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Change Minds Online: Emily Pope by Michelle M

Emily Pope

Photograph of Emily Pope taken in Bethlem by Barker and Parker in 1887-1888. This image has been developed from glass plate negatives kept in WUC-05

The story of Emily Pope begins at her birth on April 23rd 1853, in St Pancras, north London.

When she arrived, her family lived at 14 Derby St. The house was a large, reasonably new, two-storey building situated near the corner of Grays Inn Road. The front of the property was decorated with arched rectangular windows and possibly balconies, which overlooked the busy street below. It was a blessing that the house was larger than many in the area, as Emily was the last child of ten other siblings.

In the years to come, Emily would suffer with a mental illness and find herself under the care of doctors. But, before we look at her later life, let’s go back further and glean what we can about the life she lived.

Her parents Sarah and Charles, were married on the last day of 1828, when Sarah was just seventeen and Charles was twenty-one. By the time Emily arrived, the couple had had their fair share of family joy and tragedy.

Two years after their wedding in 1830, their first child was born; a son they named Charles, who was shortly followed by a sister, Sarah Ann in 1833. Records show that Sarah then gave birth to two more children, a daughter, Emma (b.1834) and Alexander (b.1836).

Their next child Elizabeth Mary was born in 1839. Tragically, within two months of her birth, their daughter Emma died aged five. Somehow, Sarah seems to have managed and in 1841 gave birth to Henry. Agonisingly, two years later, Alexander died aged seven. Sarah must have been a very resilient woman to have picked up the pieces and to have continued to mother her children. The family grew larger. Records show that Charles and Sarah then had Alfred Wynn (b. 1844), Harriett Maria (b.1846), George (b.1848), Marian (b.1851) and lastly Emily in 1853.

We are unable to know details of Emily’s childhood, but the 1881 census shows that at the age of twenty-four, she was still living at 14 Derby Street. Her father had passed away in 1853, and some of her siblings had moved out. The house would have still been busy though, as she lived with her mother, sisters Elizabeth, Harriet and they had a lodger, Edward Jones who was a Professor of Music.

Six years later, Emily was admitted to the Bethlem Royal hospital on December 13th 1887. Records show that she was working as a saleswoman when she became unwell. Her brother Charles was listed as her surety (in case any payments needed to be settled to the hospital) and the admission records list her sister Harriett as the person on whose authority she was sent.

The admissions register states that she was experiencing ‘acute mania’ having had a ‘fright from a fire and anxiety’ and had only been unwell for approximately two weeks before admittance.

However, on further investigation, it was soon apparent that this was not the case. Emily had in fact, been moved from St Lukes Asylum on the insistence of ‘friends’ and then transferred to the Bethlem hospital, when she’d shown no signs of improvement.

The Bethlem records state that she had suffered a shock from a ‘fire in her shop’, but again, this was not the case. It transpires that the blaze had actually been at her home in Derby Street, and she had begun to deteriorate further after the scare of the fire.

To gain a broader view of the situation, we shall go back to the St Lukes records and move forward from there.

Emily arrived at St Lukes on September 21st 1887. The admission records said that she was in fair physical health, and had become unwell in the preceding two weeks. The doctors who examined her described Emily as being in a state of ‘great excitement, talking incessantly and incoherently’. She was also suffering from ‘delusions, believing she was travelling to different places and seeing imaginary people; often crowds of them around her’. Her mother Sarah said that she had not slept properly for four weeks and ‘her conduct and demeanour were so boisterous and unmanageable, they had used narcotics to control her’.

The records also show that her sister (not named) reported she had always been ‘excitable and nervous but had never had any severe illness’. The notes go on to say that her mother had always been ‘very strong’, but her father in his old age had ‘softening of the brain’ (dementia). Her sister explained that there had been a fire in the family home, which was ‘supposed to have caused Emily’s illness’.

Emily was physically examined the next day. It was noted that the examination was ‘conducted under difficulties’ as she was ‘restless; talking and shouting incoherently’. However the doctor noted that her heart and lungs appeared sound, although she was ‘very thin’.

The notes show that by September 25th she was somewhat quieter, but still ‘’talking nonsense’ and by the beginning of October, she was becoming more ‘excitable’ and ‘gay’. Records describe how she had spent ‘a day dancing in the ward’, and was gradually becoming more ‘cheeky’.

On October 23rd, the doctor wrote that she was - ‘at present, an unsatisfactory case’ and she hadn’t improved at all. The notes also say that she was ‘put on wine’ and a week later it was observed that she was sleeping a little better.

