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Albert Trewden was born on 28th September, 1932. He was the eldest of 6 children. The Guardianship Society’s form says Albert was “feeble-minded”. People now would say Albert had a learning disability. This page is about what we know about Albert’s life from his file.
Albert’s mum had a learning disability too. She lived in an asylum near Lewes called Laughton Lodge. Asylums were big crowded hospitals. Lots of people with learning disabilities were stuck in asylums. Albert’s mum left the asylum. Albert’s parents married when his mum got out of the asylum.
Albert’s dad had been in the army. Albert’s dad worked as a builder. He worked on the railway after this. Albert shared a bedroom with his dad. The council visited their house. The council said their bedroom was very dirty. In 1937, Albert was taken away from his family. He had to live in a children’s home. The council said Albert was “very destructive and mischievous”. Albert broke some windows at the home so they moved him. In 1941, Albert was moved to East Preston Public Institution. He didn’t stay long at East Preston. This is because the council didn’t want him to be stuck on a ward with older men.
Grace Eyre: the early days
The Guardianship Society found a carer for Albert to stay with. On 6th June, 1941, Albert moved in with his new carer. This was his first time living with a carer in the community. Albert often asked his carer if his family had been bombed. This is because World War 2 was happening at the time. He wrote this letter to his mum:
CAN I SEND THIS LETTER TO MY MUM PLEASE
DO YOU KNOW WHERE SHE LIVES
Laughton Lodge didn’t want to send Albert’s letter to his mum. They said it might “unsettle her” to read her son’s letter. They didn’t want Albert’s mum to leave Laughton Lodge. Albert’s mum wanted to leave Laughton Lodge. She said “it do not mean because I am in here today I will always be in here”.
Albert’s parents wrote lots of letters to the Guardianship Society. The letters said they wanted Albert to live with them. Albert’s parents wanted to know why he had been taken away from them.
Albert attended the Guardianship Society’s Occupational Centre. This was a daycentre. Staff said he was “very affectionate, and always willing to help”. Albert was seen as a “very high grade boy”. This means he had a mild learning disability. Staff said he was “not very truthful”. He was caught stealing from Woolworths once. He was told off by his carer for this.
Moving back in with his family
In 1949, Albert’s mum wrote to the Guardianship Society. She asked if Albert could stay with his birth family. She wanted Albert to be “earning his own living”. She said Albert was being “treated as a child” and was “afraid to speak”. Albert’s carer said he had stolen money from her. Albert’s mum didn’t believe this.
Albert’s mum wanted Albert to become more independent. She said she “understood the Board of Control and Rules but once I got out of your hands I made good”. The Board of Control was set up by the government in 1913. The Board of Control decided what care people with learning disabilities needed. Albert’s mum said she would “look after Albert” as “he never will understand the world properly”. This means she thought Albert still needed some support.
Albert moved back in with his parents on 26th November, 1949. The council described their home as “clean, tidy and comfortable”. This sounds different to the “dirty” house Albert was taken away from. Maybe Albert’s parents had improved at cleaning. However, the council may have looked down on Albert’s parents because they were poor. This is called classism.
Albert moved back in with his old carer. There is a 4 year gap in Albert’s file. This means we are unsure when he moved back in. The council said his mum couldn’t “control him and keep him out of public trouble”. It is unclear what public trouble means. The council said Albert “failed to keep a job”.
Albert is stopped from seeing his family
Albert’s mum wrote a letter to the Guardianship Society. She asked why Albert’s carer had stopped him from writing to his family. Albert’s carer said he couldn’t write but this was not true. Albert had sent letters to his mum. Albert was able to read and write to some level. Albert’s mum felt “people are keeping him down looking after other silly boys”. This suggests that she looked down on people with learning disabilities who were less independent. Albert’s mum was upset that Albert’s carer wouldn’t let Albert write to her.
The Guardianship Society said Albert’s mum had “low intelligence”. They told Albert’s carer “not to take too much notice of what she says in her letters”. This shows there has been a big change in how Grace Eyre sees people with learning disabilities.
In 1953, Albert’s mum was told Albert does “not want to come home ever again”. She was shocked. This is because Albert told his brother he likes to see his family. Albert’s mum said she wouldn’t believe this until he “tells me from his own lips”.
Albert’s family argues with his carer
That same year, the Guardianship Society said it was ok for Albert to spend his 21st birthday at his family’s home. This shows a big shift in Grace Eyre’s views in only a year. However, Albert’s carer didn’t want him to spend the week with his family. This was because she found caring for Albert difficult after he had spent time with his family. She said he can be “sulky” when he had spent time with his family. It is unclear why she found Albert’s behaviour difficult. Albert was probably missing his family. His carer was probably afraid of losing Albert to his birth family. She said she “could not have him back again” if he stayed for the week with his family.
Later that year, Albert’s father wrote a letter to the Guardianship Society. He asked for his son to stay for the week. Albert’s dad said he would “have to do – something about it” if Albert could not come to visit. Albert’s sister picked Albert up from Brighton Station for his week’s holiday.
In November, Albert’s mother sent a letter to his carer. She said she would complain if she did not hear from her son. Albert’s carer said Albert would “copy a letter she drafts” to send to her. Albert’s father wrote to the Board of Control. He wanted Albert to live with his family.
Albert gets a job
There is a five year gap in Albert’s file before we hear from him again. In 1958, West Sussex Council wrote a form about Albert. The form says his parents understand it is best for Albert to live with his carer. His parents ask for him to be allowed to visit, even for just a day. It sounds like Albert’s parents and carer were more understanding of each other. The form says Albert is not likely to get a job. In 1964, the Guardianship Society wrote a letter to the Ministry of Pensions. This letter says Albert was working over 8 hours a week. Sadly, the letter doesn’t say what his job was.
What can we learn from Albert’s story?
Albert was given a chance to get out of the asylum. He went to live in the community. In the asylum, he was described as “destructive and cruel”. In the daycentre, he was described as “very affectionate and always willing to help”. Living in the community changed his life.
It was good that Albert got out of the asylum. He still dealt with ableism. This is because people treated him negatively because of his disability. His carer said he couldn’t write, but he could. The authorities said he didn’t want to see his mother, but he wrote to her. The council said he probably wouldn’t work, but he got a job.
Albert did need some support. He couldn’t keep a job when he lived with his family. However, he could write, ask to see his family, and work with support.
Where is Albert’s voice?
Different people’s views of Albert make it difficult to know the truth. If only we knew what Albert thought of all this. Although attitudes have improved since Albert’s lifetime, people with learning disabilities still face similar problems today. Albert’s story shows it is important for people with learning disabilities to have their say, and to live their lives how they want to.
All names have been changed to preserve anonymity. All addresses have been removed where possible.