Ruth Fenton

Ruth Fenton in 1930's
Ruth Fenton in 1930's

Early Life

Ruth Fenton was born on November 10th 1923 in number 8 Stanley Street, Gorton Manchester UK. According to her Birth Certificate her parents were Samuel and Annie (nee Hayes) Fenton. Social Service documents (who had contact with the family dating back to the 1920's) show her as being the 10th of 11 children. She had 7 sisters and 3 brothers (two of the females died at less than a year old). At the time of that record one male died aged 25 years of pneumonia. 

However, later research and DNA exposed that her oldest sister Lilly was actually her birth mother at age 16 years. As often happened in those times Annie and Samuel took her on as their "own daughter." Samuel Fenton died of war wounds and nephritis at 49 years old in 1927. Annie Fenton died of emphysema in 1938, (information came from Death Certificates) when Ruth was 14 years old. Electoral records from that time show Ruth to be living with her sister Violet (who later married James Henry Greenwood). At that time Violet had an illegitimate daughter aged 1 year. In 1941 Violet had another illegitimate daughter and Ruth helped care for them and do housework. 

Nothing is known of Ruth's schooling but at age 15 years Ruth went to work at the Patent Wadding Company as a Packer and handed over her total wage packet. All of Ruth's immediate family lived in Gorton at that time, mainly in Stanley Street and Queens Road. She also did housework and babysitting for various family members. She was obviously a very responsible person to trust with the children as Violet and her daughter told her son, James, that when the air raid sirens sounded at night, which they often did, Ruth was the one who ensured all the children were gathered up and taken to the air raid shelter. Violet was often out at night, and it was Ruth who ensured everyone's safety.


In 1949, whilst still living with Violet at 7 Stanley Street (verified by Electoral Roll) Ruth became pregnant. Violet told her to leave and put her out onto the street due to the family disapproving not only of her not being married but also who the father was. Ruth went to live with another older sister, Marion, (whose husband had died in 1948) and her two children from that marriage but Marion was also pregnant with an illegitimate child and had been taken in on Queens Road by a Mr and Mrs Goddard. However, Mr Goddard died on 6th April 1950 and Ruth went to stay with Lilly, her husband Albert Dutton, Doris who was another sister plus Lilly and Alberts four children. (Leslie Dutton, James Dutton, Kenneth Dutton and John Dutton). 

Ruth took eclampsia and her son, James, was born prematurely by caesarean section on 8th April 1950 at Crumpsall Hospital. James's birth was recorded on 17th April and the address given was 24 Stanley Street. James was baptised at All Saints, Gorton and Ruth was present with Doris Fenton and James Dutton who were God Parents. Shortly afterwards for some unknown reason she moved to the deceased Mr Goddard's brothers house at 5 Laurence Street, Gorton. Also living there (Electoral Roll) was a lady called Jane Graham who was a relative. Shortly after the Dutton family told James that Ruth was "living on the Streets" and no one knew where James was as he was not taken into care until 17th January 1951 under Section 58 and the reasons being stated as "His mother was in a mental hospital".

Brockhall Hospital

Ruth had been admitted to Brockhall Hospital on 22nd December 1950 "as a place of safety" (This information and her subsequent sketchy hospital information was obtained in much later years, when this type of information was made more available, from Lancashire Archives.) In effect, at that time, it meant, as part of the Section that James and Ruth would never be re-united as Authorities thought it "For the best." There was to be no Right of Access, no visiting and no ongoing contact. The signature of her relative agreeing to this was L. Dutton (no title given, so either Leslie Dutton or Lilly Dutton). 

