In 1870, forty-five year old Charlotte Barton murdered Thomas Pagdin, the man she had lived with for twelve years, by hitting him on the head with a hammer. The Illustrated Police News described both Barton and Pagdin:
The deceased was nearly bald, and appeared to have been tolerably robust. He was rather tall, and had been a strongly-built man … The murderess … is a person of medium height, slightly built, and with narrow, dark, lowering features. Her eyes are deeply sunk into her head, and the corners of her mouth are held tightly drawn up, probably caused by intense excitement.
It was reported in the press, and later at Broadmoor, that Pagdin had mistreated Barton and that this was the motive for the murder: Barton told her brother, ‘He had wanted me to go with other men’.
At her trial, Barton was reportedly dressed ‘in rusty black’, and ‘a shade of melancholy pervaded her countenance’. Her demeanour was ‘quiet and subdued’. In answer to the question ‘Are you guilty or not guilty?’, Barton whispered ‘yes, sir’ so quietly the clerk didn’t hear her: he took it to be ‘not guilty’. It appeared from the evidence given that on the morning following the murder, Barton appeared ‘in a very excited state at her daughter’s house. She said she had hit Pagdin with a hammer, and he was dead. [Barton’s daughter] fainted and her children cried, and the husband was aroused from bed. To him all that the prisoner could say was, “it was an awful sight”’. Barton told her son-in-law that Pagdin wanted to ‘turn her out onto the streets’ to make up for their falling income (he had lost his job). It was suggested at the trial that Barton had been of an unsound mind for some time: ‘she had a bewildered appearance, and acted in curious ways.’ The defence called upon Barton’s neighbours to show there had been a demonstrable decline in her mental health. One witness stated that ‘one morning in spring she had seen the prisoner sitting under a pear tree, in a garden some distance from her house, and on asking her why she was there, she said, “I’m watching the onions grow, and the little sparrows build their nests”’. In addition, it was argued that Barton didn’t know the difference between right and wrong (making her legally insane), and the jury found her not guilty on the ground of insanity. She was transferred to Broadmoor in January 1871.
A couple of years after Barton’s admission, a solicitor wrote to Superintendent William Orange to ask for his advice. Friends of Barton’s had been in touch with him regarding the case, and he wanted Orange’s opinion on Barton’s mental state before he agreed to help them petition the Home Office for her release. Orange cautioned against a petition, stating that it was ‘too early’ for the question of discharge to be raised. In 1875, Barton told her sister that she wished to leave Broadmoor. In a letter received by Orange, an acquaintance of Barton and her sister told him:
[Barton] has communicated to her sister here her desire to leave the asylum believing her mental faculties so far improved that she would be competent to take care of herself with the assistance of her sister in whose house she would reside. I may say her sister is a highly respectable woman … Before applying to the Home Office I thought it advisable to apply to you for your opinion as to the patients state of mind and also as to the advisability of applying to the Home Office for her.
In March 1876, Barton’s sister, Sarah, wrote to Orange:
Dear Sir, my sister … is confined in your asylum and is very anxious to be restored to her friends as we should be very happy to receive her, from the tenor of her letters to me I have every reason so far as I can judge to believe that my sister has not only lucid moments but is in such a state of mind and so far recovered her faculty of sense that I think she might with safety to her friends and herself be restored to us. I promise to provide her with a good and comfortable home which I am glad to say I am enabled to do for her comfort. I trust this matter will have your best consideration and see fit to recommend my sister to Her Majesty clemency of a free pardon, by an application from me supported by yourself to the Home Office. Your kind affection to my solicitor will greatly oblige.
Orange told Sarah to write to the Secretary of State, and made no mention of Barton’s mental state. Sarah’s efforts to have Barton discharged were in vain. The following year she wrote to Orange again, and to the Home Office. The Home Office wrote to Orange in 1877, informing him that the Secretary of State had considered the petition for Barton’s discharge and ‘sees no ground to justify in recommending release.’ Four-years later, the Secretary of State asked for a report into Barton’s mental and bodily condition. This was the response:
For some time after her admission her mind was much unstable, and although lately there has been an improvement in this regard we do not think that she could with safety by permitted to go at large, although according to her statement she has a sister who is willing to provide for her in the event of her discharge.
