‘The Lock Asylum’ dramatizes the lives of four women who were admitted as patients in 1787. But who were Mary Carter, Martha Threadgill, Sarah Downes and Ruth Plym? What do we actually know about them? This post gives you access to the original notes taken by the clerk to the asylum and transcribed and studied by LSE students.
The Lock Asylum’s clerk recorded short histories of the lives of the women who were admitted. Each begins with the date they arrived and then summarizes the events that led to their infection with syphilis, the disease that they had just been cured of at the Lock Hospital. Below each entry, he noted what happened to end their time in the Asylum.
The four notes below contain almost all we know of the women who appear in the Lock Asylum drama with one exception. Ruth Plym really did become matron of the Asylum, and appears in later records asking for her service to be recognized.
The transcriptions were produced by undergraduate students in their second year studying in the department of Economic History. They form part of a research project the students participate in to develop their experience in working with historical sources. The original documents are now held in the archive of the Royal College of Surgeons.
Case 19, Ruth Plym, 16 August 1787
August 16th 1787
Ruth Plym aged 25 years about seven Months agoe, she having a sore Thumb, attended at Mr Brownfields Surgery for assistance and having been there several times, Mr Brownfield’s Pupil told her she was very bad, And that he would attend her at her Lodgings, which he did, and took an opportunity of seducing her; and about two Months after her seduction, suspecting herself to be pregnant, she was overwhelm’d with distress, and went into Hyde park with an Intention of drowning herself; and a Gentleman like Man saw her there in great affliction, and promised to assist her; He walkd home with her, partly by force, and partly by persuasion, he was connected with her, & gave her the Venereal Disease but left her without giving her any Money. Her first seducer she believes is gone abroad; She is destitute of Money & Friends but is capable of undertaking any Place, If the peculiarity of her Situation, (being now six Months advanced in her pregnancy) did not exclude her from seeking one. At present, the greatest part of her apparel is in pawn, and on her discharge from the Hospital, It was her Intention to have gone to some Lodging, and to have resignd herself to famine & Death.
Admitted till a Letter can be procur’d for her admission into a Lying in Hospital, and Orderd, that five Shillings & 6d be paid to redeem some of her Clothes.
Sept. 6th The board ordered that Ruth Plym be permitted to lay in in the Asylum; and accordingly, she was deliverd of a female Child on Sunday Morng. Decd 2d . abt. 8, O’ Clock.
Case 16, Sarah Downes, 9 August 1787
Thursday Augt. 9 th. 1787.
Sarah Downes, 16 years of age in May last; born at Exeter of poor Parents, who are both dead. She ran away from them when she was very young, perhaps not more than 11.Yrs old went from Exeter to Plymouth, got into a bad House, but left it in about a fortnight , & returnd to Exeter, from thence went to Bristol, and begd her way about the Countrey, & on to Scotland she then went servant at a Farm House, were she was used very ill, and kept without Victuals & Drink. Abt 4 years agoe left her place & went abt the Country as a Prostitute, but never came to London till she came to the Hospital.
Can read, & do Household work.
Went as Servant to J Fisher Sept 10 th Ran away early in the Morning of the 14.th
Case 28, Mary Carter, 20 September 1787
September 20th 1787
Mary Carter, 17 years of age, born at Dover, her Father is a working Man there, but her mother is dead; has an Uncle. (Danl Carter) & aunt who, are independent people at Dover; she lived with her Friends at Dover till she was between fourteen and fifteen years old; then came with her Father to Rochester, lived there 12 Months and her Mother died left Rochester at the persuasion of a Woman, who said she would get her a place but after Pawning her Cloaths, left her; she then went & was on the Town for two years, and had the Venereal Disease on her best part of the time, she then got a Letter, & was taken into the Hospital.
Can read, do plain Work, and Household work.
Died at the Asylum, in a Decline, Jany. 30th.1788.
Case 11, Martha Threadgill, 19 July 1787
Martha Threadgill 15 years old last Christmas her Father died ab’t seven years agoe her Mother married again to one Peter Newman, Glass Cutter who lodges at the Coach & Horses, St Martin’s Lane has left her Mother abt 18 months. Her mother being lame, her Father in Law threatend to turn her out, and a footman in the Neighbourhood decoyd her away under the pretence of providing for her; and after giving her the Venereal Disease, left her, and she then went into the Streets, About two Months after, she went into Cheshire with a Young Woman who was going to her Friends, and getting any provision she at last came up to London , abt a fortnight before she came to the Hospital.
Can neither read, nor work well at her Needle.