Miss Sarah Hannah Rose Tolson

Let me introduce you to, Sarah Hannah Rose Tolson..

On the 26th June 2009 the Wakefield Express via Emma Hakier brought Sarah Tolson to life in their excellent Nostalgia section.  An appeal was made for further information with the following result.

Many thanks to Sally Buchanan who rang me to say that Sarah used to babysit her when she lived at 157 Church Lane, Normanton. Sally remembers Sarah as a kindly woman yet firm who liked baking.  Sadly Sarah died on the 12th of April 1997 aged 99.  Sally’s mother Linda Beckett used to hide the childrens Christmas presents at Sarah’s house and Sarah would babysit Sally even when she was in her 90’s.

Grateful thanks must also go to Elsie Marshall, who facilitated my meeting with Sarah’s octogenarian niece, Olive Meers . Olive kindly met me to talk about “Auntie Sally” as she was known to one and all.

Mark: Am I right in thinking, Sally originated in Goole. Is that where the family were from?

Olive: Yes she was born in Goole, well my Grandfather originated from the Dewsbury area and then he must have been working on the docks or something at Goole, I’m not quite sure what it was. It’s on Granny’s marriage certificate what he did, but Granny Tolson she was from the Goole area and they lived in Goole and then eventually that photograph of the five children, is taken in Goole. While Aunt Sally was still at school, my grandfather got a job as a lockkeeper at Altofts.Aunt Sally was still at school because she went to the Martin Frobisher school at Altofts and she said that at Goole they were so far ahead of the other children she knew what they were teaching and instead of being in the lesson she was teaching the youngsters to knit!

Mark: Was Sally the only girl in the family

Olive: Oh no, she had an elder sister, Annie May, but Auntie Annie, she was married and had three children during the First World War. She was quite a bit older. There was Annie May, and Charles William who died as an infant and then the next boy was called Charles Wilfred and then there was Auntie Sally and then there was my Dad and another boy called William and then there was Harold.

Mark: What happened to Harold?

Olive: Oh, he died a few years ago. He was in the army in the second world war and he was taken a prisoner of war and he was married but when he came back, he divorced that wife, he’d had three children with that one and when he came back, he married again and had three children with that one and it’s only a few years ago that he died.

Mark: Did he move to Wakefield too?

Olive: Well he lived in various places but he was in Altofts at the end.

Mark: And Sally ended up living in Church Lane in Normanton?

Olive: Yes

Mark:When did she move there?

Olive: Well we’ve got that, because we’ve got the deeds of the house, my grandfather when he was at Fox Lock, one foggy night, he slipped in the lock and drowned because he couldn’t swim and of course Granny had to get out of the lock and they moved her to Pen Bank, at a house somewhere further up the river.The river and the canal were quite close to each other. I can remember saying to my Aunt Sally when I was little, could I have been walking with water at either side and she said Yes at Pen Bank, beside the river and the canal. I had this vague idea of walking somewhere with water flowing there and water flowing there and they lived there for quite a while and then Granny bought a house in Normanton. They had problems because it had a tenant in it and she couldn’t get the tenant out. They was always going to move, but she had a baby and they said oh well, we’ll give her time to get somewhere else, she didn’t and then she was having another baby and she still didn’t get out. But they brought it in that if you wanted to live in the house you could actually have the people turned out and so Auntie Sally said now you’ll have to go cos the law says we can turn you out , we’ll give you a certain amount of time to find somewhere else to live and that, so then they could move into the house. But the interesting thing was this woman kept on in the house and they kept giving them time to get out, and they decided they were going to buy a house, I don’t know exactly, I think they’d been renting the other one, I don’t know. Auntie Sally said that the neighbours told her that they turned up at 9 o’ clock at night and turned the people out, she didn’t give them chance to do anything, you know. Aunt Sally used to tell all these tales you know.

M : So the house in Church Lane, she lived there quite a long time?

O: Oh yes I think it will have been 1920s that they went

M: Who?

O: Granny Tolson, Auntie Sally and I think that Uncle Harold was still at home when they first moved

M: And eventually Sally ended up living there all by herself?

O: Yes, I went to live with Auntie Sally and Granny when I was 8. Granny Tolson was Sally’s mother. It all happened in a strange way, when my mother and father married they went to live with Granny Hartley, my mother’s mother and she didn’t get on with my father. In fact she didn’t want my mother to marry him, but she did, she insisted she was going to, and then they lived with her for a while and then she said Go. So they went to live with Granny Tolson for a while, so I was there and my father got a job working at Glass Houghton colliery and we moved into living with an old man in Glass Houghton , in a right old fashioned house, a terraced house, they were specially built for the miners. Straight onto the pavement at the front, nothing at the back and open space and far along the end was your middens. Paraffin lamps and the old fashioned coal fires and we lived there quite a while. In the 1926 coal strike, cos Granny was at Normanton then and my father was out of work, Auntie and Granny took me to stay with them because I hadn’t started school by then to make it easier for my mother, because she’d got Wilf, I can’t remember if she had Joyce or a baby, so I stayed with them for quite a while and then of course I went back to my parents and I started school at Glass Houghton, but my father didn’t get his job back and he was out of work for a long time. Then he got a job in Nottinghamshire and we moved down to a colliery house at Church Warsap and it was fascinating because we’d been in this little old terraced house, well it was still a terraced house but it was three bedrooms, it had hot and cold water and the water came from the village, Church Warsap was a mining village and it had a communal boiler that supplied the whole village with hot water. It had electric light and by the back door it had a bathroom with a flush toilet. We went from paraffin lamps and candles to one with a garden back and front.

