Another False Start?

Sticklepath near Okehampton, Devon, the village of my childhood, has fascinated me for a long time.  I have (finally) decided to do a “One Place Study” both a tool to help me put something on paper and further my research and as a way of passing the information on.  

The first census with individual’s names, as with most places in England, is 1841. On trying to investigate my first village household William and Ann Mance, I came across the two items you find below on and in the coroners’ reports on Genuki.  An Ann Mance is the matron of Newton Abbot Workhouse. Nothing to do with Sticklepath or, it turns out, the people I was looking for, but a shocking tale and a corner’s report with perhaps a final warning?!

For those unfamiliar with historic reports the language used sounds offensive to us but was in common usage at the time and not intended to be derogatory.  Those with special educational needs and disabilities were referred to as idiots or imbeciles. Those wishing to avoid gory details should jump to the next post!

The Newton Abbot “Jumpers” Scandal

Accessed 20 Sep 2020

In 1894, the workhouse officers became involved in a scandal which was the subject of an inquiry by the Local Government Board. Witnesses claimed that the “jumper,” a sort of sack used as a strait-jacket, was constant use in the workhouse, and that aged inmates had been placed in it naked, and then tied to their bedsteads. A Mrs. Bovey died five days after being confined in the “jumper,” and she was said to have been tied down within a few hours of her death. Other witnesses alleged that the wards of the workhouse were in a filthy condition, and many of the inmates infested with vermin.

One witness, a nurse named Alice Hinton, testified that she had found inmate named Mrs. Nicholls apparently dying. The woman was very dirty and covered with vermin. Her hair had been cut off, and her toe-nails were like claws, being 2½in. long. Another woman who was paralyzed had her finger-nails so long that they made wounds in her flesh.

In the workhouse yard, Hinton had seen an idiot woman crouched in a corner with her face bruised. The Guardians had built a shed for her in the yard, and witness had noticed that the boys threw stones and snowballs at her. When the master’s son was at home he was the ringleader. The boys said that they pelted the old woman to make her swear.

It was also alleged that Miss Ann Mance, workhouse matron for almost thirty years, neglected her duties, and had only been seen to visit the sick ward five time over a three month period. to her knowledge. It was further alleged that the fighting among the idiots was especially dreadful on Sunday morning, when the matron was in bed, and Nurse Hinton added that she had also complained to the matron of immorality that was going on amongst the inmates.

Miss Mance gave an emphatic denial to the charges, swearing that she had never bullied an inmate in. her life, and declared that she had exercised proper authority over the establishment. The idiots said to have been cruelly treated had not a single bruise upon their bodies. She had allowed inmates to sing Sankey’s hymns on Sunday mornings, but it was utterly untrue to state that the place had been turned into a Bedlam.

She never ordered any inmate to be put into the “jumper.” “Jumpers” had been introduced by a former nurse, named M’Connell, and they were supposed to be under the control of the nurse. She had never received a complaint respecting their use. In regard to the charges of misconduct among the inmates, the matron declared that it was absolutely impossible that men and women could have been in the laundry together.

Another workhouse nurse, Miss Pike, said she had been given sole charge of about 150 sick paupers in the nursery. The beds were unfit for pigs, and the children were under the care of two partially blind women. One day a child was tied up to the bed with a piece of string to prevent it from running about, as it had no shoes and stockings. Eleven children had only four nightgowns between them. Neither brushes nor combs were provided for the inmates, and their food was kept in the lavatories.

A temporary nurse named Elizabeth Wills said she one night found two men tied down in the bed. One was an imbecile and the other was so ill that he died the same day. Mr. John Alsop, union clerk, said the Guardians never ordered the use of jumpers.

Following the inquiry, Miss Mance was dismissed. She died from a heart condition a few weeks later.

Inquests Taken Into Suspicious Or Unexplained Deaths

For the County of Devon 

Articles taken from the Western Morning News and Western Daily Mercury [printed in Plymouth.] 1894-1895

Transcribed by Lindsey Withers. Accessed 20 Sep 2020

Western Morning News, Friday 20 July 1894 At Newton Abbot yesterday, Mr Hacker held an Inquest relative to the death of ANN MANCE, 56 years of age, the late Matron of the Workhouse. Mr. C. Stevens being Foreman of the Jury.

Martha Cook, 27 Prospect-terrace, her sister, stated that deceased had lodged with her since Midsummer. On Wednesday she was out all day. Returning in the evening she took supper with two friends. She asked witness how she had got on during the day. Supper consisted of bread and butter and a drop of gin. She went to bed just after nine o’clock. On being told by a little girl who was generally with the deceased that she was asleep at about nine in the morning, she went to her room, and found her dead, lying on her left side.

John Cook, husband of the last witness, stated that about half-past five in the morning, as usual, he took deceased a cup of warm water. She was then lying on her right side, and stated that she had had a better night. She appeared as bright as ever.

Adam Nisbett, M.R.C.S., stated that he attended the deceased professionally in April last for diseased heart, asthma, and bronchial affection. When called that morning at 9.15 a.m., she had been dead several hours.

A post-mortem examination shewed that all the organs of the body were diseased. Death was due to fatty degeneration of the heart. The turning from the right to the left side was sufficient to cause the death of a stout person. The Jury returned a verdict of “Death from Natural Causes.”

(My bold emphasis). Being slightly older and somewhat ‘stout’ I shall take care when turning over in bed in future!  

However, my main lesson here is to avoid being distracted – progress made on one place study – Zero!

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