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Page last updated at 06:26 GMT, Monday, 28 July 2008 07:26 UK
Life sentence

By Angus Stickler
Today programme

Derelict Long Grove buildings
Long Grove was closed in 1992 and the three remaining carriers relocated
For most people, the idea of being judged insane and held in a 1950s asylum is the stuff of nightmares. But to be locked up when you are sane would be regarded as an appalling injustice.

And yet a BBC investigation has revealed that nearly 50 women were locked in an isolation ward in a mental asylum in Surrey - not because they had a mental illness - but because they carried typhoid and were deemed a public health risk.

They were held at Long Grove Hospital - a mental asylum in Surrey - which started admitting carriers of typhoid as early as 1907 and continued through the 1940s and 1950s. Once admitted, those women never left.

One former nurse says that many of those women - admitted sane - deteriorated mentally, driven mad by the conditions they lived in. Others remained in full possession of their senses, despite enduring conditions such as solitary isolation.

Jeanie Kennett

It was 1992 when Long Grove finally closed.

Forgotten women

Medical archives - although sketchy - are held at the Surrey History Centre in Woking and historians working there discovered two tattered volumes in the derelict ruins of the old Long Grove building.

Those records tell some of the story of the women who were held in the asylum; as do the nurses who cared for them.

Jeannie Kennett started working at Long Grove in 1955.

"They are somebody's loved ones or somebody's mother or sister...everybody had forgotten about them," she says of her patients.

"They were just locked away."

Typhoid generation

Rosina Bryans
Typhoid carrier Rosina Bryans was held for 60 years

Until the early 1950s, and the advent of antibiotic treatments, typhoid was a killer. One in five victims died of the disease.

A typhoid carrier was someone recovering from typhoid fever; but who continued to secrete the bacterium in their faeces.

The investigation has identified 43 women who were isolated as typhoid carriers in Long Grove.

All the women came from the London area and on average between 1944 and 1957 three new carriers entered the unit every year.

This is on a par with the total number of female typhoid carriers produced by the general population of London at that time.

Jeanie Kennet was a ward manager when Long Grove was closed in 1992.
Twenty-six female typhoid carriers are strictly isolated. Most of them are however so deteriorated mentally that the restriction on their activities which results from their segregation is not likely to be felt by them as hardship.
Annual report 1956

Life for the patients was tough. "It was completely fenced in, and a gate that could only be opened with a key. All doors were locked," she says.

"They were seen as objects. And it was your duty to do the basics for them. It was prison-like. Everything was lock and key - everything."

Former Ward sister May Heffernan described how members of staff refused to go inside the isolation ward and were made to scrub up carefully to prevent infection.

"When you entered the building, the first thing you did was put on a surgical gown, we also at times wore masks," she says.

"And when you flushed the toilet it was actually boiling water that flushed the toilets."

medial records
Two volumes of medical records were found in the ruins of Long Grove


Aside from the indignity of being locked up for carrying a disease, many of those who worked at Long Grove believed their charges were far from mentally ill, at least at the beginning of their isolation.

An inspection report from 1956 states that the women were "so deteriorated mentally that the restriction on their activities is not likely to be felt by them as hardship".

"Mrs Davies was a lovely lady. She was totally compos mentis, she knew every day - she had an excellent memory," says Jeanie Kennett, who nursed the women for more than 40 years.

Mrs Davies was a lovely lady. She was totally compos mentis, she knew every day - she had an excellent memory

Jeanie Kennett

"She would have survived in the outside world; I don't think she was ever given that chance.

"She was there because she was a carrier and the outside world was frightened of these people."

Using the death certificates of women who died on the ward, the lives of those in isolation can start to be pieced together.

Mary Brooks came from Kensington and was a teacher. Ada Thompson was a cashier and a spinster. Many of the women were married and had children.

Silent isolation

With the discovery of antibiotics the number of typhoid carriers began to decline and in 1972 the isolation unit closed and most of the patients were transferred to other open wards in the hospital.

May Heffernan
I felt we should have allowed these people to die with dignity
May Heffernan
But two patients - Jennie French and Elizabeth Driver - were never cured.

"Both of those ladies were assigned a bedroom each and there they had to remain - they were not allowed to associate with the other ladies," says Ms Kennett.

Elizabeth Driver was lucid and fully aware of her situation.

"She was just one person in a small room," says Kennett

"She had the daily paper when all the residents had finished with it, and she had a small television and that was her spice of life.

"I didn't see anyone come to see her."

Mrs Driver lived like that for five or six years.

60 years of solitude

In 1992 when Long Grove closed Ms Heffernan was responsible for transferring the last surviving carriers to other mental hospitals - including one woman, Rosina Bryans, who was locked up for 60 years.

"All she ever knew was the inside to that hospital and the people that worked there," Ms Heffernan says.

Mary Brooks died on 20th October 1944
Deduction - Emma Munnings died on the 7th May 1949
"It wasn't a nice thing to do to these people - because they'd lived all of their life inside this place - and knew all of the people around them - and then suddenly they were moved about like parcels to another department.

"I felt we should have allowed these people to die with dignity."

The Department of Health told the BBC that there is not, and never has been, "a policy of incarcerating" anyone, in this context.

But at best these were women with mental health problems locked away in isolation - many for life. At worst, they were sane when they entered - and were driven mad by their incarceration.

The names of the 43 women who were on the typhoid isolation ward are listed below. If you recognise any of the names in connection with this story please contact us using the form at the bottom of the page.

Mary Allouis

A Brice
Mary Brooks
Rosina Bryans
Johannah Buckland
Lillian Buzzi
Martha Caunt
Lilian Clark
Marguerite Cross
R Cross
Mrs Davies
Elizabeth Driver
Ella Eves
Jane Caroline Finn alias Jackson
Charlotte Forward
Jennie French
Henrietta Victoria
Florence Fortune Greenhalf
Mabel Hardwick
Ellen Jones
Nellie Keylock

Maud Powell
Rebecca Restall
A Redson
Sarah Reynolds
Edith Rhodes
Charlotte Rock
Elsie Stacey
Bridget Tallott
Rose Thacker
Maud Louise Thomas
Ada Elizabeth Thompson
Emily Titcombe
Florence Elizabeth Truman
Margaret Vanderpant
Lily Wade
Margaret Warren
Ada Caroline Wellington
Marie Westlake
Sarah Whall
Ivy Whitmey -Smith
Emma Munnings
Florence Pell

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