The Wittering Court Scandal of 1919 | Private Asylum, Essex

The original WITTERING COURT in Daws Heath, Essex was built around 1910 (exact year unknown) and comprised of three stories with sixteen bedrooms, five reception rooms, kitchen, pantry, scullery and lavatory accommodation (plus a lift to the second floor). There were also outbuildings with (one housing a generator), and three acres of land with a large tennis court, pond, kitchen garden and orchard. Between 1914-1919 the large property was used as a private asylum for “imbeciles and epileptics”.

This wonderful postcard photograph of the original Wittering Court is reproduced with thanks to Peter Lewsey.


The entrance these days is via a long private driveway off Bramble Crescent, but access was originally from Poors Lane North just next to Oakwood Reservoir. The driveway has not been in use for several decades and is now completely overgrown, but a set of gates and one of the two brick posts can still be found underneath the foliage (the right-hand brick post has collapsed to the ground). The property was demolished in 2012 due to fire damage with a new house built in is place at a slightly different angle.

1919 is the earliest date I can find the property mapped, it not being there in 1898 and no maps online in between these years. I haven’t identified it in the 1911 census under any name so was either empty or in construction.


Maps reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Photos of the original entrance way and old gates, followed by the new driveway and house.


Briefly at the beginning of its life between 1914-1919 Wittering Court was used as a private asylum for “imbeciles and epileptics”, run by Mrs Sarah Ann BINSTEAD. On 5th January 1919 a scandal broke out when 46 year old patient Miss Jessie Charlotte SPURLING was found dead in her bed. The subsequent inquest revealed Miss SPURLING had died from heart failure due to starvation and neglect, and further investigation into Wittering Court showed the full extent of the shocking conditions its patients had lived in from 1917 onwards.


Newspaper article reproduced with the permission of the British Newspaper Archive and The British Library Board

It transpired that up until 28th Aug 1915 Mrs BINSTEAD had a been a strong-minded and capable woman, but after suffering a devastating stroke was left paralysed down one side and unable to speak. No longer capable of looking after her patients or home, but seemingly unwilling to give up her business, her niece Mrs Florence NEWMAN and former housekeeper took over the running of the establishment. Shortly after this Mrs BINSTEAD gave her estate agent Harry HALL power of attorney, only to be acted upon in the event of a second stroke. Her niece remained until 1916 when she found the responsibility too much, leaving the running to Mrs BINSTEAD’s 19 year old adopted daughter Freda BINSTEAD. A nurse was hired during 1917 but she left after only a fortnight not liking how Mrs BINSTEAD ran the place, and Freda herself followed shortly after leaving the house essentially unmanaged. Another of Mrs BINSTEAD ‘s niece’s, a Mrs Emily FIRMAN, suggested to Mr HALL that her aunt and patients be relocated elsewhere where they could be looked after properly, but he disagreed and the home and patients continued to decline. The few staff who worked there had all left by Aug 1918 and the only person who remained capable of offering any help at all was one of the patients called Miss HAMILTON, who was in an advanced stage of tuberculosis. Mrs NEWMAN visited her aunt at Christmas 1918, and noticed the ill state of Miss SPURLING, but nothing was done to aid her. She died a few days later.

During the inquest it emerged that several people had cause to visit Wittering Court over the course of its decline, and all noted its condition to Mr HALL. This included Dr W. F. ADAMS of Rayleigh who unofficially notified the medical officer as to the condition of the premises in late Dec 1918 after attending Miss SPURLING for an attack of diarrhoea but no formal steps were taken by the Rural Council to protect the vulnerable people living within its walls nor or Mr HALL employ his power of attorney to what ever ends he deemed fit within his contract. By the time Miss SPURLING died, Mrs BINSTEAD’s physical and mental health had failed to such a degree she could easily have been mistaken for one of the patients she herself had cared for over the years.

The inquest lasted nearly two months, and on 29th March Mrs BINSTEAD was charged with manslaughter, as was Harry HALL. Both were bailed awaiting trial, which was set for 4th June. When the trial proceeded they were both charged with “unlawfully killing” Jessie Charlotte SPURLING, and Harry HALL with “aiding, abetting, counselling and procuring Sarah Ann BINSTEAD to commit the said offence“.

