Sussex House and Ann Walker
It is common knowledge that in September 1843, Ann Walker was admitted to Terrace House in Osbaldwick under the care of Dr. Belcombe and whilst there was found to be of unsound mind. Documents show that Dr. Belcombe was paid for her maintenance until 13th April 1844. We believe that Ann was living with the Sutherlands in London from about early May 1844 onwards. Elizabeth became ill and died on 28th December 1844 at Abbey Lodge, Merton, Surrey. Read the timeline here.
New documentation has been found revealing that Ann was in another private asylum called Sussex House, owned and operated by Dr Forbes Winslow in April 1845.
Dr. Forbes Benignus Winslow
Forbes B. Winslow was a lineal descendant of Edward Winslow, one of the leaders of the Pilgrim Fathers who left England in 1620 on the “Mayflower”. During the War of Independence, the Winslow family estates in Boston, Massachusetts were confiscated and they returned to England.
Forbes was born in 1810, the ninth son of Capt. Thomas & Mary Winslow, in London.
He was educated in Scotland, began his medical education in New York and continued his studies at the University of London. He became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, graduated as a Doctor of Medicine at the University of Aberdeen and was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh and then Member of the Royal College of Physicians, London.1
He married Susannah Holt in 1841 and they eventually had four children, Forbes Edward, Lyttleton Stuart Forbes, Susannah Fanny, and Constance.2
Dr Winslow became a well renowned authority on lunacy. He wrote numerous articles and books, lectured and testified at lunacy hearings.
His belief that the mentally ill should be treated gently, respectfully and with kindness is what separates him from most physicians in the 19th Century. And this brings us to his private asylum of Sussex House and where we now know Ann spent some time.
Before we go into what life at Sussex House may have been like, it is important to understand Asylums and the laws that governed them.
It is important to note here that the beginning of the 19th century saw the growth of a more compassionate care for people in asylums and madness was increasingly seen as the loss of a person’s reason, rather than a defect of their soul or their body. Instead of locking them away, emphasis was placed on proper treatment and rehabilitation.3
A series of laws were introduced to reinforce this development, such as the County Asylums Act in 1828, and the Lunacy Act in 1845 as well as additional amendments to these acts. Most notably, these acts established a Commission model of governance. The Commissioners’ main function was to oversee the building of publicly owned county asylums and to inspect all asylums and hospitals for the insane. Another function of the Lord Chancellor’s Visitors in Lunacy was to ensure that lunatics whose estates were protected by the Court of Chancery did not suffer any detriment to their standard of living.4 Thus, the majority of patients in so called licensed houses were from the aristocracy and the upper-middle classes.5
Licensed Houses were privately owned and for-profit. They often resembled country houses and the patients were typically under the care of individuals: usually medical men or clergymen.6 These houses could be further categorized into:
Home care: the lunatic is confined in his or her own home with or without paid attendants;
Lodgings and/or single houses: the lunatic is confined in a house (not his or her home) under the care of a paid attendant or attendants;
Mad houses and/or asylums: more than one lunatic is confined under the care of a paid attendant or attendants.7
Ann, Dr. Winslow and Sussex House
The document that states Sussex House as Ann Walker’s residency has recently been uncovered in the National Archives in London by ISAW members Diane Halford and Dorjana Širola. It is a bond taken out by George Mackay Sutherland in order to become Ann’s Committee of Estate that reads:
“A Bond from George Mackay Sutherland of Shibden Hall near Halifax in the county of York Esquire Thomas Grove Edwards of 8 York Terrace Regents Park in the county of Middlesex Esquire George Bain of 18 Parliament Street in the same county Esquire the said George Mackay Sutherland being the Committee of the Estate of Ann Walker now residing at Sussex House Hammersmith in the county of Middlesex Spinster a person of unsound mind. Dated the 15th day of April 1845 – Penalty £9500”National Archives J 103/2
Sussex House was a private asylum owned and operated by Dr Forbes B. Winslow.
We see from this newspaper ad that Dr Forbes Winslow took possession of Sussex House in August 1844.
With the document proving Ann was at Sussex House in April of 1845, we believe she may have been one of Dr Winslow’s first patients.
He would have been familiar with her when in July 1845, Dr Winslow was called to testify at the West–Riding Junction Railway hearing. He testified about the mental health of Ann Walker and that her residence at Shibden Hall was “peculiarly adapted” for her state of mind, which helped the opposition to the railways route ensure it took another path.
Two days later, the Select Committee reported that the West–Riding Railway would do all they reasonably could to satisfy Ann Walker and her committee.
What might life have been like for Ann at Sussex House with Dr Winslow and his family?
