Girls at the Royal Albert Institution. The date is unknown but may have been around the time Wilhelmina went to Brockhall, or earlier.
In March 1921, Wilhelmina D, aged nine years old, left her family home in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester. She went to Brockhall, this large institution located over forty miles away in the heart of the East Lancashire countryside. Wilhelmina spent over a year away from home, during which time she was transferred from Brockhall to the recently opened nearby institution of Calderstones, based on the edge of the village of Whalley.
We are aware of these details because Wilhelmina’s personal files are open to the public in the Lancashire Records Office, Preston. This level of access is only possible because Wilhelmina was born over 100 years ago. Although not entirely comfortable with the online sharing of personal information – hence our deletion of the family name – this rule does offer the opportunity for insights into past lives which otherwise may be denied. It also means that a hidden history can be revealed and acknowledged.
In these ‘case files’ the direct voice of Wilhelmina is lacking. However, mainly through letters, we get a sense of the viewpoint of her mother and father. Also other documents provide official viewpoints of Wilhelmina and her family at that time, in the early days of the implementation of the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act.
So here is a selection of the documents which are contained in Wilhelmina D’s file at the Lancashire Record Office. For ethical and legal reasons, these are accurate typed copies of the original documents, rather than digital copies of the same.
Looking through the documents raises many questions – reveals many gaps in understanding the details of Wilhelmina’s life as well as the wider educational, medical, policy, institutional and legal context of this story of institutionalisation. Some questions may never be answered, others require further research which will help make sense of what happened with this young girl.
(Many thanks to Laura Waterhouse who carried out the original research at the Lancashire Record Office.)
(Warning! The language used is that of the time.)
Wilhelmina D's family story is broken down into 4 parts: