Subject Name: Diana Clark (b 1828 – d 1901)
Researcher: Pauline Sieler
Diana Clark’s life, after many years of living in apparent harmony mostly with her twin Rebecca and their mother Amelia, descended into chaos, including a deeply troubled marriage, episodes of drunken misbehaviour and almost a quarter of a century in the Guildford Union Workhouse before spending her remaining years in Brookwood Asylum suffering from mental illness and blindness.
Diana and Rebecca were baptised in the small village of Latton, Wiltshire, midway between Cirencester and Swindon on 27th February 1828 (1). Their parents were labourer John and Amelia Clark (née Ockwell), who had married in nearby Cricklade on 23rd August 1819 (2).
Also baptised at the same time was a girl called Deborah Ockwell, noted as the illegitimate daughter of Amelia Ockwell from Cricklade, so it can be presumed that she was the half-sister of Diana and Rebecca (3). Oddly, another girl, Anne Ockwell, was baptised just a few weeks earlier, also the illegitimate daughter of an Amelia, so perhaps she too was a half-sister (4). Diana and Rebecca did have two full sisters – Eliza, baptised in Latton in 1823 (5), and Mary Ann, baptised there in 1830 (6).
Diana’s father John, who was about 15 years older than her mother, passed away from “inflammation on the brain” on 5th December 1840 at the age of 63, and was buried at Latton church on 8th December (7). Six months later, the 1841 Census showed Diana’s mother Amelia, age 47, as a labourer, living in Latton with Rebecca (12), and Mary Ann (10) (8). However, Diana, her older sister Eliza and the two possible half-sisters Anne and Deborah were not listed with the family, and can’t be traced elsewhere.
By 1851 Diana, now 23, was back living with her mother in High Street, Latton (9). Amelia, 60, was listed as being a widow and a pauper. Although Diana did not to appear to be employed, her twin Rebecca was an apprentice dressmaker living in nearby Cricklade (10).
Little had changed by the 1861 Census, although Rebecca had moved back to live with her mother and sister in High Street, Latton (11). Diana and Rebecca’s age is given as 29, although they were at least 33. Diana still had no occupation listed, while Rebecca remained as a dressmaker. Their mother Amelia, although now 70, was noted as an agricultural labourer. Maybe Diana had been helping her mother and doing the household chores during this time. A year later, Amelia passed away and was buried at Latton church on 26th April 1862 (12).
Following the death of their mother, the twins’ lives were about to undergo drastic changes. On 8th August 1863, Rebecca married bachelor Walter Nash in South Cerney, very close to Latton (13). Walter was a labourer from Overton, Hampshire but was living in South Cerney, probably with his mother and her family, just a few houses away from Rebecca and Diana (14). Walter, age about 25, was some nine years younger than Rebecca (1, 15).
What Rebecca may not have known about her husband is that he had been a deserter and then discharged from the Royal Marines just a few months earlier that year (16, 17). His official record showed there were previous offences that he had committed, with his character stated as “indifferent”.
Evidence of Walter’s true character was displayed shockingly on 8th April 1864 when he met Diana in the street in their home village of South Cerney and, without any apparent provocation, struck his sister-in-law to the ground. He was imprisoned for three weeks on 18th April for the offence after failing to pay the £1 fine (18).
A few weeks later, on July 15th 1864, Walter was in court again, this time for assaulting his wife Rebecca. She decided not to press charges, saying “she would try him once more”, so he only had to pay court costs of 7s 6d (37.5p) (19).
Rebecca’s forgiving nature clearly failed, as Walter fled from their South Cerney home shortly afterwards. Her bleak prospects were made clear in a newspaper report on January 28th 1865 which stated that Rebecca, a pauper, was being removed from her home parish to that of her husband in Overton, about 50 miles (80km) away (20). The report also noted that Rebecca was a “cripple”, and could only walk with the aid of crutches. She was just 37 years old.
Despite the traumas around her sister’s marriage, Diana also decided to wed. On 11th April 1865, she married bachelor Thomas Selby, a farm labourer, at the Independent Chapel, Cirencester. The certificate stated that both were living in Cerney Wick, that Diana was 34, although she was at least 37, and that Thomas was 50 (21).
