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All Saints District Workhouse Infirmary


New Member
I have recently found out that an ancestor of mine was committed to the All Saints Workhouse Infirmary.
She was only 15 and classed as an "imbecile". This entry was on the 1891 census, however, the 1881 census states that she was "daughter" aged 5, no problems indicated at that time.
They lived in the 'back to backs' in Hurst St, her parents were originally from Poland, some of the many Jewish immigrants at the time.
She died in 1898 aged 22 years.
What could of happened in those 10 years?
How do they work out these classifications?
Could some sort of childhood ailment of caused this problem?
Why would a parent commit their child to a workhouse?
Where would she of been buried?
Any answers would be greatly appreciated.


Super Moderator
Staff member
I'll have a chat to Mrs Morturn later, as I think there could be more than one explanation, the two possibilities I can think of are;

She had a moderate to severe mental disability, which if moderate at 5 years old would not have been so noticeable, or the family were able to look after her.

Imbecile was a word also used to describe a type of criminal, so she may have been accused of some sort of crime.

There were other valid classifications, moron, idiot, stupid, cretin, dunce, ignoramus, dolt etc all now of course all have become derogatory words


Super Moderator
Staff member
I used to do work at Chelmsley Hospital and some of the very old patients had some of these labels attached to their names in old records.
There was quite a list of names but Imbecile was the most common and I believe at the bottom of the scale of severity.
Children were put in workhouses for many reasons many of them not at all valid.
A teenager who became pregnant could be classed as an imbecile and put out of sight of her upright family.
Young people with varying mental problems were a nuisance in households where both parents had to work.
Youngsters had accidents/illnesses that left them slightly mentally impaired,and i would imagine that conditions such as autism, etc
were about in those days but not recognised.
Even many second wives who were having trouble with stepchildren convinced their husbands to have them committed.
Very sad days, thankfully long gone. Alberta.


master brummie
Jonesy - My 2 x step gt.grandmother was in The All Saints Workhouse Infirmary in 189, aged 72 - unfortunately I don't know why but presume that she was either ill or unable to look after herself as her step-son George Hanson (my gt.grandfather's brother) had been committed to the City Asylum, Lodge Road, at the same time. They said that George was a lunatic, but up to the age of about 53 he had been working as a Japanner. George was in the Asylum for 17 years and died from heart problems and Syncope which is a condition related to the heart and which causes blackouts and fainting amongst other symptoms. If the blackouts were the reason he was committed to the Asylum it is very sad as this condition could be controlled with treatment today.

"By the mid-nineteenth century the old and dilapidated workhouse in Lichfield Street had become inadequate for the needs of the town's increasing numbers of paupers. It was replaced by a new workhouse in the neighbourhood of the lunatic asylum and the gaol in Winson Green, built a few years earlier." (Sidelights on a City - Douglas Jones)