James was taken on 17th January 1951 to Rose Hill Childrens Home but two days later was sent to Monsall Hospital suffering from severe dysentery. In his time at Rose Hill, he was sent four times to Monsall with the same problem. In the 1980's James found these family members via an advert in Manchester Evening News (Kenneth Dutton got in touch). However, all the family, without exception, stated they knew nothing about James's father or why Ruth went to Brockhall. The only comments they made were that Ruth was "Nuts." On Ruth's admission to Brockhall, it was documented she was "Filthy, neglected and verminous". Her hands were rough and dry. One of the nurse's opinions was that she sounded "aggressive", but she was "obviously frightened and did not know why she was there." She was described as a "Moral Defective" (as she was unwed and had a child) and "Feeble Minded." Physically she was 5ft 2 ins, had dark brown hair, and grey/blue eyes (James has the same eye colour). Two days after admission a Dr. D. J. Rose wrote that she was simple, slow, dull and stupid. This was based on her answers to questions regarding her not knowing the date, the number of pence in a half crown, where Paris, Berlin and Moscow were, and she could not count backwards. He defined her IQ to be 48 on the Terman Scale which was what was used at that time to measure IQ. He said her speech was "mumbled". On 27th December 1950 (five days after her admission) she was interviewed by a Dr C.E. Brown who again asked her questions regarding whereabouts of Glasgow and Sydney, the Prime Minister and reverse counting from 20. From her answers he described her as "Low grade" and lacking in general knowledge but co-operative and still not understanding why she was there. When James met some of her family members in the 1980's he was later to realise, after reading Ruth's notes, that none of her age group could have answered those questions and a number of her sisters had several illegitimate children so whatever else was involved to justify Ruth's desertion by the extended family she had lived with and among is not known. 

It has been suggested that Ruth may have briefly suffered from what we now know as Puerperal Psychosis particularly as she "improved" quickly both physically and mentally and did not relapse. The main physical problem discovered by medical staff at Brockhall was that she had hard wax in both ears and when this was removed it became obvious that she was severely hearing impaired. This would certainly account for her poor education levels, poor mumbling speech, and slow responses and understanding. An eye test revealed she had poor vision, and she was subsequently provided with glasses. 

By January 1951 she was described as much improved and settled, and by that time was working in the nurses' home cleaning and was extremely popular with staff and described as a "trusty". She continued to be assessed mentally and great weight was put on the fact that she had been eager to say she had had a son and to use the doctors words "she has marked erotic tendencies, was eager to say she had had a son and did not seem to think she had done anything wrong". No mention was ever made of the environment she grew up in where her peer group had illegitimate children as indeed, so did a lot in that area. However, the rest of her sisters received support from each other. There was only ever Ruth admitted to a "mental facility" for that reason. One of the doctors wrote that she had to be firmly supervised due to "her erotic tendencies" and to "protect her from moral danger." Physically she was described at each examination to be physically well and gained weight. In December 1952 she weighed 11 stones 10lbs. 

On 3rd July 1952 Ruth went with a small group on holiday for a week. On her return she was assessed as "quiet and amiable, but simple and slow." On 5th August 1953 she was released on Licence (no details of where and to whom) for 14 days. However, by October 1953 she was complaining of abdominal pain and vomiting. Various bloods and x-rays were taken. Apparently, nothing found. By June 1954, her weight had dropped to 10st 4lbs but she was described as physically better and was released on License on trial in October 1954 until 23rd December 1954. Again, no note of where to or to whom. On 7th March 1955 she was admitted to Reedley Hospital with Lobar Pneumonia and Secondary Anaemia. Nineteen days later she returned to Brockhall to convalesce. She relapsed in April 1954 and remained poorly in and out of hospital with lung, spleen and abdominal problems. She was mentally assessed on 7th December 1955 and it was noted she had gained weight, and her speech was much improved. Until the end of February 1956, she was able to return to work in the nurses' home and was described as being happy there. However, three months later she had breathing problems and x rays showed shadows in her lungs. After treatment she improved and went on 1st June 1956 to the Dutton family (James Dutton signed her License on Trial papers). It was for six months on trial and had a proviso she was to work. On 20th September she was returned to Brockhall by relatives as she was vomiting blood. She had x rays and tests, and no TB was found but she had opacities in both lungs. However, by November she was diagnosed as suffering from Pulmonary TB, was very poorly and given antibiotics. By December 1957 she became jaundiced and on 25th January was diagnosed with hepatic cirrhosis and ascites and was described as "deteriorating". Ruth passed away on 28th January 1958. Her causes of death (Death Certificate) were general peritonitis and perforation of chronic duodenal ulcer.


