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Blogging about things that matter to me. Photographing things I love - Instagram @debcyork. Writing about both. Only wine and chocolate can save us… You can also find me on Twitter (@debcyork) and Facebook. If you like four-legged views, try @missbonniedog on Twitter

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Big Society

This is just getting ridiculous now.  I had promised myself to write at least every other day even if I could not manage every day with the new puppy around. Yet here I am over a week later!  I will not bore you with the reasons for my lapse!
Anyway, what to muse about?  Actually, I did find a rather interesting tale in someone else's family tree last week.  I was trying to push one of the lines a bit further back and I stumbled upon a lady who had died in an asylum run by her trade union.

Emily Harriet Rumball was born in around 1819 and for most of her early adult life she was listed as a "bookfolder" or "bookbinder" on the censuses.  In 1852 she married James Swygart in Shoreditch.  From what I have traced, the couple had at least four children, one of whom, Emily, is my friend's direct ancestor.  (She married a Sainsbury but sadly not one with supermarket connections!).

James died in 1872 in Holborn and it appears that Emily Harriet returned to working as a bookfolder to keep herself.  Certainly by 1881, she was living with the Sainsbury-married daughter Margaret and her family, though still giving her profession as bookfolder.  This was in Islington.

In 1891 I found her on the census for Balls Pond Road.  And this is where my pure curiosity is so right for this work!  Next to her name was a number and I thought it referred to her house number.  Then I began to notice - by studying the image rather than the transcription - that all her fellow residents were bookfolders, -binders, etc.  Quite a coincidence?

It was not until I flipped back through the images of the previous pages that I realised that Emily Harriet was living in the Bookbinders Provident Society Asylum, shown above.  I had no idea such places existed.  We hear about the workhouses and reform schools when we do Victorian history in our school years but trade union-run asylums?  All full of single profession people with problems?

So I did what one does these days in such situations.  I googled.  Sure enough, the bookbinders formed a friendly society in 1830.  By 1843 there was also a charity for building an almshouse/asylum.  The two societies amalgamated in 1865.  This big society slowly expanded apparently, until 1882.  Eventually, the asylum site was sold in 1927 and the Society relocated Whetstone in London's suburbs, building cottages to run on their new site.
the asylum building no longer exists on Balls Pond Road - which connects Islington with Hackney and is quite sought after now as those unable to live in Islington have gentrified the edges of Hackney.
Looking back at this story from our 2014 viewpoint, it seems like an amazing story of charity and the growth of social responsibility awareness.  One does wonder, though, what Margaret Sainsbury, the daughter who was housing her mother, had to go through to get her mother into that charitable institution.  How desperate did things become before they were able to get help with her elderly and presumably deteriorating mother?  Does this all sound a bit familiar?
I have friends at the moment who suspect that they have parents with the beginning of dementia.  The hoops to jump through to get help are so high and so numerous that one could be forgiven for wondering if much has changed since Emily Rumball had to be admitted to the Bookbinders Asylum.

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