The more things change …

In Our history – our heritage: Storthes Hall I wrote about my paternal grandfather’s older brother, James Stanley Garside, who was born on 6 May 1892 and admitted to Storthes Hall Asylum, West Yorkshire, in June 1906. Since then, I’ve discovered a bit more about him.

Courtesy of the Lancashire Archives, I now know that before that he was admitted to the Royal Albert Asylum, Lancaster, in 1903, and discharged in autumn 1905. I’ve seen some notes from the Royal Albert Asylum which describe him as having epilepsy that started in infancy and was attributed to ?meningitis. In the language of the time, the notes describe his mental state as ‘idiot’. I know that he had a large head, fair complexion and large ears. He was described as ‘fatuous and inattentive’.

I’ve found it extraordinarily compelling to learn these tiny snippets: how amazing it is that I can start to build a sketchy picture of someone who died over 100 years ago and spent the majority of his life in institutions, starting from the age of 11. How helpful staff at the Archives are.

How would his life have been different today?

It’s also sobering that James Stanley died of influenza and pneumonia in spring 1919: that was the time of an influenza pandemic that caused millions of deaths worldwide. According to Wikipedia, nearly a third of the global population became infected in four successive waves during the pandemic, and the third wave took place in 1919. I still don’t know where he was buried, but I’ve visited the church of St Thomas, Thurstonland, Huddersfield, where patients of Storthes Hall Hospital were buried in a field behind the church in (mostly) unmarked graves, and I’ve seen the plaque erected in their memory.

In connection with this, it is important to acknowledge that during the COVID pandemic adults with learning disabilities have been identified as a high-risk group: they are likely to receive some form of social care, are at higher risk of physical health problems than the general population, and may have difficulty following Government guidance. Public Health England reported on death rates amongst people with learning disabilities in England in the first wave of COVID-19 and found significantly higher death rates compared with the general population, of the order of at least 2-3 times higher.

What a surprise – ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’…

The field behind St Thomas church, Thurstonland, where James Stanley may be buried, photo August 2021

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