(b1852 – d1913)
Researcher: Viv Bennett
Martha Maria Hogsflesh, almost certainly affected from birth by a severe mental disability, nevertheless was a survivor, being the only one of her parents’ five children to reach adulthood.
Martha’s parents Thomas Hogsflesh, a bricklayer, and Ann Govett, were married in 1844 in St George’s Church, Hanover Square, London (1).
The year before Martha’s birth, Thomas and Ann Hogsflesh were listed in the 1851 Census living in High Street, Godalming (2). Thomas, age 33, born in Liss, Hampshire, was a beer retailer. An 1855 Post Office Directory of Godalming listed him as a baker as well (3). His wife Ann, 32, was born in Somerset. Business was probably fair as they had one servant, but they also had two lodgers to supplement their income.
Martha Maria was born in Godalming on 20th February 1852 with her father Thomas noted this time as a bricklayer (4). She was baptised at Godalming’s St Peter and St Paul Church on 14th March (5).
Martha was Ann and Thomas’s fourth child. Sadly, all their previous three children had died before she was born.
Thomas Govett Hogsflesh was born in St Luke, Chelsea in 1845. He died age four in February 1850 and was buried in Godalming (6).
William, born in 1848 in Farnborough, now in Hampshire, died very shortly after his birth (7). Mary Ann was born in Godalming in 1850. She died age 10 weeks in June 1850, and was buried at the St Peter & St Paul Church just four months after her brother Thomas (8).
After Martha’s birth in 1852, Thomas and Ann had a further daughter in the summer of 1855 with the birth of Mary (9). However, just a few months later, Martha and Mary’s father Thomas died age only 38, at High Street, Godalming. He was buried on 2nd December 1855 at the St Peter & Paul Church (10). Martha, still only four years old, then lost her only sibling when Mary passed away a year later just before Christmas 1856, age 18 months (11).
Martha’s mother Ann must have been devastated. Now in her mid-thirties, with just Martha left of her family and with probably no regular income, it’s likely she would have been keen to remarry. This appeared to have happened, as the 1861 Census showed that Ann and Martha were still living in Godalming High Street but were now with William Voller, a 33-year-old baker and beer retailer, who would no doubt have been known to Ann’s late husband Thomas (12). This Census showed Ann as “Ann Voller, wife, age 38, born Wiveliscombe, Somerset”. However, she may not have actually been his wife. William Voller had married Ann Hammond back in 1852 (13), but no records have been found to show that his first wife had died nor is there any traceable marriage record for Martha’s mother to William either. Martha, age seven, scholar, was noted as “daughter-in-law” i.e. stepdaughter of William. Two-year-old William, child of Martha’s mother Ann and stepfather William, completed the household (14).
Martha was 16 when her mother Ann died at home on 14th July 1868, age 49, from heart disease and dropsy (15) and was buried three days later at the Nightingale Cemetery, Godalming (16).
One of the early official records to indicate that someone had a disability was the 1871 Census. Although this section in the Census was left blank by the enumerator, the entry for Martha showed her to be age 18 – she was actually 19 – and a “scholar” with no employment noted (17). Inaccurate as this was, it hints that all was not well with Martha. It did show that she was still living with her 43-year-old stepfather William Voller and half-brother William, 12, in High Street, Godalming.
Martha’s stepfather William died in November 1877 age 50 (18). There are no records to show when she entered the Guildford Union Workhouse, but Martha was an inmate there at the time of the 1881 Census (19). The death of her stepfather would have left Martha with no one in a position to care for, so it is very likely that she entered the workhouse either upon William’s death, or even before. Age 28, she was noted as an unmarried domestic servant born in Godalming. Again, no mention is made of any disability.
Over eight years passed until Martha, age 37, was admitted to the Brookwood Asylum from the Guildford Union on 7th June 1889 where she had been a ‘patient’ (20, 21, 22). Mr. Portsmouth of the Guildford Union wrote the following stark assessment: ‘I have known Martha Hogsflesh for many years as an imbecile. She is incapable of occupation or conversation, cannot answer questions correctly, neither has she the intelligence beyond that of an imbecile from birth’. This was the first time Martha’s mental condition had been spelt out in documents. She had no known relatives.