Whether it was a result of her marriage, or perhaps missing support from her mother and her twin, Diana began gaining an unwelcome notoriety, regularly appearing in the local newspapers in a succession of wild stories. The first came on 21st September 1867 after her husband Thomas reported to police that Charles Messenger – a witness to Rebecca and Walter’s doomed marriage two years earlier – and William Smith had been “throwing stones and firing a gun at his door” (22). At the trial in Cirencester, Thomas said that Charles had visited him on that night, and within three minutes of him being there, “the report of a gun went at my door and blowed it right open”. Thomas said they both rushed outside, with Messenger joining Smith, who was standing at the garden gate. Thomas said he then saw both men throw stones at his house, causing damage which would need “5 shillings (25p) to have the door mended”. Diana also said she saw Charles doing this, but her evidence was called into question by another witness, John Howes, who had seen Diana in the local pub earlier that evening, saying “she appeared to be quite tipsy”. A further witness in the pub added that “there was a half pint of beer standing there, and she (Diana) caught hold of it and drank it up”. Diana responded, saying: “T’was only part of a half pint”, causing laughter in the court room.
More evidence showed that all was not well between Diana and Thomas. Charles Messenger and John Howes both said that on other occasions, they had seen Diana kicking the front door of her house after Thomas had locked her out following quarrels between them.
The following March, Diana was involved in a “drunk and riotous” brawl with five men, not including her husband, in Cerney Wick. A witness said that Diana was “very drunk” and was “using very bad language”. Diana, notoriously named by the newspaper report as “The Great Diana”, was the only one of the six not to plead guilty. She was found guilty, however, and fined 12 shillings (60p) (23).
Once more in the papers that year, in August 1868, Diana, “a well-known character”, was charged but acquitted of stealing a small quantity of cider (24).
No further appearances by Diana in the newspapers have been found, but there was more bad news for her when her twin Rebecca passed away in September 1870 in Overton age 43 (25).
The 1871 Census shows that Diana had moved over 70 miles (113km) south-east and was living in Woking, a sub-registration district of Guildford (26). Noted as “Diana Selbey”, it said she was a 41-year-old widow born in Latton, Wiltshire, housekeeper, living with farm labourer George Pullen, a widower age 64 (26). Why she had chosen to move to Surrey is not known. It is even unclear what had actually become of her husband Thomas as there are no records for him found since he appeared in court in 1867.
Diana’s situation did not last long, as later in 1871, she entered the Guildford Union Workhouse. Although there are no admission records available, later hospital records would show that Diana would remain in the Workhouse continuously until 1894 (31).
Both the 1881 (27) and 1891 (28) Censuses for the Guildford Union noted her – with slight spelling variations – under her maiden name Diana Clark although they stated that she was married. Sadly, the 1891 Census also noted that Diana was now blind.
Diana’s health continued to worsen, and on 27th October 1894, she was transferred from the Guildford Union to the nearby Brookwood Asylum (29, 30, 31). After confirming that she had been residing in the Workhouse for the past 23 years, her admission notes said that 64-year-old Diana had been “insane” for the past two months, was suffering from “senile dementia”, “paralysis agitans” (nowadays known as Parkinson’s disease) and that her bodily condition was “weakly”. She was “not suicidal, not dangerous”, but “quite blind and very helpless” with “no relatives known”.
The notes added that Diana “has developed delusions of persecution”. This was graphically illustrated by what Diana told the admissions’ officer, who noted: “last night her husband held a knife at her forehead and into her breast. She says that people are constantly running after her and ill-treating her, and that she cannot live long”.
Diana’s condition was clearly going to be difficult to manage for Brookwood, but her notes show that she was closely monitored and all her needs were looked after. Regular medical reports recorded that she “requires constant supervision”, was “generally troublesome, noisy at night” and “is weak both mentally and bodily”.
Despite all of this, the hospital cared for Diana for over six years until in early 1901, she “became steadily and gradually worse and was confined to her bed and passing into a comatose state, sank and died at 5.5 am January 7th”. She was noted as 70 years old, although the date of her baptism record suggests that she was about 73.
The cost of keeping Diana at Brookwood had fallen to the Guildford Union and was not inconsiderable. For example, in 1895 the neighbouring Farnham Union Board of Guardians noted that the charge for “lunatics” at Brookwood was 10 shillings (50p) per week, whereas the cost was “only 5s (25p) per week in the workhouse” (32). This meant that the mentally ill were generally kept in the workhouse for as long as possible until it became impractical for them to be cared for there.
