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Change Minds Online: William Budd by David Luck

DSC0150 BW Pos

William Budd taken by Barker and Parker in Bethlem in 1887-1888. This photograph was developed from glass plate negatives held under our reference number WUC-04.

William Budd is difficult to trace in the birth records, but various censuses put his place of birth as St Pancras and according to the Bethlem casebook he was born in 1830. There is a marriage between a William Budd and Catherine Shaw (b. 1825) recorded in St Pancras in 1855- this William’s father is dead, and he is recorded as being a merchant’s clerk. His father in law was Lees Shaw, a wine merchant. In 1861 the couple and their two children, Alfred (b. 1858) and Ada (b. 1860) are living in 11 Grafton Street in St Pancras, and are rich enough to afford a live-in servant. In 1871 the family, now with daughter Ellen, aged 8, are in 4 Basnett Grove Wandsworth.

Catherine was admitted into Bethlem in July 1876 with ‘melancholia’, and she was discharged uncured in 1877. She then seems to have gone back to living with the family in Basnett Grove. In the 1881 census he is described as a ‘Commercial Traveller for Soap’ living at that address with Catherine, and his two daughters, Ada and Ellen

William was still at this address when he was first admitted to Bethlem in February 1885. His daughter Ada, recorded as living in Fulham at 22 Fulham Park Gardens, is named as the authority for William, and the securities are also Fulham based. I can’t find a definitive death record of Alfred (it is possible he dies in late 1877 in Bedminster, Somerset), but it is clear that William is listed as only having two children (when Catherine was admitted there are three children). On this first admission William is described as depressed, and the doctors put this down as owing to the ‘tailing off’ of his business. He was also refusing food due to delusions about being poisoned.

However, the case notes record some improvement. By the end of March William was able to eat more, and is able to work a little in the galleries. In April his bowel movements, always a source of concern in the treatment of patients, are recorded as being normal. However, it does seem to be slow going, including a trip to Witley, the Convalescent Home in Surrey, that does not seem to provide any respite. However in November onward significant progress seems to be made, and by early 1886 William is allowed on leave of absence. Other than some abdominal pains, by August 1886 William is well enough to go on leave again, presumably back to his family, for 3 weeks at a time. He is discharged well by certificate in December 1886. His subsequent addresses suggest he may have gone to live in Godmanchester in Huntingdonshire (now part of Cambridgeshire).

There is a curious end to this entry in the 1885 casebook. Almost on the day his discharge William writes to the Hospital, thanking them for their treatment, explaining he has never felt better and declaring that he will call on the Hospital soon. Unusually, the Hospital has pasted this letter into the casebook. On 14th March 1887 the casebook records details of William’s visit. He seems to have come to the Hospital and made an impression on the staff- they record that he is wearing what sounds like very colourful and distinctive hunting gear, and was very loud and ‘excited’. The doctor writing the note seems to have examined William, and interviewed his daughter, presumably Ada, who was accompanying him. She expressed concerns that he had been excited and had begun acting inappropriately, and had begun to invent stories about serving with the military.

William Budd was admitted again to Bethlem on 23rd March 1887. He was suffering from delusions of being a great author and poet, in contrast to being described in the casebook as a Commercial Traveller. His two daughters again seemed to take charge of his care. One of the doctor’s certificates notes that his ‘friends’ (unnamed) informed the doctor that he had been ‘helpless’ for some time. The doctor’s certificates were from Huntingdon, but he is noted as having being admitted from his daughter’s house in Fulham. His daughter and his sister are noted as being worried

The Hospital staff described him as excitable and easily worried in the casebook. They also noted that he had a ‘fit’ four years ago, which left him insensible for about an hour. However he seemed in good physical health, except for rheumatism in his knee. William told the Bethlem doctors that he ‘is the greatest political speaker and writer who has ever lived’. As time went on in Bethlem he took to claiming he was to be a captain in the militia, and cut his facial hair to match a more martial bearing.