The Matron of the Workhouse had told Mr Portsmouth that Martha had been in the habit of ‘undressing herself during the day’, and getting up at night and “pulling the clothes off other inmates in the ward, putting her hands over their mouths”. The catalyst for Martha’s move seems to have been that she “had knocked down Charlotte Risbridge on June 5th 1889 and put her fingers on her throat”.
The Brookwood admission notes gave the most detailed, if unflattering, description of Martha so far. However, she seemed to be capable of understanding questions, as “she nods her head or shakes it as she wishes to signify yes or no”. Martha had ‘been in the union for years but latterly become unmanageable’, was in ‘fair health’, ‘but short with an imbecile appearance’.
In the context of the time, the words to describe Martha’s condition were not seen as derogatory. The Victorians used these terms to classify various degrees of mental disability. An ‘imbecile’ was assessed as having an intelligence that did not exceed that of a normal child of about seven years, while an ‘idiot’ had the mental age of a child not beyond age two (23). However, families did hide details of what could be seen as ‘shameful’ conditions, so perhaps this was why Martha was never classified with a disability in the censuses.
Martha’s next assessment carried out three days after her admission to Brookwood noted that she was “quiet and well behaved…and does as she is told” and by late July, her report said she was “usefully employed in routine duties”. By September, she was entrusted with needlework, and continued in much the same way without any major problems for the next two years.
With no recurrence of any of the incidents reported before her admission, and ‘capable of a good deal of useful employment’, it was felt that Martha would be able to return to the workhouse, a much cheaper option for the Union. She left Brookwood on 25th July 1891.
Unfortunately, her return to the Guildford Union was not a success. On 17th August 1892, Martha, age 40, was readmitted to Brookwood Asylum after a Union inmate had reported to assistant that “Martha had attacked her and severely scratched her face” (24, 25). The Matron added that Martha “constantly throws articles about and lies down on the floor and pulls her clothes up over her head and exposes herself”. This time on admission Martha was said to be ‘suffering from dementia’, and her health was “fair”.
Despite the disturbing behaviour in the Workhouse, Martha instantly returned to how she had been in Brookwood the first time. She was quiet on her first night after readmission, and remarkably, the following morning, was “usefully employed in needlework”. Further reports over the coming months continued to say that there was “no change” and that she “works well and gives no trouble”. Although at times “morose & obstinate”, she was clearly much happier there.
A year later, though, on 2nd August 1893, Martha, now 41, was ‘re-certified to the Commission of Lunacy as an idiot, incapable of conversing, excited, noisy and troublesome at times’. The Commission was a public body which oversaw asylums and the welfare of their patients (26). This assessment showed that Martha was regressing and as the years went by, her mental condition further worsened. By July 1897, she was deemed “not capable of any employment”.
As the 19th Century drew to a close, the authorities realised that Brookwood was becoming full and required expansion, so Martha was transferred on 17th December 1899 to the Barnwood House County Lunatic Asylum, Gloucester (25, 27). She remained there until 28th August 1901, when she was moved to the County of Bristol Asylum, Stapleton, Bristol (28), before being returned to Brookwood on 28th May 1903 (25).
This was not the end of her travels, as 53-year-old Martha was one of 60 pauper patients moved to Littlemore Hospital, Oxford on 24th August 1906 (29, 30), before she was returned to Brookwood for the final time on 23rd July 1907 (29).
In 1909 the Chronic Patients’ casebook described her as a “congenital idiot, quite helpless but in general good health” (31).
For over five years, there was little or no change in her condition until 26th March 1913 when she was admitted to Brookwood’s infirmary at the Asylum. She died the following day at 4.30pm, age 61, from uraemia (kidney disease) (31).
Although public records can never tell the full story, it seems that Martha had been loved and cared for by her family and then her stepfather. The discipline of workhouse life maybe was not for her, but her time in the Brookwood Asylum, where she was to spend over a quarter of her life, clearly suited Martha better.
