wife, Fanny Nagington, was given as Dodecote Gates, Childs Ercall, Market Drayton.
The last page in the small booklet contained the medical practitioner’s certificate. It noted that Thomas was examined at the ‘house of Henry Nagington, Sambrook’. Henry was Thomas’ father. We were aghast at the reason given for Thomas’ insanity:
“He states that through voting liberal in church he is condemned, and will perish everlastingly and that his boss cannot forgive him.”
No amount of reasoning or trying to imagine the times Thomas lived in and what would make him think he was doomed forever for voting liberal in church could help my husband or I understand how this could be a reason to be deemed insane and committed to an asylum.
Thomas’ wife Fanny indicated that “He wanders about, says that he is lost and condemned forever, will not stop in bed at night.”.
We sat in shocked and saddened silence at that table in the archives for quite a long time. I then returned the booklet to the archives staff. From my research on Thomas, I knew that he’d spent a considerable amount of time in the asylum so I asked the staff if they possibly had any other documents concerning Thomas Nagington. A quick search in their computer system indicated that, yes, they did.
About 20 minutes later, two archives staff appeared carrying a very large book between them. Foam blocks were set up and the book was left for us to peruse, opened to Thomas Nagington’s medical case file.
In his file, there was a photograph of Thomas and he looked just like my husband’s father! This was the first time my husband had ever seen a picture of his great grandfather.
Entries in Thomas’ Bicton Heath asylum file cover the period between his admission in 1912 and his transfer to the Forden Workhouse in Wales in 1917. Although he remained physically healthy, Thomas’ mental state is variously noted as ‘agitated, depressed, melancholic, confused, miserable, and reticent’. An entry dated 5 Dec 14 stated ‘patient continues dull & stupid – refuses to employ himself in any way’.
On Oct 6, 1917, Thomas was transferred to Forden and the final notation in his Bicton Heath file is ‘17.2.19 Died at Forden’.
The last few notes in Thomas’ file were written on a piece of paper that was then pasted into the medical record. I asked the archives staff if there was any way we could see what was written underneath this. Fortunately, the archivist was on the premises that day and she suggested putting a very bright light behind the page. It worked!
This is my transcription of the text that was below the taped in piece of paper:
Dec 12 17 No mental change. Has not been ill.
Mar 19 18 There is nothing fresh to report. Has not been ill.
Jun 18 18 Takes no interest in his environment. In fair health & condition.
The saddest entry in this file is the one made on Oct 10 1916: ‘Melancholic, sad and reticent. Takes no apparent interest in his surroundings and has not employed himself in any way since admission but stands about in same position unless he is moved. Fair health and condition.’
For seven years, Thomas Nagington wasted away inside Bicton Heath asylum and then the Forden Workhouse. His children were never told that their father was still alive between 1912 and 1919. To the end of their days, they thought he’d gone into a religious mania and committed suicide. The truth is that Thomas suffered from a mental health issue, most likely depression, that no one knew how to treat in the early 1900s. It’s a bit of consolation for Thomas’ descendants but an incredibly sad tale.
6175/B/6/1 Large case volume
7761/11/10676 Case notes
6175/B/9/2 Register of discharges and transfers
6175/B/2/3 Civil register
(references provided by Sarah Davis, Archivist, Shropshire Archives)