It is also recorded that he stole from other patients, and that the poetry that he started writing was very obscene. He tried to plead that his daughter was dying of consumption, something that he acknowledged was a lie when challenged.

Almost uniquely, the Hospital preserved some of his poetry, in which he rails against Dr Savage for his treatment. They also preserved a drawing of ‘Agnes Ray, Mrs Budd No.2’, both items stuck in the casebook. I wasn’t able to find any reference to a marriage between Agnes and William, and there seems to be no record of anything happening to Catherine between 1881 and 1887. It may be Agnes was not real.

Unfortunately William did not improve, by the Hospital’s standards remaining ‘exuberant’ and ‘obscene in language’ throughout his time. On 5th November he was found stark naked in his room with his chamber pot emptied on the floor, simulating a fit. Threatened with a cold bath he improved, but became abusive to staff. Subsequent entries record no chance or improvement, and continued efforts by William to circulate his poetry. Given the disapproval suggested in the notes, this was presumably problematic, probably obscene and insulting, rather than something the Hospital considered a worthwhile creative hobby. On 14th March William was discharged uncured to Cane Hill Asylum.

There is a further note in the casebook that William has been ‘very troublesome’ Cane Hill and was subsequently transferred to Banstead Hospital in Epsom. There is a death recorded in Epsom in 1893 for a William Budd, which seems likely to relate to this William.

Looking at the addresses William lived in during his time in London, it would seem that he and his family were well-off and comfortable. Yet this did not insulate them from mental health problems. The duty of care for his wife when she became ill enough to warrant an admission to Bethlem seems to have fallen on William, and possibly coincided with the death of his son. Perhaps it is best to see the tailing off of William’s trade as the last straw in what must have been an already stressful situation.

William was undoubtedly a difficult patient at Bethlem, but much of what is recorded might have been seen as hi-jinks or even pranks in a different institution, like a boarding school or the army. At Bethlem, where his admission in 1887 appears to have been very much against his will, it seems like directed disobedience, and this anger is very focussed on the staff keeping him in the Hospital.

This can be seen in the poem kept by the staff in the casebook which is titled ‘Wm Budd’s “parting shot” to Dr Savage’:

‘Dear Doctor, when the trumpet sounds

And God proclaims the judgement day,

You’ll try I know to hear that

Some fifty miles or more away.

‘Twill be no use, no tree no bush

Will hide you from God’s searching eye

With other Savages you’ll have

To toddle up your luck to try

You’ll go to heaven I believe

And not to galleries two or three

With fifth-rate angels you will be

In lower gallery in I.B

You’ll daily scrub the gallery floors

And cleanse your brother angel’s sores

You’ll smooth their wings and combe their tails

And empty too their slops in pails

In course of years some three or more

You may be raised to Gallery IV’

‘Gallery IV’ was the favoured Gallery of the patients in Bethlem, being the highest part of the Hospital. The lower galleries were reserved for more problematic patients, which almost certainly included William to judge from his notes.

In the 1891 census I found a Catherine C Budd living with Ellen and Frederick Thrupp, a bank clerk, and their three daughters in Godmanchester. This would seem to be William’s wife and daughter- Ellen got married in 1885, and presumably this is where William lives between his admissions. A Catherine Budd dies in 1900 in Uxbridge. In the 1901 census, Ellen is living in 46 Sutton Lane Chiswick by her own means as a widow, still with three children, the youngest being 5. Ellen Thrupp passes away in Brighton in 1926. I suspect (and really I hope) that I have somehow missed Ada’s marriage as I could not find any further reference to her in any of the records.

Second Try

A Visit to Bethlem

A Visit to Bethlem

For my creative piece I imagined William's visit to the Hospital, just before his second admission. I created a collage via Paint 3D of the loud clothes he was wearing, and imagined how he must have been a colourful presence in a subdued Hospital. The two people at the front are meant to represent his doctor and his daughter, despairing of his 'unconventional' behaviour.

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 .