A Tragic Death At Horton Asylum

A Day Room (Female) in Horton Hospital c.1902
A Day Room (Female) in Horton Hospital c.1902
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection

Walter James Harry Clapham was born in Haslemere, Surrey in 1875, son of an upholsterer; he became a wheelwright and labourer and on 29 September 1900 at St Giles, Camberwell he married 22 year old decorator's daughter Bessie Annie Thomas. By all accounts the marriage was happy and there were two sons, born in 1901 and 1904. It seems that, following the second birth, Bessie suffered post-natal depression so badly that she was sent to Camberwell Infirmary and then Horton Asylum. From there she wrote many desperate letters to her husband, the gist of which was that she said she was badly treated and she wanted him to bring a razor. Her father said she had also asked others to kill her. According to witnesses Walter himself became very anxious and depressed about the situation.

On the afternoon of 15 May 1905 a nurse found Walter leaning on the mantelpiece in the Asylum dormitory and was informed by him that Bessie was dead. Walter told her not to enter the bedroom as Bessie had cut her throat with a razor that he had given to her. There was some debate as to whether he or Bessie had committed the act, but the evidence tended to suggested that it was Walter: however, medical opinion was that suicide could not be discounted. It was never established beyond all doubt which of them inflicted the fatal wound, but Walter was found guilty of murder at Surrey Assizes, adjudged to be insane and ordered to be detained during His Majesty's Pleasure.

There was eventually a happy ending of sorts for Walter. After his release from detention, he remarried in 1925 and went to live in Maldon, Essex; he died on 23 December 1950.

Linda Jackson October 2012




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