Opened 1921

The  People in the Cemetery

This web-site contains lots of facts, figures, records, registers, photos and lengthy details of plans and objections. With all this information, it is easy to lose sight of the people who are buried in the cemetery, their lives and their histories; who they were, where they came from and why.  

In an age when Dalton's ideas on eugenics were prevalent, then perhaps the construction of the massive long-stay institutions such as Calderstones, influenced by educationalists like Mary Dendy might have been seen as inspired. But those institutions, built with pride by their founding communities, were to have a profound effect, not only on the lives of thousands of people with disabilities and their families but also on the society which built, maintained and promoted them, seemingly unaware of their corrosive impact on the very foundations and values of that supposedly "caring" society. 

Isolated by design and organisational convenience from their own communities, and saddled with a century of officially sanctioned and widely accepted pejorative labels, the people in the Calderstones cemetery are still seen as a single homogeneous group they are the imbeciles, subnormals, mentally handicapped or patients, according to where you want to look on the time frame of the politically correct descriptions (labels) of the last 100 years. Isolated in life, they remain uniquely isolated in death, and now, robbed of the gravestones which previously confirmed their individuality, the 1172 men, women and children and babies remain hidden beneath the neglected field with its overgrown shrubbery, poignantly located alongside the separate, pristine and well-maintained section of the Queen Mary's Military Hospital cemetery containing the 33 service personnel, who died at the Hospital between 1916 and 1920. The deserving and undeserving, the valued and devalued, perfectly reflected in this testament to society's values and commitment to equality.

These people have been seen as a group rather than as individuals, rejected, ignored and at times feared. There have been many reports and studies on their perceived limitations and the problems that they present, but very few, if any, similar studies which reflect the immense range of talents, strengths and  individual personalities they possess. Hopefully, this web-site will encourage people to look at the individuals rather than the labels which they have carried for so long, and may go some way to stimulate current and future generations to look  into the closed and hidden histories which currently conceal  the lives of so many diverse and wonderful people.

Here are a few stories about some of these people. Other contributors will also want to add their own recollections of  the interesting individuals who they knew personally, many of whom lived and died in Calderstones. The identities of the individuals have been changed, because they have not given permission to use their real names, though had they been asked, it seems certain that several would have eagerly agreed.


Ida was a very young woman with a physical disability and a moderate learning disability, who found herself pregnant in the early 1920's. Incapable of looking after herself, and quickly rejected by the community in which she lived, she was "put away" in the only institution which would accept her, the Whalley Asylum. Ida very quickly became institutionalised, and by the time her baby was born, and taken from her, she had settled into the routines of the Institution where she was found to be a willing and able worker. With her limitations and history, and the community's rejection of such women, Ida was to remain in the Institution until her death 50 years later, during which time, she was a valued worker on the wards, assisting the very limited number of staff who were available, by making beds and helping to care for less able people.


Ida's son Bill, who was born in Calderstones, was to become a very popular and well-known character inside and outside of Calderstones, through newspaper and TV coverage of his interesting life. Born in the early 1920's in what was then an Asylum, Bill was soon to experience the consequences of segregation. There was no other place to send such a baby ( a "child of a defective" ) at that time, so Bill was to be born and die nearly 80 years later in the same Asylum or Hospital that was to him, his home. He didn't have a learning disability, and though he missed out on any schooling, he learned to read and write, had a great sense of humour, and like his mother, spent many years helping staff to care for other less able people who lived with him. After the strict segregation of the sexes was relaxed, he was allowed to push his mother, Ida, around the huge hospital site in her wheelchair, chatting with the friends they had made over decades. Bill was a charming gentleman, a raconteur with a permanently positive disposition, who never seemed to make any complaint about his life. To Bill, the strange outside world which had rejected him and his mother, remained a hostile and unwelcoming place. He was content to live out his days in the place that had always accepted him, his home - Calderstones.


Bill's lifelong pal was Bob. A little more limited in his literacy skills and lacking the gregarious confidence of Bill, Bob was another popular and happy individual who had survived life's worst deprivations by somehow developing the ability to always remain cheerful, smiling and uncomplaining . Little was known of Bob's early life, other than he was orphaned in the Greater Manchester area sometime in the early 1920's and spent time in an orphanage where his limited academic abilities and evident vulnerability were quickly noticed. With no prospect of being able to look after or support himself, he was sent to Calderstones for permanent care, and was to remain there until he died some 60 years later.  There was no record of Bob ever being a problem to anyone in Calderstones; he was a harmless, pleasant and helpful gentleman. Photos of Bob with his pal Bill appear in the Calderstones People section.