The case started by judging Mrs BINSTEAD to be no longer of sound mind, unable to comprehend the trial or make a proper defence. She was found “insane” and sent to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum during his Majesty’s pleasure. Mr HALL pleaded not guilty to his charges and was subjected to a lengthy questioning about his relationship with Mrs BINSTEAD, his role in managing Mrs BINSTEAD’s affairs, and how much he knew of the state of the place and the health of Miss SPURLING shortly before her death. The jury found him guilty and was sentenced to 3 months hard labour to which he immediately lodged an appeal and won on 1st July having his conviction quashed. Ultimately, no one was found to be responsible for the death of Miss SPURLING.

On 27th June Mrs BINSTEAD’s household furniture was put up for auction, and on 10th September Wittering Court was also put up for auction. The house sale was so sparsely attended that the property was withdrawn for sale.


Newspaper article reproduced with the permission of the British Newspaper Archive and The British Library Board

No more reports on Mrs BINSTEAD are to be found until 2nd Jan 1920, when news came of her death whilst still detained at Broodmoor. She had died on Boxing Day 1919 at age 70, but had she survived just one more week was set to be released (presumably into another institution).


Sarah Ann SYMONDS (aka Mrs BINSTEAD)

The newspaper reports give a glimpse into the tragic last years of the life of Mrs BINSTEAD and the devastating consequences of her health on Miss SPURLING, but what of her life before this?

Sarah Ann SYMONDS was born April 1849 in West Wittering, Sussex and was the first of two children born to Robert Richard SYMONDS, a Baker and Grocer, and Harriet JORDAN. Robert and Harriet married 8th Jul 1848 when they were 35 and 37. Neither had been married previously.

  1. Sarah Ann Symonds (1849-1919)
  2. Robert Richard Symonds (1851-bef.1901)

Only two years after the birth of their son, Robert died age 40. In 1861 Harriet, her two children and her widowed mother Sarah JORDAN (nee BARNES) were living at Noak Farm in West Wittering where she farmed 63 acres (employing 2 men and 1 boy). Her mother’s occupation was noted as “House Proprietor”. The same family members were living together in 1871, now at Acre Street, West Wittering. Harriet’s occupation was “Landowner” and Sarah was working as a Governess (age 21). Robert had just married at age 19, and his new wife was also part of the family.

Towards the end of 1871 Sarah married Harry BINSTEAD, a Butcher from close by in Chichester and in 1874 her grandmother Sarah died age 85.

By 1881 Sarah had become the Proprietress of the Lion Street Boys and Girls School in Chichester, where her mother Harriet also resided. Boarding there were ten girls and two boys between the ages of 12-17, a young English Teacher, a House Maid and Domestic Servant. Sarah’s nephew Robert SYMONDS (age 8) and niece Flora SYMONDS (age 6) were also pupils at the school.

Sarah’s husband Harry was not present in the 1881 census as a couple of years after marrying he joined the Navy which he served in between 1873-1875. He then enlisted in the Army Service Corps in 1876. Harry died at home on 11th Oct 1885 from tuberculosis, which he had suffered from for six months. The couple were living is Selsey at the time and had no children. On looking over his army records, they suggest he had a problem with alcohol and had been demoted. Elsewhere in 1881, Sarah’s brother Robert was working as a Police Sergeant at Scotland Yard. Robert and his wife Elizabeth now had four children, plus twins who died in infancy a couple of years previous. This is the last time I have found Robert in any records, who had died by 1901.

Sarah’s mother Harriet died shortly before the 1891 census was taken (age 79), and as the death was registered in Chichester suggests Sarah may still have been living in Selsey up to this point. By the time the census was taken Sarah was working as a Governess at Normansfield in Teddington, London. The Normansfield Training Institution for Imbeciles was opened in May 1868 by Dr John Langdon Down (after whom Down syndrome was named) as a private asylum for mentally handicapped children from upper class and good social standing families. It is interesting to note that Jessie Charlotte SPURLING was also living in Teddington at this time with her family (age 18).

Sarah had moved to Essex by 1901 and was living at “St Asaph” on Cliff Road in Chalkwell. She was the head of the household, now aged 49 and “living on own means”. Also present was a retired tutor who was boarding, and a second boarder described as “imbecile”. There was also a domestic servant called Winifred CULLINGFORD and below her an “adopted child” age 4 also called Winifred CULLINGFORD (aka Freda BINSTEAD, the adopted daughter of Sarah). Freda looks to have been the biological daughter of the servant, and as she reverted back to her original name in her twenties, was quite possibly never formally adopted.

