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Page last updated at 08:35 GMT, Monday, 27 October 2008
Locked away with typhoid

By Angus Stickler and Rosie Waites
Today programme

Mary Allouis after she was released from Long Grove
Mary Allouis spent nearly 20 years incarcerated in mental asylums

Three months ago, a BBC investigation revealed that nearly 50 female typhoid carriers were locked up for life in a mental asylum in Epsom, Surrey until its closure in 1992.

Most of the women, considered a public health risk, were never released and died in the unit.

However, since the story was broadcast the relatives of one woman who was set free have come forward and shed some light on her story.

Her name was Mary Allouis and she spent nearly 20 years incarcerated in mental asylums.

Her granddaughter, Sue Burrows, says she was never aware that her grandmother had typhoid, and was only told she had mental health problems.

She remembers Mary as a refined and intelligent woman, right up to her death at the age of 80, two years after she was released from Long Grove Hospital.

"She was what I suppose we would call 'a lady', she knew how to conduct herself, she held herself well, and she did enjoy people," Sue says.

Mood swings

Mary Allouis was a mother of three. In the late 1920s and early 1930s she ran a boarding house in Wandsworth and a successful dairy in Notting Hill.

Her husband, Jules, was head chef at the prestigious Cafe Royal. Her eldest son, George, followed in his father's footsteps, getting a job at another famous London restaurant, Pruniers.

Jackie Ingham
It was a horrible, horrible period and I'm very sorry now looking back, that we didn't talk about it
Jackie Ingham, Mary's granddaughter

Aged 40, as her three children were approaching adulthood, Mary was certified insane. Jackie Ingham is George's daughter and Mary's eldest granddaughter.

"She started to have very bad mood swings I think… my grandfather couldn't cope with it but my father, who must only have been about 20, called a doctor who immediately said she was… you know, off her head or losing her mind and they said she had to go into hospital. She didn't want to go but I believe she was sectioned at that point."

Mary was one of nearly 50 women held in isolation in Long Grove and listed as a typhoid carrier.

Up until the late 1940s typhoid fever was deadly, killing one in five. And for every 100 cases three people would become carriers - continuing to excrete the bacteria in their faeces.

Because they could spread the disease when handling food they were deemed a public health risk.

Legal battle

Mary's family say she was locked away in 1932. Hospital records show she was admitted to the Horton Asylum in Epsom in 1935. In 1939 she was transferred to the neighbouring Long Grove Asylum to make way for the war effort.

I think she would have been very deeply affected by the conditions that she had to live in

Sue Burrows

It was at Long Grove that her name appears on a list of typhoid carriers held in isolation. Former nursing staff say some of the women were there simply because they were typhoid carriers and that there was nothing wrong with their state of mind.

But Mary's granddaughter Jackie Ingham is adamant that her grandmother was incarcerated because of her mental health and believes that she must have contracted typhoid in the asylum. She remembers meeting her grandmother for the first time, at Long Grove.

"We waited by a sort of wooden five bar gate and this very strangely dressed woman came to the gate and I was introduced as her first grandchild. I remember it was a very emotionally sad day. She was one side of the gate, I was another. I wasn't allowed in there. And there she was, a very tiny, quiet, sad, shuffling type woman."

Mary Allouis and her three children
Mary is possibly the only typhoid carrier to have been released
In the late 1940s, with the advent of antibiotics, Mary was cured as a carrier.

Records from Long Grove show she was discharged in 1950 and transferred onto a general ward within the asylum. Jackie says that the family started visiting every Sunday.

"We were in this huge building with tiles up the walls and in an enormous room with lots of tables and chairs and masses of people in there, an awful lot of noise. It was awful, it was bedlam!"

"And then my father, I can remember the conversations, he didn't want her there, there was nothing wrong with my grandmother, he wanted her out, and I believe he went to court to get her out."

After several years of legal wrangling he succeeded and Mary was released. Jackie remembers that her grandmother used to baby-sit her.

"She read ferociously and she read to me, she told me stories. We used to go out a lot. When she lived with us in London she took me to all the sights, she was quite knowledgeable… and nobody was frightened of me being with her."

'Driven mad'

A few years after Mary's release an inspection report from 1956 states that the remaining 26 female typhoid carriers at Long Grove were "so deteriorated mentally that the restriction on their activities… is not likely to be felt by them as hardship."

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.

"My grandmother… was a clever lady and she would have felt such awful deprivation and she would have known where she was living, she would have known what she was missing and I think she would have been very deeply affected by the conditions that she had to live in," Sue Burrows says.

Derelict Long Grove buildings
Very few of the women at Long Grove had visitors
In the absence of any documentary proof both Sue and Jackie are adamant that their grandmother was certified because of the state of her mental health.

She may have contracted typhoid in the asylum and then was transferred as a carrier to the isolation unit. But whatever the reason Sue Burrows believes the decision to have her grandmother certified was simply wrong.

"When she came out she obviously had normal feelings and that was after 18 or 20 years in that awful place. So I can only assume that she was a lot better when she went in."

Mary Allouis may well have been the only typhoid carrier to be released and reunited with her family. For whatever reason her children were prepared to, and did, fight their case in the court.

The other women were not so lucky. Very few had visitors - they came from impoverished families in the East End of London and most lived and died in the asylum.

Mary would have known some of them. Elizabeth Driver was never cured as a carrier and she spent the last five years of her life in solitary confinement in a box room on a side ward. According to nursing staff she was completely lucid until the day she died.

Mary passed away in 1972, with her son George at her bedside. Her granddaughter Jackie regrets that Mary's tragic story was never properly discussed by the family.

"It was a horrible, horrible period and I'm very sorry now looking back, that we didn't talk about it. You come home after all those years and nobody says anything. I'd like to give her a big hug… and take all that awful pain away that we all feel - I certainly feel it."

A film about Mary Allouis will be shown on Newsnight on BBC Two at 10:30pm on Monday 27 October.

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