Amy Allingham is one of the first patients in Bethlem for whom we have a image, and whose life story we have been able to trace in various records- find out more about this ongoing project into the Morison Portraits here. Amy has two portraits, one capturing her before or in an early stage of treatment for mania, and the other during her convalescence in the Hospital. Our volunteer Teresa takes us through her investigation into Amy's life.
Amy Allingham was born on 28th December 1810 to Jacob Allingham, a farmer, and his wife Jane (nee Boorer-Willett). She was one of a large family of at least 10 children, her birth position being somewhere in the middle of those of her siblings. Amy was baptised in the Parish Church of St Bartholomew, Burstow, Surrey, on 27th January 1811.
Tragedy struck the family when Amy was 21 years old. Her father, Jacob, died in May 1831 and her mother, Jane, died very soon after, in June 1831; a mere 10 days separated their respective burials. Jacob was 56 years old; Jane was 50. If Amy lived with her parents, she now had to find a way of supporting herself.
At some point, maybe even before her parents died, Amy went into service, working as a servant to a well-off family. By September 1837, Amy was a housemaid to a Robert Sanders or Saunders Esq. of Clapham Common, London (despite extensive research, it has not been possible to discover any information about this gentleman). On 19th September 1837, Robert Sanders and William Allingham, Amy’s brother, stood as securities when Amy was admitted to the Bethlem Hospital. Her hospital records show that she had been reading John Locke’s “Philosophy Of The Mind”, as well as other various religious works, and it was this that was presumed to have disturbed her mind. She declared she was immortal and that she was going to marry her parish clergyman. She talked incoherently. Probably of most concern to her employer was her recent disposition to violence and that she had been very spiteful to a little boy (quite possibly his son) and appeared to wish to do him mischief. On admission, Amy was weak from depletion. After seven months of hospital care, on 27th April 1838, Amy was discharged “Well” from the Bethlem Hospital.
Amy Allingham does not appear on the 1841 census. A search on Ancestry.co.uk of the UK, Lunacy Patients Admission Registers, 1846-1912 and of the England, Criminal Lunatic Asylum Registers, 1820-1843 does not reveal that she had been admitted to a licensed asylum, although it is possible that she may have been a patient at one of the unlicensed ones. Hospital regulation was only just beginning in earnest at this time, and there were many unregistered places providing a range of care.
On 28th May 1847, Amy Allingham was readmitted to the Bethlem Hospital. At some point between 1841 and 1847, she had been taken on as a lady’s maid to Cecilia Frances Farrer, the wife of Stafford Henry Northcote (at that time the Assistant Secretary to the Prime Minister at the Board Of Trade), and her employers stood as securities on her readmission. Amy had been showing some unusual eccentricities for a number of weeks, culminating in an attack of mania described as “slight” by Dr Morison of the hospital. The attack had commenced three days previously and was of unknown origin but the probable supposed cause was given as “excited by the heat of the weather.” The attack manifested itself in incoherent speech and restlessness. The records show that, after two to three days, Amy became quieter and more composed. On 24th March 1848, she was granted a month’s leave of absence and she left Bethlem Hospital three days later. On 28th April 1848, Amy was discharged “Well.”
By the end of March 1851, Amy was living on her own in an abode in Clapham, having found employment as a dressmaker. The census records her age more-or-less accurately as 40 years old. At the same time, a 28 year old man from Wigton, Cumberland, was employed as a gardener at a property in Clapham Common. How Amy Allingham and Joseph Wilson came to meet is unknown but, on 13th November 1852, they were married. Thereafter, in future censuses, Amy was recorded as being much younger than her actual age.
In April 1861, Joseph and Amy were living in a cottage in Fulham. The cottage was named Craven Cottage but, given that the Craven Cottage which gave its name to the home of Fulham Football Club “was lived in by Edward Bulwer-Lytton and other somewhat notable (and moneyed) persons” [form Wikipedia], it is unlikely to be one and the same. Joseph was still a gardener, and two under-gardeners lived with him and Amy in the same dwelling. There were no children of the marriage: Amy was now 50, despite the census declaring her to be 41.
Some time between April 1861 and April 1871, Joseph and Amy Wilson moved away from London to the parish of Hartley Wintney, in Hampshire. Joseph had acquired the position of gardener at Elvetham Hall, the seat of the Baron Calthorpe, and he and Amy had the Head Gardener’s cottage provided for them to live in. Joseph was now 49 years old, and Amy is recorded as being 31. Ironically, when Amy died in September 1873, her age at death was registered as 59, three years shy of her actual age. It is tempting to wonder if Joseph knew all along that she was several years older than he was!
Ancestry.co.uk: Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812
Ancestry.co.uk: Surrey, England, Church of England Burials, 1813-1997
FindMyPast.co.uk: London, Bethlem Hospital Patient Admission Registers And Casebooks 1683-1932
Ancestry.co.uk: 1851 England Census
Ancestry.co.uk: 1861 England Census
Ancestry.co.uk: 1871 England Census
Ancestry.co.uk: England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915