Just prior to the 1911 census, Sarah shows up in the 1910 electoral records as residing at Selsey Court, Crowstone Road, Westcliff-on-Sea and her qualifying property was in Hadleigh district and simply called “near Bramble Hall” (1910-1912). It seems likely that she named the property in Crowstone Road after the town of Selsey where she lived before moving to London. In the 1911 census she was recorded at Selsey Court, 57 years old and working as a “Mental Nurse”. There were 28 people living in the 23 roomed property including Sarah, her niece Mrs Florence NEWMAN who was working as a housekeeper, and Florence’s two children. The other boarders included five “epileptics”, two “lunatics” and one “feeble minded”, as well as a commission agent, a tutor and two governesses. There were four servants living within the household, one of which worked as a nurse. Jessie Charlotte SPURLING (incorrectly recorded as Jessie Caroline Spurley) was amongst the boarders aged 33 (the one noted as “feeble minded”). Jessie was first placed into the care of Mrs Binstead after June of 1903, when she was released from an asylum in Peckham. Perhaps the SPURLING family knew Mrs BINSTEAD from her time in Teddington and was why they placed their daughter in her care in Essex.

The 1913 electoral register records Sarah residing at Selsey Court with her qualifying property listed as “The Hollies and near Bramble Hall” (two properties?). On checking back in the 1911 census I found the property of “Holly Bank” in Daws Heath was filled out by S. A. BINSTEAD. Living within the ten roomed property were three boarders of no occupation (one of which was “feeble minded”), Freda BINSTEAD age 14, and a gardener. Hollybank is situated along the bridal path between Poors Lane and Bramble Road and seems pretty much unchanged. It was originally part of Bramble Hall Estate.


Sarah set about buying the 16 bedroom property of Wittering Court in either 1912 or 1914 for £600 (about £70k today) after selling Hollybank for £800 (about £94k today). Again, it seems most likely that she named the property “Wittering Court” after the town she was born and grew up in (West Wittering). The profits from the sale of Hollybank were used to make alterations to Wittering Court, so may have stood empty for some time before it was ready to move into. The 1915 electoral register records Sarah still residing at Selsey Court, with her qualifying property “Bramble Hall Estate”, and it was in the August of that year that she suffered a serious stroke. There were no electoral registers taken during the war, but she shows up again in 1918-1919 finally residing at Wittering Court.

During the process of the trial, Sarah was sent to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, Crowthorne, Berkshire, where she died on 26th Dec 1919. She was buried in Southend, and the inscription reads:

Sacred To The Memory Of
Sara Ann Binstead
Who Died Dec 26th 1919
Aged 71 Years
Rest In The Lord – God Knoweth Best

Also Of Walter Mallorie
A Dear Friend Who Died
June 9th 1913 Aged 58 Years
I Shall Go To Him But He Will Not Return To Me

Also Of The Memory Of
Charles Robert Newman
Great Nephew Of The Above
Who Fell In The Great War Sep 18th 1918
In His 20th Year
Safe In The Arms Of Jesus

Also Florence R F Newman
1874 – 1952

Walter Harold MALLORIE mentioned was one of her boarders in 1901 and 1911.

The administration of Sarah’s estate was left to her nephew George Harold SYMONDS, a licenced victualler. Her effects were valued at £460, which is about £240k today. Newspaper reports clearly stated that Sarah wrote a Will leaving £500 to Harry HALL, which he destroyed in 1915. It seems she never wrote another Will after this as she died intestate (as indicated by the term “administration to” rather than “probate to” in the National Probate Calendar).

In 1924 Sarah’s adopted daughter Freda, under her original name of Winifred CULLINGFORD, travelled to Canada with the MATTHEWS family, whom she was working as a nurse. Her next of kin was listed as her cousin George Harold SYMONDS, who was living at The Bath Tavern in Peckham. She married William SCHLAPBACH the following year (as Winifred Cullingford) and died in 1986 in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada at age 89.

The Fate of Wittering Court

Wittering Court was later owned by councillor Reginald Oscar Culmer HURST until his death in 1954 (earliest date found there is 1927). In 1959 an application was put in to convert Wittering Court into six flats which was approved but conversion never took place. In 1960 an application for change of use to class XIV was also submitted and approved, which relates to “Hospitals and Convalescent/Nursing Homes”, so there must have been plans to turn it from a private home back into a nursing home. In 1972 an application was again submitted to convert the building into six flats but was refused this time. Finally in 2012 the property was demolished due to fire damage and a new house built in is place.

SYMONDS Family Tree



Jessie Charlotte SPURLING

Newspaper reports of the life and death of Jessie Charlotte SPURLING are a sad tale to read. She was institutionalised in her late twenties with her condition worsening as she got older, to the point she stopped communicating or being able to feed herself. It wasn’t always like this, and census records from 1881/1891 don’t list her as having any mental or physical conditions (age 8/18). She was placed into the care of Mrs BINSTEAD in 1903 at the cost of £1 per week (£1 was worth about £124 in 1903 and about £52 in 1919).

