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Thread: Family Legend?

  1. #1
    Newcomer to Brit-Gen
    Join Date
    Aug 2020
    Ontario, Canada

    Default Family Legend?

    Many years ago, my aunt told me she was once worried about mental health problems in the family. She'd heard that one uncle had died in Bridgend Mental Hospital. She asked her mum about it, and if she should be worried about problems being passed down to her own children. Her mum said "Oh, Margaret, you don't need to worry about that. Uncle Chris wasn't crazy - Auntie Sarah hit him over the head with a frying pan!"

    My aunt told me the story at least 15 years ago, and is now too confused to remember it. She was recalling a conversation that happened probably 40 years before that. So there might be very little truth to it.

    Here's the info I have:
    - Christopher Robert Coleman - born 25 Dec 1903 in Barry, Glamorganshire
    - Married in 1935 and was still living with Sarah in Barry in 1939
    - I don't know when they divorced, but Sarah remarried in 1955
    - Died in Barnet - not in the hospital - in 1975. He was listed as a retired maintenance man at his death.

    I spoke to a lady at the Glamorgan Archives who said there was no record of him in their index, but the index only covers patients who died or were discharged before 1955.

    Obviously, the theory that he died in Bridgend doesn't hold true. My possible theory is that he was transferred to Friern / Colney Hatch Lunatic Assylum in Barnet, then later released and stayed in the area? The Colney Hatch records are kept at the London Metropolitan Archives, but most say they're not available for general access.

    I live in Canada, so a trip to the archives is not really feasible (even if I wasn't locked down, remote-schooling my kids!)

    Does anyone have any ideas of how I might be able to get further information about this relative, please? Any help would be appreciated!

    Ps. In Auntie Sarah's defense, there's a history of alcoholism from the men on that side of the family, so it's possible that the frying pan was the last resort against an abusive drunk.

  2. #2


    The best place to start would be with his death certificate. FreeBMD shows the death of a Christopher Robert Coleman in 1975 in Barnett, DOB 25 Dec 1903. I assume this is him? It should at least show where he died.

    How does Sarah's 1955 marriage certificate describe her - wife, widow, divorced?

    PS Welcome to the British Genealogy Forum.

  3. #3
    Valued member of Brit-Gen
    Join Date
    May 2012


    I emailed someone who helped me a few years ago with a similar enquiry although in my case I had exact date of death and likely hospital. From memory the 100 year rule mentioned in the reply just in didn't apply but can't remember why not. Anyway, here's the reply received which I hope helps in some way. I have had a few cases recently where it's stated someone died in a Mental Hospital but after making enquiries it might well mean someone was depressed or suffering from dementia.
    Interesting story so keep us posted! Jill NB The first email address should probably read freedomof

    "Unfortunately there’s not much help I’ll be able to offer on this one I’m afraid, due to the strict data protection and privacy rules concerning hospital records in general. The 100-year rule is strictly applied to records of that nature, but you’ve also got the added problem of the NHS – as a fair number of hospital records post-1948 are still held by the NHS themselves (probably why Glamorgan Archives don’t have anything for Bridgend for after 1954), even for hospitals that have since closed. However I do know from personal experience that you can put in a request under the Freedom of Information Act to the local NHS trust, and they are occasionally able to give permission for an individual to have access to information concerning a deceased patient – usually to the next of kin.
    For Bridgend the NHS trust would be Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board and for Barnet I believe it’s Barnet Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust. The contact details for both trusts are below: Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health BoardFreedom of Information OfficerYnysmeurig HouseNavigation ParkAbercynonCF45 4SNEmail: Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS TrustTrust HeadquartersSt. Ann’s HospitalSt. Ann’s RoadLondonN15 3THEmail: Otherwise you could try to see if any information survives concerning the divorce itself, as if it was related to the alleged frying pan incident then there might be a mention of this in the proceedings. Unfortunately, though, the case files themselves probably don’t exist as under half a percent of files survive for after 1937, but there could be a mention of the divorce proceedings in the local press. Sadly I don’t have access to these for the Barry area, but you can contact Barry Library at & they should be able to advise as to what historic newspapers they hold."

  4. #4
    Reputation beyond repute
    Join Date
    Oct 2004


    The Colney Hatch records are kept at the London Metropolitan Archives, but most say they're not available for general access.
    They may not be available for any member of the public to browse through but individual records can be extracted by staff under Freedom of Information. I would advise you to contact London Metropolitan Archives for advice.

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