On November 11th Dr Wood suggested an increase of the ‘Potassium Bromide and Chloral draught’ and that seemed to help with her difficulties in sleeping. However, her behaviour began to deteriorate further and she was described as ‘noisy and self willed at times’. She broke a window in her room, and later the notes say how she tore up her counterpane and plaited it.

Towards the end of November she attacked an attendant and would not do as she was told. She was then recorded as striking two other patients.

Clearly, Emily was not responding to whatever treatments she was being given and it seems she was often very agitated and distressed. On November 27th the notes describe her ‘fighting attendants and tearing up her skirt’.

We can only assume that friends who visited were worried and concerned by what they saw or heard, as in the last entry on the notes (December 13th) the doctor wrote that she was ‘removed (from the asylum) by her friends and not improved’.

Emily then was transferred to the Bethlem Royal Hospital on 13th December. So far she had spent nearly three months in St Lukes Lunatic Asylum, and now she was in yet another strange place, surrounded by people she didn’t know.

Doctors described her as ‘short, dark, and well nourished, with a pale and sallow complexion’. A photograph was taken of Emily on February 17th 1888 at the hospital, shows an elfin faced, attractive young woman wearing a pretty blouse. There is no way of knowing from the picture the amount of suffering she would have experienced by way of her illness.

The Bethlem notes are not very detailed, and for many weeks state that she is ‘much the same’. However, by March 27th they say she is ‘better - now quiet and employing her self with needlework.’ Apparently she had also begun to talk coherently about her work and the fire.

On June13th 1888 Emily was discharged from the hospital as ‘well’. She had been in the care of the two hospitals for nine months in total.

We can only assume she went home to live with her family, as three years later the 1891 census shows her living at a new address with her mother Sarah and sister Elizabeth Mary. Both the sisters were now working as milliners, and it seems as if Emily was also dressmaking.

By the time the next census was taken in 1901, her mother Sarah had died and Emily was now aged forty-five, still working as a milliner. She lived at 76 St Augustines Road, St Pancras. Her sister Elizabeth Mary was now head of the household. The census states that their sister Marian (who had been widowed), was listed as a visitor at the house along with her three children, Wynne, Kathleen and Elsie.

According to other records from people who have researched the Pope family tree online, there is evidence of Elizabeth Mary dying in Claybury Mental Hospital, Romford in August 1904. Emily was recorded as still living at 76 St Augustines Road, but now she was living alone.

Sadly, it seems that mental health issues also affected her sister Marian, who it appears was also admitted to Claybury in 1926, where she later died. However, records at Claybury are not available after 1912, so it was not possible to check this fully.

So where does this leave Emily and what became of her after her sisters had gone? Records are difficult to find for her, and for many years her whereabouts are a mystery. However, right towards the end of this project, I managed to find Emily’s probate records and Will.

Whilst Emily may have remained a spinster for the rest of her life, she did not die alone or without the support of family. Her last will states that she lived at 9 Howbery Road, Edgeware. This would suggest that she had been living her last years with Wynne Tucker, her niece (daughter of Marian).

Despite whatever Emily may have endured, she lived a long life and died almost one month before her eighty ninth birthday.

Like Dust In Our Hands

Like Dust in Our Hands by Michelle M

“Like dust in our hands” was a photograph made in response to a comment from one of the group facilitators. David had helped us with various aspects of our research. During the project, i think many of us were faced with the realisation that, regardless of how much we might want to understand about the lives of the people we were researching, inevitably the information would come to an end. David said that their stories would “slip away like dust in our hands”, which I thought was a very poignant and visual image for me.

All we could hope, was that the individuals would have recovered after they left the Bethlem Royal hospital and gone on to live happy and healthy lives.


Echoes by Michelle M

“Echoes” is a layered photograph which depicts Emily as she transitions through time, and also when she was suffering from delusions. She thought she was travelling to many different places and I wanted to show her moving, and not confined within four walls.

Emily Pope painting

Throughout my research into Emily’s story, certain things stood out for me and prompted ideas on how to respond to her experiences in a creative way.

The painting of Emily, was loosely made in the style of Vilhelm Hammershoi, who often painted women with their faces turned away from the viewer, or immersed in some kind of activity.

One particular painting of his called “Young woman sewing” has long been a favourite of mine. When reading Emily’s medical notes, I was pleased to see (after she’d had weeks of no real improvement), that she had begun to recover and had was doing needlework. I immediately recall Hammershoi’s painting when I thought of Emily, focussing on her sewing. My painting was created in layers; underneath the layers of oils, I had pasted copies of her medical notes. I then sanded the paint back, to reveal small sections which are barely visible to the eye.

Michelle M

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 .