Jessie Charlotte SPURLING was born 18th Aug 1872 in Chelsea, London and was the second of four children born to William Elliston SPURLING and Ellen Louisa RASTRICK. William was a Chemist turned Dentist, and Ellen’s father was also a Chemist. They married on 9th Jun 1870 in Hackney.

  1. Kate Florence Spurling (20 Mar 1871 – 16 Mar 1954)
  2. Jessie Charlotte Spurling (18 Aug 1872 – 5 Jan 1919)
  3. Helena Maud Spurling (1975 – 16 Sep 1937)
  4. John Spurling (20 Jun 1876 – 10 Jul 1947) Solicitor

The family were living in Twickenham in 1881 when Jessie was age 8 and a scholar, and had moved to Teddington by 1891. The family were one short in 1901, as Jessie had been admitted into an asylum in Peckham on 19th Jan 1900 aged 27. She was released on 5th Jun 1903, and presumably then sent to Mrs BINSTEAD in Essex.

William died 16th Nov 1910 age 68, leaving an estate of £7568, which is a sizeable £911k today. In 1911 Jessie was recorded living at Selsey Court, Crowstone Road, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex under the care of Mrs BINSTEAD. She was now age 38 and noted as “feeble minded”. Her mother and two sisters were still in the family home in Teddington, whilst her Solicitor brother was living elsewhere at the time.

Jessie’s sister Kate was the only family member mentioned in the newspaper reports of her death in 1919, who stated her sister had been an imbecile for sixteen or seventeen years and was “quite helpless”. Three years later their mother Ellen died at age 74 (on 18th May 1922) leaving about £86k in today’s money. The remaining siblings lived in the family home until their own deaths, none of them marrying.

The SPURLING family have a combined grave in Teddington, but Jessie was not buried with them.

SPURLING Family Tree



Harry HALL

Harry HALL was born around May 1856 in Midway, Derbyshire. He was the second of four children born to Edmund John HALL and Mary RILEY, who married in 1854 in Stoke-Upon Trent, Staffordshire.

  1. Mary Ann Hall (1855)
  2. Harry Hall (1856-1933)
  3. Sarah Hall (1857)
  4. John Hall (1859-1860)

Harry’s father worked as an Earthenware Potters Fireman, and the family lived in Tunstall, Staffordshire for many years. In 1871 at age 15, Harry was working in the Railway Goods Department.

Harry married Elizabeth GLOVER, formally WOOD and nee MOORCROFT in 1879 in Staffordshire when he was 23 years old. Elizabeth was twice widowed and 15 years his senior with four children at the time. By 1881 the family had moved to London and were living in Hackney where Harry now worked as a Hairdresser. Harry was still working as a Hairdresser (employer) in 1901, and living in Islington. They had no children together.

Harry, his wife and step-daughter moved to 63 London Road in Southend-On-Sea around 1905. Along with the move, Harry also changed career to work as an Auctioneer and Estate Agent. Up until Feb 1907 he was working with Colin MACKAY under the name of “Clark and Co.” at the Southchurch Estate Office and 63 London Road. After this date the partnership dissolved and he continued to work alone, and by 1909 had met Mrs BINSTEAD to whom he was introduced by a Mr Lloyd. She was apparently in financial difficulties at this time and he lent her the sum of £60.

The family of three were living at the same address in 1911, when Harry was age 55. Harry negotiated the purchase of Wittering Court for Mrs BINSTEAD around 1913 by which time he had sold Hollybank for her and she had moved out of Selsey Court in Westcliff.

Harry’s wife Elizabeth died between 1911-1919 as he was noted to be a widower during his trial for the death of Miss SPURLING, for which he was charged but later acquitted of any involvement in. In the summer of 1925 Harry remarried to another twice widowed lady called Phyllis Emily SAMMIE, formally DOE and nee HOWE. Her previous two husbands had both been preachers. She had eight children with her first husband Peter DOE, but none with her second, Joseph James David SAMMIE who was 30 years her senior. Phyllis had been living only a few doors down from Harry on London Road prior to their marriage.

On 20th Dec 1933 Harry was standing on London Road (where he still lived) waiting to cross when he stepped out in front of a tram without looking and was knocked down. He died in Southend Hospital the following day age 77. Phyllis died in 1939 age 84.