Through an ad in The London Medical Directory, we get a glimpse into Sussex House. Described as a private asylum, directly supervised by Dr Winslow, it received only a limited number of patients and concentrated on the cure, not merely the confinement of the mentally ill.
The house is described as large, commodious, quiet, and cheerful surrounded by meadows, shrubberies and orchards on nearly ten acres. The establishment catered to patients requiring a temporary separation from home. A carriage was also available for the use of the patients. Sussex House was in Hammersmith about a half hour drive from Hyde Park. Dr Winslow, his wife and children resided in the house, giving patients a family atmosphere, and treating them with great tenderness.8
We learn from this newspaper account that Dr Winslow’s wife Susannah, gave birth to their first child, a son, at Sussex House in 1845. Children are often viewed as positive when visiting the elderly or sick, so having a baby living in a private asylum might have been a therapeutic and joyous experience for the patients.
We do not yet know how long Ann was at Sussex House, we hope to answer this as research continues. We do know that in June of the same year, her niece, referred to as little Mary died at Shibden Hall. Captain Sutherland stated in a letter in February 1845 that he hoped to bring Ann and his children to Shibden Hall ‘in the course of the Summer’ 9. Dr Bright wrote in an affidavit that he visited Ann At Shibden Hall at some point between May and August 1845 10.
Dr Winslow continued his work
Dr Winslow continued treating his patients with kindness. This newspaper article corroborates the ad from the London Medical Directory regarding the treatment of the mentally ill at his asylums. In addition to Sussex House, he also owned and ran Brandenburgh, which was located across the street in Hammersmith.
Dr and Mrs Winslow continued to live at Sussex House with the patients.
Dr Winslow died in 1874. This excerpt from the 1875 In Memoriam Forbes Benignus Winslow article clearly describes the humane treatment at Sussex House that he had been remembered for.
“Here, perhaps, he went further than all his compeers, in the completeness with which he carried out his benevolent views. Kindness and gentleness were the two universal factors in his treatment. The surveillance to which his patients were submitted, while unremitting in the care of dangerous cases, was most unobtrusive; concerts, dinner parties, balls, games of all kinds and varieties, were called in to play their part in his scheme. The life of the asylums was essentially a home life, the good doctor and his family living in the midst of his patients, who became for the time being members of his family circle. Those who manifested signs of improvement were allowed to go out of the gates on parole, and this parole was most honourably observed. This treatment, combined with skilful therapeutic remedies, produced in many cases very marked results, and during the latter part of his life Dr. Winslow was continually receiving most pleasing tributes of affection from grateful patients, to whom he had restored the light of reason.”11
For many, it is a comfort to know that Ann lived, for a time, in a private asylum that believed in curing rather than merely confining a patient. Research continues in learning more about the length of time Ann was there.
** Our research is ongoing and so new discoveries may impact how we understand the events in the future. **
NOTE: There will be an in-depth Asylums article coming soon.
1. “In Memoriam” Forbes Benignus Winslow, M.D., D.C.L. Hon. Oxon 1875 / semanticsholar.org
2. Winslow Marriage Certificate. London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1938
3. Science Museum: A Victorian Mental Asylum13 June 2018
4. MacKenzie, Charlotte: Psychiatry for the Rich: A History of Ticehurst Private Asylum 1792-1917
5. Hamlett, Jane: At Home in the Institution: Material Life in Asylums, Lodging Houses and Schools in Victorian and Edwardian England, ISBN: 978-1-137-32239-5
6. Hamlett, Jane: At Home in the Institution: Material Life in Asylums, Lodging Houses and Schools in Victorian and Edwardian England, ISBN: 978-1-137-32239-5
8. The London Medical Directory, Dr Winslow’s Establishment for the Nervous and Insane, 1846
9. West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale FW:120/51/1
10. National Archives C 112/111
11. “In Memoriam” Forbes Benignus Winslow, M.D., D.C.L. Hon. Oxon 1875 / semanticsholar.org
The British Newspaper Archive: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk (paid subscription)
Ancestry – UK census, baptism, marriage, burial and probate records: www.ancestry.co.uk (paid subscription)
Sussex House photo – Inconvenient People, Lunacy, Liberty, and the Mad-Doctors in England/ Sussex House Asylum ©London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham Local Studies/London Metropolitan Archives
Special Thanks to
Dr Sean Cunningham, Head of Collections (Early Medieval, Early Modern and Legal), National Archives
What fascinating research! It’s so wonderful what you’re been able to discover about Ann’s life. You are really transforming the historical record.
What wonderful pieces of research you are providing. Thank you! I look forward to perhaps meeting you at ALBW 2023.
Fantastic research by all concerned – the story of these women & their times has enhanced my life to a level I didn’t expect but appreciate so much! Thank you!