Updated November 2022
1) Thomas Hogsflesh & Ann Govett 1844 June Quarter, marriage at St George Hanover Square London, Vol 1 Page 16. England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915. Available at FreeBMD.org.uk and Ancestry.co.uk
2) Thomas & Ann Hogsflesh 1851 England Census, High St, Godalming, Surrey. Class: HO107; Piece: 1594; Folio: 780; Page: 65; GSU roll: 193491/2. Available at Ancestry.co.uk
3) Thomas Hogsflesh 1855 Post Office Home Counties Directory, Godalming, Surrey, page 702. London Metropolitan Archives. Available at Ancestry.co.uk
4) Martha Maria Hogsflesh 1852 March Quarter birth registered at Guildford, Surrey, Vol 2a Page 55. England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915. Available at FreeBMD.org.uk and Ancestry.co.uk. Copy of original birth certificate available from GRO.gov.uk
5) Martha Maria Hogsflesh 14 March 1852. Surrey History Centre, Woking, Surrey. Surrey Church of England Parish Registers, Baptism, St Peter & St Paul Godalming, 1833-1877, GOD/4/2 page 271. Available at Ancestry.co.uk
6) Thomas Govett Hogsflesh 1845 September Quarter birth registered at Chelsea, Vol 2a Page 36. England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915. Available at FreeBMD.org.uk and Ancestry.co.uk.
Thomas Govett Hogsflesh 24 Feb 1850. Surrey History Centre, Woking, Surrey. Surrey Church of England Parish Registers, Burial, St Peter & St Paul Godalming, 1842-1880, GOD/5/2 page 84. Available at Ancestry.co.uk
7) William Hogsflesh 1848 March Quarter birth registered at Farnborough, Surrey, Vol 4 Page 160. England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915. Available at FreeBMD.org.uk and Ancestry.co.uk.
William Hogsflesh 1848. March Quarter death registered at Farnborough, Surrey, Vol 4 Page 139. England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915. Available at FreeBMD.org.uk and Ancestry.co.uk.
8) Mary Ann Hogsflesh 1850 June Quarter birth registered at Guildford, Vol 4 Page 186. England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915. Available at FreeBMD.org.uk and Ancestry.co.uk.
Mary Ann Hogsflesh 22 June 1850. Surrey History Centre, Woking, Surrey. Surrey Church of England Parish Registers, Burial, St Peter & St Paul Godalming, 1842-1880, GOD/5/2 page 87. Available at Ancestry.co.uk
9) Mary Hogsflesh 1855 September Quarter birth registered at Guildford, Vol 2a Page 49. England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915. Available at FreeBMD.org.uk and Ancestry.co.uk.
10) Thomas Hogsflesh 2 December 1855. Surrey History Centre, Woking, Surrey. Surrey Church of England Parish Registers, Burial, St Peter & St Paul Godalming, 1842-1880, GOD/5/2 page 139. Available at Ancestry.co.uk
11) Mary Hogsflesh 22 December 1856. Surrey History Centre, Woking, Surrey. Surrey Church of England Parish Registers, Burial, St Peter & St Paul Godalming, 1842-1880, GOD/5/2 page 147. Available at Ancestry.co.uk
12) William, Ann, William Voller; Martha Hogsflesh 1861 England Census, High St, Godalming, Surrey. Class: RG 9; Piece: 429; Folio: 109; Page: 27; GSU roll: 542636. Available at Ancestry.co.uk
13) William Voller & Ann Hammond 29 February 1852 Surrey History Centre, Woking, Surrey. Surrey Church of England Parish Registers, Marriage, St Nicholas, Guildford, 1813-1875, page 70. Available at Ancestry.co.uk
14) William Valler 1858 March Quarter birth registered at Guildford, mother Govett, Vol 2a Page 65. England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915. Available at GRO.gov.uk.
15) Ann Viller 1868 September Quarter, death registered at Guildford, Vol 2a Page 47. England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915. Available at FreeBMD.org.uk and Ancestry.co.uk. Copy of original available at GRO.gov.uk
16) Ann Valler 17 July 1868. Godalming Joint Burial Committee; Burials at Nightingale Cemetery 1857-2021; Book/Entry No N1/0798, Page 40. Available at Godalming-tc.gov.uk/burial-records.
