In previous posts we described the restrictions placed on admissions to Bethlem Hospital, and to its ‘incurable’ ward, in the eighteenth century, and told the first of two stories of attempts made to gain admission for a patient. The second concerns Sarah Lufkin of Little Bentley near Manningtree, Essex, who came into the Hospital on 16 February 1782, and was discharged uncured on 15 February of the following year, in strict accordance with the previously-described rules governing admission and discharge. Mrs Lufkin was considered a ‘fit Object’ for transfer to Bethlem’s ‘incurable’ ward, but had to go on the waiting list for a vacancy. It took seven years for her to be offered a place, and a letter written to the Hospital by Sarah’s son John Lufkin is preserved in the archives.
‘My Brothers, Sisters and myself have Deliberated on the matter,’ John wrote, ‘and although her who has been one of the tenderest Mothers still continue in a state of Insanity, I leve [sic] you to judge from your own feelings if it would not be a heard, very heard work for us to part from her and perhaps never to see her more.’ This was no exaggeration on John’s part. Little Bentley was at least two days’ coach journey away from London in the eighteenth century, and the fare was not cheap.
By 1790 Sarah Lufkin’s children had been seven years without Bethlem’s assistance in caring for her. ‘Ever since she left London she has been in a very Creditable Famaly [sic] where she is treated with the greatest kindness and has every Indulgence a person in her Situation can have, and where we can see her as often as we please as the Distance is only half a mile from our own Famaly.’ What would they do, then, with Bethlem’s renewed offer of help?
‘Although it is a very heavy Expence’, John Lufkin continued, ‘we hope with the Blessing of God to be able to support her till it shall please the Lord to release her from her heavy affliction, for can we do two [sic] much for a good Parent’? That John Lufkin’s filial devotion was shot through with practicality is evidenced by the next (and effectively last) line of his letter: ‘Sir, if we omit this opportunity and if at a futer [sic] time any thing unforeseen should happen so that we find the Expence more than we are able to support, could she then at a Vacancy be admitted’? No record survives of the answer given by the Hospital, but we may surmise that, if that it stuck by its rules, the answer would probably have been ‘No’.