It does seem that the Guildford Union Board of Guardians kept a typically Victorian caring watch with a “Lunatic Visiting Committee”. In September 1897, the Committee reported that they had paid a “surprise visit to Brookwood Asylum” to check up on Guildford patients, one of whom was Diana. “They saw all the patients, viz 49 males and 78 females, and found that they were well taken care of, and appeared to be thoroughly looked after” (33).
Diana’s life had undoubtedly been a turbulent one in which virtually her last 30 years had been spent in institutions. Her time in both the Guildford Union Workhouse and the Brookwood Asylum would have been hard for both herself and the staff caring for her, but it does seem that the Victorian values of that time served her as well as possible. This era ended just 15 days after Diana’s passing with the death of Queen Victoria herself on 22nd January 1901.
December 2019, updated August 2022
1) ‘Diana Clark’ (1828) English births and christenings 1538–1975, Latton, Wiltshire. Familysearch.org.uk
‘Rebecca Clark’ (1828) English births and christenings 1538–1975, Latton, Wiltshire Familysearch.org
2) ‘John Clark & Amelia Ockwell’ (1819) England, Wiltshire, Church records, Marriages 1518–1990, Cricklade St Sampson. Familysearch.org
3) ‘Deborah Ockwell’ (1828) English births and christenings 1538–1975, Latton, Wiltshire Familysearch.org
4) ‘Anne Ockwell’ (1828) English births and christenings 1538–1975, Latton, Wiltshire Familysearch.org
5) ‘Eliza Clark’ (1823) English births and christenings 1538–1975, Latton, Wiltshire. Familysearch.org
6) ‘Mary Ann Clark’ (1830) English births and christenings 1538–1975, Latton, Wiltshire. Familysearch.org
7) ‘John Clark’ (1840) Oct-Nov-Dec Quarter 1840, England & Wales, Civil Registration Death
Index, 1837-1915, Cricklade, Wiltshire, Vol 8, Page 201. Ancestry.co.uk
Original available from Government Register Office gro.gov.uk
8) ‘Amelia, Rebecca, Mary Ann Clark’ (1841) Census return for Latton, Cricklade, Wiltshire, England. Public Record Office PRO HO107, Piece 1178, folio 5, page 4. Thegenealogist.co.uk
9) ‘Amelia, Diana Clark’ (1851) Census return for Latton, Cricklade, Wiltshire, England. Public Record Office PRO HO107 Piece 1834, folio 372, page 6. Thegenealogist.co.uk
10) ‘Rebecca Clark’ (1851) Census return for Cricklade, Wiltshire, England. Public Record Office PRO HO107, Piece 1834, folio 350, page 12. Thegenealogist.co.uk
11) ‘Amelia, Rebecca, Diana Clark’ (1861) Census return for Latton, Cricklade, Wiltshire, England. Public Record Office PRO RG09, Piece 1275, folio 12, page 1. Thegenealogist.co.uk
12) ‘Amelia Clark’ (1862) England, Wiltshire, Church Records, 1518–1990, burials, Latton, Wiltshire. Familysearch.org
13) ‘Rebecca Clark & Walter Nash’ (1863) England, Gloucestershire, Church of England
Marriages and Banns, 1754–1938, South Cerney 1837-1829, ref P71 in 1/9, page 68. Ancestry.co.uk
14) ‘John, Mary Ann, Mary, Robert, Jemima, Elizabeth, Sarah, Martha Mabbatt’ (1861)
Census return for High Street, Latton, Cricklade, Wiltshire, England. Public Record Office PRO RG09, Piece 1275, folio 12, page 1. Thegenealogist.co.uk
‘John, Mary Ann, Mary Ann, Robert, Jemima Mabbett’ (1851) Census return for South Cerney, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, England. Public Record Office PRO HO107,
Piece 1968, folio 281, page 53. Ancestry.co.uk
Mary Ann Naish & John Mabbatt’ (1840) Jul-Aug-Sep Quarter 1840, England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915, Winchester, Hampshire, Vol 7, Page 137. Ancestry.co.uk
‘Robert Mabbatt’ (1845) Oct-Nov-Dec Quarter 1845, England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, Vol 11, Page 231, mother Nash. Ancestry.co.uk
15) ‘Walter Nash’ (1837) English births and christenings 1538–1975, Overton, Hampshire.