She was married but had left her husband to go and live with the man whom she murdered.
The following was crossed out:
but for some years she has remained free from acute attacks of insanity. Her behaviour and conversation is often strange and irrational and her disposition is reserved … Although she makes herself useful in the laundry and although on ordinary subjects her conversation is rational, we have never been able to regard her as being of sound mind.
In 1883, Orange advised an acquaintance of Barton’s that, ‘application should not be made for her release’. The following year, Barton’s brother ‘prays for the release’ of his sister, but Orange informed him she was unfit to leave Broadmoor. In 1885, the medical officers again refused to sanction Barton’s discharge on the grounds that it would be unsafe to release her. That spring, an M.P. wrote to the Home Office asking ‘for most favourable consideration’ of Barton’s case, but he was refused. It certainly appears that Barton’s behaviour was cause for concern and frustrating. Orange put a stop to an interview he was having with Barton because she ‘replies to one question by asking another’ and was ‘disposed to lose [her] temper’.
In the autumn of 1885, Barton’s brother visited her at Broadmoor. Following his visit he wrote to the Superintendent:
I take the liberty in writing to you respecting my sister Charlotte Barton who has been in your asylum about fifteen years. We visited her … and she appeared quite restored to her usual health also the letters we receive from her are perfectly sensible and we think she must feel it very hard to see others who have only been in there a short time coming out … We feel very anxious to have her amongst us again if you will allow her to come and let us see how she will be. We shall do all in our power for her and try to keep her in good health and follow any advice you will be kind to give us respecting her. We shall feel greatly obliged if you will assist us (as far as it lays in your power) towards getting her release. We enquired for the doctor when we visited her but understood that you were gone out. Trusting you will kindly send a reply to this as soon as convenient.
Unfortunately for her family, however, Barton hadn’t yet recovered. In March 1886 she was considered ‘moody and reserved’, and unfit for release.
The following month, a discussion between Barton and a medical officer was recorded, and it provides insight into Barton’s motive:
[She] says the man whom she killed…was a “regular old rogue” that he took four pounds which she had laid by, and that she accused him of taking the money and … he struck her, and then she struck him in return with a hammer and knocked him down the … steps. She says that she had lived with him 13 years – that she first went to do his washing and then he asked her to get married to him and keep his house. It is stated also that he wished her to lead an immoral life. She says she had been so low spirited for a long time that she did not know what to do.
The medical officer who wrote this note recorded: ‘She has no apparent delusions’.
Two months after this meeting took place, and after many years of petitioning the Home Office, Barton was released into the care of her daughter and son-in-law after Orange came to the following conclusion:
It is impossible to say that her discharge would be entirely unattended with risk. But she is now 62 years of age and she has been in confinement more than 15 years, and it is not that her mental condition will be improved by longer detention.
She has no delusions or other active indications of insanity at present.
Two weeks after Barton’s release, her son-in-law wrote to David Nicolson, who was now Superintendent: ‘I am glad to be able to say that Mrs Barton is conducting herself in a proper manner, she has not been very well in health owing to her having caught a cold. She has now gone to spend a few days with her brother who resides … [in] a little country place about 3 miles from Sheffield – and the change of air is doing her much good.’ Quite unusually, and to the surprise and concern of the officials, Barton didn’t stay at her daughter’s house very long, and in the autumn of 1886 moved into her own home. Questions were raised, but Barton’s daughter was quick to inform the authorities:
although she is not residing with us, in the strict sense of the term, still she is under our close supervision. [Her house] … is very near to out home and my mother is more often here than anywhere else. Myself with the help of other relations have furnished her a nice little home at her own choice … she is enjoying good health, and so far as we know, is happy and comfortable. We hope you will have no objection to these arrangements as it is more convenient for us all and we assure you that she is under supervision.
These circumstances were seemingly fine and over the next few years (well into the 1890s) Barton’s relatives reported back to Broadmoor regarding her mental and physical wellbeing. According to these reports, Barton preferred ‘cocoa or coffee’ to alcohol (although she sometimes had the odd glass of beer with meals or when with friends), and was mentally stable. She exhibited no behaviour to cause alarm. Barton never saw Broadmoor again.