Tom, Larry  and Mary were three youngsters with disabilities from a West Indian family of seven children who lived in the ground floor premises of a former corner shop in one of the poorest areas of Manchester. Their father was a hard-working railway man and a self-taught historian of the British monarchy. His wife carried  almost all of the responsibility of trying to care for the seven children, and especially the 24/7 demands of Larry and Tom. In the continuing absence of any education or support for these two increasingly demanding children, the mother's health suddenly deteriorated and she died, leaving the father vainly trying to continue working while relying on another daughter, Martha (14), trying to replace the care which the mother had been providing. Though only 10, Larry was a huge, boisterous and energetic boy, physically very strong and powerful. He never intentionally set out to harm people but like the bull in the china shop, damage was inevitable. Tom was only 7 and had a genetic condition linked to his disability which meant he was very frail, needed help with feeding and seemed to catch whatever infection was passing around. With no alternative available to them, both Larry and Tom were admitted to Calderstones, and to the great credit of Martha and her father they managed to keep the other children including Mary together.  Larry was to become one of the best known characters around Calderstones where the consistant staff support, unlimited open space and a range of activities, channeled  and then moderated his excessive energy and boisterous behaviour. He was  successfully resettled to the Greater Manchester area in the late 1990's. Unfortunately, the frail Tom was not to follow him. He succumbed to one of the many infections which had blighted his short life and died 4 years later in Calderstones. 


David and his older sister, Frances, were orphaned in the late 1920's. They were both limited academically, with noticeable speech impediments and had been through a variety of orphanages before they were sent to Calderstones. Frances could not read or write, was very vulnerable and clearly incapable of looking after herself. As puberty arrived for Frances, the orphanages, as was their practice at the time, were quick to move such girls into adult and strictly segregated facilities as quickly as possible. Perhaps with the best of intentions, they also arranged to send David at the same time as his sister, yet after a brief few days together, they were to spend the best part of the next 30 years in the completely separate and segregated male and female sections of the institution which was to be renamed a hospital. Both became popular and well-known characters in their own right. Though they spent little time together, they both knew most of the people who lived and worked at the Hospital and its many established routines. Without speech, David had mastered the ability to make himself clearly understood through gestures, and spent his time helping wherever he could. He was always relied on as an excellent messenger, taking notes to people who he could invariably manage to find wherever they were in the vast site. Frances,spent her time tidying around the nurses' quarters and later the offices of the senior staff, where, although there were perfectly competent cleaners employed to do the job, she wanted to contribute her own additional touches. David was to get his wish and left the Hospital to be resettled to the community he had left 60 years earlier. Frances got her wish, not to leave, and remained at Calderstones where she died 3 years after David had left.


George was a young man with some intellectual disability and a range of behaviours which might now be described as being within the spectrum of autism. His parents were both elderly and found it difficult to cope with George's isolation and rejection by the local facilities and services which they had tried to encourage to take an interest in him. They were also very concerned about who they could trust to care for George when they were no longer able to do so. George had several brief admissions to Calderstones for observation and respite care, he always settled quickly in the place where his parents felt he was happiest. It was during one of these admissions to Calderstones that George unexpectedly died. His parents had the resources to have him buried wherever they wanted, but chose the Calderstones cemetery "because that's where he seemed happiest." 


Over 220 sick babies and young children with their medical staff and equipment, came to the perceived safety of Calderstones, from Booth Hall Children's Hospital in Manchester, immediately before the outbreak of the Second World War. Sadly, several were to die shortly after their admission. Thirteen of these very young children were to be buried in individual graves, in a most prominent position at the entrance to the cemetery. Their details can be found in the Booth Hall babies section.

These are pen-pictures of just a few of the people. There will be many more interesting stories and histories to be added. A majority of these people came to Calderstones from areas in the North West, such as Liverpool, Manchester and different parts of Lancashire, but others came from areas across the country, from Carlisle to Lincolnshire and Devon. They came because Calderstones provided a permanence of care and management which other authorities could not, or would not provide. Opened on 1st June 1920 to provide a total of 2100 places, equally divided with 1050 each for the completely segregated male and female admissions, the Institution (later Hospital) was full from shortly after it opened, and remained so,  until well into the 1980's. 

The care that was provided was intended to be of a permanent nature; people were not expected to be discharged and until the early 1960's most were compulsorily detained. The Institution, or previously, the Asylum, was renamed as a Hospital after the introduction of the National Health Service in 1948, but "hospital" can be seen to be a misleading term. The vast majority of Calderstones people were not physically ill and required no medical treatment, they required varying degrees of social care, and in that sense, Calderstones might be better described as an enormous institutional home for people with different abilities and disabilities.

Hopefully, as you read through the following notes and records you will keep in mind some of these people.

Dennis Buckley