17) William, William Voller; Martha Hogsflesh 1871 England Census, High St, Godalming, Surrey. Class: RG 10; Piece: 815; Folio: 19; Page: 32; GSU roll: 838698. Available at Ancestry.co.uk
18) William Valler 1877 December Quarter, death registered at Guildford, Vol 2a Page 49. England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915. Available at FreeBMD.org.uk and Ancestry.co.uk.
William Valler 29 November 1877. Godalming Joint Burial Committee; Burials at Nightingale Cemetery 1857-2021; Book/Entry No N2/1639, Page 31. Available at Godalming-tc.gov.uk/burial-records.
19) Martha Hogsflesh 1881 Census return for Guildford Union Workhouse, Guildford, Surrey. Class: RG11; Piece: 778; Folio: 91; Page: 4; GSU roll: 134118 3. Available at Ancestry.co.uk
20) Martha Hogsflesh 7 June 1889, admission to Brookwood, UK Lunacy Patients Admission Registers 1846-1921, County Asylums and Hospitals, Series MH94, Piece 28:1889, Admission 79115. Available at Ancestry.co.uk
21) Martha Hogsflesh 15 June 1889. Guildford Poor Law Union Workhouse Minute Books 1836-1918, BG6/11/23, Page 11. Available at Surrey History Centre, Woking. Surreycc.gov.uk.
22) Martha Hogsflesh 7 June 1889–25 July 1891 Brookwood Hospital Woking, Female Case Books 1867-1900. Female case book no.14, 14 Dec 1888–13 Dec 1890, reference 3043/5/9/2/20, page 123. Available at Surrey History Centre, Woking. Surreycc.gov.uk.
23) The Language of Madness : Understanding Terminology Restoring Perspective, Life and Treatment at the London Asylum, project of the University of Western Ontario, Canada. ib.uwo.ca/archives/virtualexhibits/londonasylum/terminology
The Clinical History of ‘Moron’, ‘Idiot’, and ‘Imbecile’ The words have a less-than-savory past. Word history. Merriam-Webster Dictionary Merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/moron-idiot-imbecile-offensive-history.
Social Stigma, 19th Century Insanity Register of Qualified Genealogists blog Qualifiedgenealogists.org/RQGNews/blog/insanity
24) Martha Hogsflesh 17 August 1892, admission to Woking (Brookwood), UK Lunacy Patients Admission Registers 1846-1921, County Asylums and Hospitals, Series MH94, Piece 31:1892, Admission 29281. Available at Ancestry.co.uk
25) Martha Hogsflesh 17 August 1892–30 Mar 1909 Brookwood Hospital Woking, Female Case Books 1867-1900. Chronic Case Book Vol 3, 29 Jun 1892–23 Dec 1893, reference 3043/5/9/2/23, pages 13,14. Available at Surrey History Centre, Woking. Surreycc.gov.uk.
26) Commissioners in Lunacy Wikipedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commissioners_in_Lunacy
27) Martha Hogsflesh 7 December 1899, admission to Gloucester, UK Lunacy Patients Admission Registers 1846-1921, County Asylums and Hospitals, Series MH94, Piece 35:1899, Admission 60683. Available at Ancestry.co.uk
28) Martha Hogsflesh 29 August 1901, admission to Bristol, UK Lunacy Patients Admission Registers 1846-1921, County Asylums and Hospitals, Series MH94, Piece 37:1901, Admission 14995. Available at Ancestry.co.uk
29) Martha Hogsflesh 24 August 1906, admission to Oxford, UK Lunacy Patients Admission Registers 1846-1921, County Asylums and Hospitals, Series MH94, Piece 41:1906, Admission 33608. Available at Ancestry.co.uk
30) Littlemore Asylum Report 15 May 1907 The Oxfordshire Weekly News, p6. Available at FindMyPast.co.uk / British Newspaper Archives
31) Martha Hogsflesh 17 August 1892–27 Mar 1913 Brookwood Hospital Woking, Female Case Books 1867-1900. Reference 3043/5/9/3/5, page 121. Available at Surrey History Centre, Woking. Surreycc.gov.uk.