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Change Minds Online 2023: Elizabeth Prudence Kentish by Maria K


Elizabeth in Bethlem c.1893

Elizabeth Prudence Kentish was born on 15th October 1859 in Borough, to John Kentish (1832 - 1895) and Margaret Wilson (1833 - 1899). Her father John was a draper. 

By 1861 the family had moved from Borough to Stamford Road, Hackney, where Alice (1861 - 1893) Elizabeth's sister was born.

Elizabeth was baptised on 28th January 1863 at St George the Martyr, Southwark.

According to the census of 1871, the family was still residing in Stamford Road. Elizabeth also had 3 new sisters: twins Margaret (1865 - 1942) and Annie (1865 - 1955), and Emily Maud (1869 - 1941). She would be joined by a further two sisters: Grace Amy (1873 - 1954) and Kate Jessie (1877 - 1958).

By the 1881 census, the family had moved to 61 Richmond Road, Hackney. 

As reported by the Bethlem admission record, Elizabeth’s first episode of mental ill health was approximately at this time at the age of 22: she experienced weeks of depression following an acute attack of Bright’s disease and she was treated at home.

During the ensuing decade the family had moved again, with the 1891 census documenting their address as 10 St Philips Road, Dalston. 

On 21st December 1892, two independent doctors completed the necessary certificates for Elizabeth’s admission to the Bethlem. The first doctor was George Duke of Kingsland Road; the second was Thomas Carey Barlow, a divisional police surgeon.

Both certificates reported Elizabeth to be experiencing religious hallucinations, a depression of spirit, refusal of food and toilet withholding behaviours.

On 22nd December 1892, with a bond of £10 paid by her father, Elizabeth Prudence Kentish was admitted ‘late night’ to the Bethlem.

It was written in her admission record that she had been experiencing this episode for approximately 3 months. The supposed cause of the episode was attributed to Elizabeth being ‘overwrought by nursing (her) sick mother.’ She was diagnosed with mania and given a fair prognosis.

On the morning of 23rd December 1892, Elizabeth was moved to a padded room in the basement as she was ‘violently struggling,’ experiencing religious hallucinations and phantosmia.

It is unclear how many days she spent in the basement area. The record entry for December 29th expresses that Elizabeth was still ‘violently struggling.’ However, by January 10th 1893, Elizabeth ‘is a little better, delusions are less and she is not so violent.’

During the rest of the year, ‘she is improving’: hallucinations, delusions and hearing voices had lessened. It was noted however that she was depressed, sometimes confused, but worked and occupied herself with needlework in the Gallery. 

She was eventually discharged well on February 21st 1894, returning to the family home of 10 St Philips Street, Dalston. Nothing is known of her health after leaving the Bethlem, but she was not readmitted to the Bethlem during the remainder of her life. 

According to the census records of 1901, 1911 and 1921, her occupation was ‘Head’ (of the household) of 10 St Philips Street, Dalston. This would remain her home until her death. 

Elizabeth Prudence Kentish died in July 1929, aged 69. Final place of rest unknown.



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Maria One
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Beyond the Bethlem by Maria K

Maria Poem

'Elizabeth', redacted from Elizabeth Gone by Anne Sexton.

A response to the process of choosing Elizabeth, researching and animating her experience, then letting go of her and the project.

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