16) ‘Walter Nash’ (1860) 15 March 1860. The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surrey, England. UK, Naval and Military Courts Martial Registers. Admiralty: Courts Martial Registers; Series
ADM 194; Piece Number 9 Portsmouth Division Royal Marines (1858-1860); Pages 323-324. Ancestry.co.uk / Fold3.com
17) ‘Walter Nash‘ (1863) ‘Gosport, Saturday Jan, 10. Police Saturday’, Hampshire Advertiser 10 January 1863, page 12. Findmypast.co.uk / British Newspaper Archives
18) ‘Walter Nash‘ (1864) ‘Local & District News. Petty Sessions’, Cirencester Times and Cotswold Advertiser 25 April 1864, page 8. Findmypast.co.uk / British Newspaper Archives
‘Walter Nash’ (1864) Gloucestershire, England, Prison Records, 1728-1914, Registers of Summary Convictions, The County Gaol 1863-1865, Reference : Q/Gc/9/3, 14 April 1864. Ancestry.co.uk
19) ‘Walter Nash‘ (1864) ‘Local Intelligence. South Cerney’, Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard Advertiser 23 July 1864, page 2. Findmypast.co.uk / British Newspaper Archives
20) ‘Rebecca Nash wife of Walter Nash‘ (1865) ‘Circencester’, Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard Advertiser 28 January 1865, page 2. Findmypast.co.uk / British Newspaper Archives
21) ‘Diana Clarke & Thomas Selby’ (1865) Apr-May-Jun Quarter 1865, England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, Vol 6a, Page 640.
Ancestry.co.uk. Original available from General Register Office gro.gov.uk
22) ‘Doing Wilful Damage at South Cerney’ ‘Another Case’ Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard Advertiser 5 October 1867, page 4. Findmypast.co.uk / British Newspaper Archives
23) ‘A Drunken Lot’ North Wilts Herald 11 April 1868, page 8. Findmypast.co.uk / British Newspaper Archives
24) ‘Charge of Stealing Cider’ Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard Advertiser 8 August 1868,
page 4. Findmypast.co.uk / British Newspaper Archives
25) ‘Rebecca Nash’ (1870) Jul-Aug-Sep Quarter 1870, England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915, Whitchurch, Hampshire, Vol 2c, Page 124. Ancestry.co.uk
‘Rebecca Nash’ (1870) England Deaths and Burials, 1538–1991, Overton, Hampshire.
26) ‘George Pullen, Diana Selbey’ (1871) Census return for Woking, Guildford, Surrey,
England. Public Record Office PRO RG10, Piece 807, folio 13, page 20. Ancestry.co.uk
27) ‘Dianna Clark’ (1881) Census return for Guildford Union Workhouse, Stoke next Guildford, Guildford, Surrey. Public Record Office PRO RG11; Piece 778; Folio 94; Page 9. Thegenealogist.co.uk
28) ’Diana Clarke’ (1891) Census return for Guildford Union Workhouse, Stoke next
Guildford, Guildford, Surrey. Public Record Office PRO RG12; Piece 560; Folio 203; Page 9. Thegenealogist.co.uk
29) ‘Diann Clark’ (1894) Guardian’s minute book 10/11/94 BG6/11/25 p315. Surrey History Centre surreycc.gov.uk/culture-and-leisure/history-centre
30) ‘Diana Clarke’ (1894) Admission to Brookwood and Holloway Mental Hospitals 1867–1900. Brookwood Hospital, Woking, Registers of admissions 1867–1900. Brookwood Asylum 1894-1895; Register Number 3; Admission Number 7751- 8246 ; Reference : 3043/5/1/1/9.
Surrey History Centre, Woking, Surrey, England. Ancestry.co.uk
31) ‘Diana Clarke’ (1894) Brookwood Hospital Woking, Female Case Books 1867-1900,
reference 3043/5/9/2/24 (4), pages 122-123.
Surrey History Centre surreycc.gov.uk/culture-and-leisure/history-centre
32) ‘Farnham. Board of Guardians. Maintenance of Imbeciles’ West Surrey Times 21 September 1895, page 3. Findmypast.co.uk / British Newspaper Archives
33) ‘Guildford. Board of Guardians.’ West Surrey Times 4 September 1897, page 6. Findmypast.co.uk / British Newspaper Archives