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Language

I included a little information about Sr Patience’s probable background last week, but I want to start this week by introducing the family in more detail. The people down as her parents in her baptism record are William and Frances Elizabeth Boddington, who married in 1850. By 1861, they are living with Thomas and Frances Boddington, who are down as William’s parents, but may well have been Frances’, as they are in the 1871 census. Thomas is a clergyman without care of souls, and William is ‘temporary clerk lawyer’. With them are three children: Frances, Maria and Martha, the grandchildren of Thomas and Frances, children of William and Frances. In 1871, the situation remains the same, with the addition of another child, a son: Thomas W E Boddington, age 3. Frances, the grandmother, probably died in 1880. In 1881, William and Frances with their 3 daughters, all in their twenties, are living in Deptford, where William was working as a parochial lay reader. Thomas, the son, is not in evidence. This holds true for the 1891 census, with all three daughters single and living with their parents. At some point over the next ten years, William died, leaving Frances a widow with all her daughters still at home. What their income was like, I do not know; they may have needed to earn something as, in 1901, Maria, the middle daughter, was registered as having an occupation ‘needlework at home’. Frances, the oldest daughter, is registered as feebleminded. By 1911, the situation is the same, although none of the women have an occupation, so finances may have improved, or they may have streamlined their budget. They had moved in the intervening ten years. Both Frances and Martha are registered as feebleminded in this census. Frances, their mother, died in 1912, in her 80s. Quite what happened after that, I do not know. Neither do I know exactly what ‘feebleminded’ meant, or how much support Frances (daughter) and Martha may have needed. Frances, the daughter, died herself in 1918, aged 65. By 1921, Maria is working as a sick nurse in the Home of Compassion is Thames Ditton, Surrey. This was a free home for the dying run by Church of England Community of the Compassion of Jesus. Maria died here early in 1939, having outlived all her siblings. Martha probably died in Surrey in 1924.

 

What of Thomas? Birth records confirm his date of birth as 1868, and his mother’s maiden name was Boddington, as were all his sisters. He is, as I’ve said, with his family in 1871. He then disappears completely until his death, aged 49, in the second quarter of 1918, in the district of Godstone, Surrey. Now what follows is a possible explanation, but only possible. One of the problems with tracing people through the census is that middle names, which can identify a person, are not always used. Place of birth can be another factor in deciding if this is the correct person. I have found a Thomas Boddington, of the correct age, in both 1891 and 1911.  In 1891, Thomas Boddington is a patient at Darenth Asylum and Schools in Kent. In 1911, he is an inmate at the Metropolitan Asylum in Caterham, Surrey. In neither case is a place of birth registered; but the same is true of his fellow residents. In both cases he is, with other residents, labelled an ‘imbecile’. This may or may not be our Thomas, but it is interesting that, if my information is correct, the Caterham Asylum is in the district of Godstone, Surrey. A quick google search of these institutions shows that Darenth trained children for work, and at both Darenth and Caterham the residents had occupations within the Asylum.

 

Of course, a lot remains unknown, including exactly what the designations ‘imbecile’ and ‘feebleminded’ mean; what exactly lay behind those generalisations. Neither would be used today, and I only use them as they are used in the Census. But it led me to ponder the changed language we use, not just for disabled people, but about other groups. Talk about ‘political correctness’ can sometimes be in a negative sense. Yet, surely, using respectful language, and terms people are happy with themselves being referred to as, is just part of the way we care for each other as a society. The language we use reflects on our attitudes towards other people, and how much we are prepared to respect them as unique individuals; how much, too, we are prepared to go out of our way to understand someone else’s life, and to treat them as who they are, rather than label them. At root, it is about love and how far we are willing to go to ensure others feel loved and welcomed. At the very least, we can ensure the language we use is respectful and appropriate. 



Changed language does point out how far we have come in the last 100 years or so. That certain terms aren’t appropriate, and are acknowledged as wrong; that other changes are increasingly becoming normal. It is important to state that we still have a long way to go. Numerous times have I come across a car parked on a pavement, leaving just enough room for me to slip past, but nowhere near enough for anyone using a wheelchair. pushchair or something similar. It is thinking beyond our own needs to those of others that can ensure a more equal society. But it is important, too, to ensure that we don’t start to go backwards. Our culture has changed to acknowledge, at least in theory, the problems of racism, sexism and so on, even if there is still far to go. We can all work to ensure that those gains are not lost, and that the problems of the past remain firmly there – in the past. Ensuring we use appropriate language is one way of doing this.

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