It would be about in 1930, they came over to visit us and it was just after bonfire night and I’d got a splinter in the end of my finger or thumb and it had festered and I’d got my arm in a sling. Aunt Sally joked “ Oh it’s a pity you’ve got your arm in a sling, if not then we’d have taken you back with us till Christmas” Now that upset the apple cart didn’t it and in the end they took me back till Christmas because my parents were going to come up to my other grandmothers for Christmas. Then my mother was ill, she was expecting another baby, in the end she had 9 altogether, I was the eldest of 9.

M: How old were you when you had your arm in the sling

O: About 8

Tom Stevens was Olive Meers father ( known as Steven)

I came up to Normanton, mid November. My mother wasn’t well enough to come over, so they said we’ll keep her till Easter and then they didn’t come up at Easter either, and you see Auntie Sally always worked nights at Stanley Royd and I was company for my Granny, so they said to my parents would it be alright if I stayed with them, to be company for Granny Tolson and so they sort of said yes and so I stayed with them. I used to go visit my parents but I still lived with Granny and Auntie. Then when Granny died there was just Auntie Sally and me. I stayed with Auntie Sally until I was married except when I was away teaching, my first two jobs were at boarding schools so I was only at home on the holidays and I went back to teach at Normanton and I was there till we were married. In fact we couldn’t get into the blinking house, could we, it was supposed to be ready for us in December, we were getting married at Easter and we couldn’t get in and the house was finished, but they were using this house for storage, for paint and things and we had quite a job getting them out, we had nowhere to live. We tried getting somewhere temporarily and in the end we ended up living with Auntie Sally for a few weeks. And then we came here and we’ve been here ever since.

Auntie Sally lived by herself then.

I think she enjoyed her work at Stanley Royd.

They could retire at 55 and it was only towards the end, that her life was very hard, because Granny (pauses) …..the reason Auntie Sally went on nights was, she Granny, when she was 60, had a heart attack and the doctors said that she only had six months to live and Auntie Sally went on nights so that she would be at home during the day if necessary, cos Uncle Harold was still at home then. Towards the end of course, Granny, she had the heart attack at 60 and she lived to be 84, and she was very much overweight, very big and she became more or less bedridden, and of course Auntie Sally was working and looking after Granny as well.  I Think that towards the end she had to have a bit of time off work and Auntie Sally’ doctor said that she herself was really rundown and so she actually….

She retired at 55, they could stay on longer if they wanted and one of her contemporaries, she decided to stay on because the longer you worked, the bigger the pension would be, so she stayed on till she was 70 and she died six months later.

Auntie Sally had a long life after she retired.

The other thing that that happened, a year or two before she retired, they altered the pension scheme. The old scheme was they got a big lump sum and a small fixed pension which never altered. They brought it in that they could have a smaller lump sum and have the pension fixed with the nurses salaries, so that when the salaries went up their pensions went up, so she opted for the new scheme. When she retired, she met someone else who had retired at the same time and she had been on the old one and she was creating about the fact because her pension and all these other pensions were going up and up and up every year, and Auntie Sally said you had the same chance as we had. Auntie Sally worked 33 years for them and she was retired 44! So I bet she did very well out of it!

Granny died before I came back to Normanton to work.

I had to clear all of Auntie Sallys’ things when she died and there was all these things about Stanley Royd and when I found out that there was a museum, I thought take them and see if they want them at the museum. The chappie I saw, was very pleased with them and planned to have them in an exhibition.

The group when they went to lunch, they used to take them somewhere once a year and that particular year, 1995, they were taking them to Meadowhall. The driver, Alan, organised Auntie Sally, a wheelchair, because she couldn’t have walked and we went round. It was a group for housebound pensioners.

Auntie Sally used to tell tales about what happened at Stanley Royd. It was quite interesting what she was telling on the tapes. When I was young, before the war, on Boxing Day, the nurses were allowed to take visitors in to go round all the wards, because all the wards were decorated, they were beautiful and she used to take me up to go round and see all the decorations and things. I will have been about 8 or 9. Some of the nurses that were still there had been there quite a long time and they had known my mother and Auntie Sally would say this is Sarah Hartley’s daughter and there were Christmas Trees on every ward and I came out with something off the Christmas Tree.

I remember a young person there and her shoes were padlocked on to her ankles and apparently she had a habit of taking her shoes off and throwing them on the fire.             


Having compiled three historical digital archives relating to the care of the Mentally ill in Yorkshire, I have had access through my research to some truly wonderful images and memories, many donated by the people that lived, worked and experienced life in these large self contained Institutions.

I have never before had the pleasure to put forward for veiwing such a complete collection of images and paperwork as Sarah Tolson’s.

Sarah Hannah Rose Tolson’s appointment at the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum commenced on the 11th July 1919 (a year after the centenary having opened in 1818) as a probationer on trial, on a weekly wage of 32 shillings with an additional War bonus. Her appointment clearly stated if she was to marry she would  forfeit her position, In May1953 after 33 years continuous service she received a letter on the occasion of her retirement  from the Hospital Management Committee offering their best wishes, this was addressed to Miss Tolson, One can only presume Sarah at no point  married.

This collection contains many articles of paperwork relating to Stanley Royd as well as many photographs of both staff and patients all collected by Sarah.  There are no descriptions on the back of the photographs despite that we know they were all taken between 1919 and 1953 on location at Stanley Royd. Each picture tells a story however if any one recognises any of the people in the pictures please get in touch so we can eleborate on that story.

Here is a record of one womans life devoted to the care of others, I only wish she had written some memoirs to accompany this rare collection, but maybe I’m being a little greedy now…