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Change Minds Online: Elizabeth Vigars by M-F M

Elizabeth Vigars

A photograph of Elizabeth in Bethlem taken by Barker and Parker, held in casebook CB-133

Elizabeth Vigars was admitted twice to Bethlem over a 4 year period. Elizabeth’s first admission at the age of 24 on 5th June 1883 may help to give context to her subsequent Bethlem admission in 1887.

The admission records show Elizabeth lived in Aberystwyth which is confirmed by the 1881 census. Elizabeth’s husband Alf is noted in the same record and his occupation is stated as “Book Keeper”. Their daughter Lily is noted as being born in 1883, and confinement (childbirth) was given as the cause of Elizabeth’s admission in that year.

It was probable that Elizabeth and Lily were separated during Elizabeth’s admissions with no apparent family contact. There are no details in her records of any visits from her daughter or husband or that she left Bethlem to visit them.

Although there were no specific rules relating to mothers and babies being together at the Bethlem it appears appropriate holistic facilities had not been created within the hospital. This may have been an understood social custom which mirrored wider social attitudes at this time.

One of the medical certificates states for 1883 “For the past 2 months she has been melancholic and refusing at times to take food. It was also noted that she had tied a handkerchief around her neck. The casebook also notes “Thought that devils would take her, that she was very wicked. That her husband was wicked” This entry also states “Instrument was used in the confinement”

During her stay Elizabeth is described as “picking at her hands” to the extent that she wore canvas gloves in July. On 16th October it was noted Elizabeth “wrote a sensible letter to her husband today. She does not always feel equal to writing letter” On 29th October Elizabeth “went for a walk today with one of the attendants and behaved very well generally much improved has given up picking hands” On 21st November Elizabeth was transferred to Witley Well for convalescence and discharged “Recovered ” on 12th December 1883.

Elizabeth was admitted to Bethlem for the second time on 29th December 1887 and discharged on 30 May 1888. Lily’s age is given as 4 ¾ years old at admission.

Although there are no specific reasons given for this admission a birth registered in 1884 in Aberystwyth under the name of Vigars and a subsequent burial in September 1884 may relate to a child of Elizabeth and Alf. It could be that the loss of the child played a major part in Elizabeth’s subsequent mental health.

Elizabeth is described in her 1887 notes as “short, dark complexion, well-nourished with depressed expression. Says she has felt very miserable for some weeks past. She felt she was a great sinner and that she will never be saved, she has been so wicked and done so many bad things and that there is no hope for her. She has a feeling that something is going to happen, is in constant fear of it”

One of the medical certificates states she told her doctor “She told me she was lost and that she fancied herself in hell and had made up her mind to destroy herself by drowning or cutting her throat”.

Elizabeth made slow and gradual improvement during her stay and by May 15th 1888 it is noted “Rather better, brighter, less miserable” On 30th May Elizabeth was discharged “Well”

Bethlem developed a specific mother and baby unit in the late 1970s.

Elizabeths Empathy

An empathy map created by M-F M for the project


My starting point for this piece was the entry for Elizabeth’s admission in December 1887. The notes show that Elizabeth used the word “lost” to describe herself.

The line “I have been a great sinner, I will never be saved, there is no hope for me” is a direct quote from Elizabeth and I feel her words connect to us today despite the passage of time.

Elizabeth Vigars Poem

To see more on Change Minds Online you can find more blog entries here or you can see the exhibition of all our participants' creative work via our page here .