Whilst Ruth was being legally detained at Brockhall with no rights at all regarding her son, James was taken on 15th February 1954 (Child Care Records) to a Mr and Mrs Mound on Beeston Street, Harpurhey to be fostered after his treatments in Monsall Hospital. James found Mr Mound in the 1980's (sadly Mrs Mound had recently passed away) and he told James that they wanted to adopt him rather than just foster him. They already had a son, Geoff, who was a little older than James and they got on well. However, on 7th August 1958, without any explanation, he told James that a Childcare Officer came and took James away despite their pleas to keep him. No explanation was given. (This was seven months after the passing of his Mother, Ruth). James remembers that day vividly as when the Childcare Officer (Mrs. Phillips) was leading him by the hand across the road beside Manchester Central Library she asked him if he knew his mother was dead. James thought his mother was Mrs Mound where he had just left and not Ruth his real mother whom he never knew. He was so traumatised that he didn't speak or communicate for several days. 

He was taken to Broome House Childrens Home Manchester where a woman there tormented him constantly saying she knew his mother and that she was "nuts" and that James would be too and that when he grew up, he must never have children as they would be "nuts" and "deformed." James was 8 years old at that time. 

On 14th January James was taken from Broome House and put on a train (alone) and sent to the Rudolph Steiner School at Potterspury Lodge, Towcester, Northamptonshire which was a school for "Learning difficulties", due to his mother's "history". His two teachers were John and Hannah Lenz, a German couple, who it later transpired were not qualified teachers and had come to England as a safe haven after World War Two. They also spoke poor English. They kept insisting that James lose his Manchester accent and they beat and caned him to try to achieve this. They ridiculed his accent in front of the other children (none of them were Northerners). They ruled him with a rod or iron and they constantly reinforced hard what they called "discipline." Anything they felt he did wrong (even when he didn't know what it was) was dealt with by beating/caning/humiliation /slapping around the head and food deprivation. Shortly after moving there James remembers being locked outside in freezing dark conditions for something he hadn't got "right". He sat outside for several hours and was forced to apologize for something he knew nothing about just so he could get back indoors. He developed chilblains. The Lenz's said it was his own fault and a punishment that he got the chilblains. He once went without any food for three days as he wouldn't eat his porridge which he hated. James stayed there until March 1962 when he was 12 years old. He remembers being beaten and caned often as they said it was necessary with his background. They certainly ran an over strict, domineering Germanic type regime which was how they thought the pupils should be treated. A Childcare Officer called Mr Humphries occasionally visited James but when he asked James how things were, and James told him of his worries and fears he quicky told him to be "grateful" and promptly told the Lenz's what he had said so consequently was severely punished. James quickly learned to say everything was fine when it was not.

He was then sent to several short-term foster homes back in Manchester and surrounding areas. In 1967 he was sent to work on a farm, living in, as he said he liked animals. When he became 18 years old the following year the farmer dismissed him as he was going to have to pay him an adult wage. At the same time Childcare ceased his supervision and revoked the Section 58. James was homeless and went into Gorton Town Centre where he sat on some steps wondering what to do and where to go. It turned out it was the Town Hall steps and a man came out and asked him what was wrong. It turned out this man was a Probation Officer and he took James to the Church Army Hostel and they helped him get a job at Belle Vue Zoo, which was possible as James now had an address. He then found his own lodgings in Didsbury once he was earning money. 

Three years later, at the age of 21 years James applied to join the Household Cavalry (Blues and Royals) and was accepted and he went on to train as a Registered Farrier. He also did weapons training He then moved up the ranks and gained medals. He has ridden at Trooping of the Colour, Changing of the Guards, Royal Weddings and escorting the late Queen around the country. He was sent to Cyprus to solely look after the horses there and their shoeing and treatments. After retiring from the Army, he worked self employed as a Farrier where he met his future wife, Lesley. They have now been together for 40 years and live on a small holding with their dogs and animals high up in the North Pennines. His mother would have been very proud of him and one of his biggest regrets is that due to circumstances she was not at his Passing Out Parade as she should have been.

Brockhall Cemetery

In the 1980's James, with the help of Lesley, tried to find out more about his Mum. By various lengthy research (before having the Internet) they traced her to Brockhall Cemetery. James put a headstone there for her, just to show she was remembered. He visited Brockhall Hospital when he went to see the headstone and whilst information was very scant (as it was in those days) he did find out a bit about Ruth and her life there. They gave him a small number of notes which were useful. Recently, after finding and communicating with Jeff Jones James has, with the help of everyone involved with the Calderstones Cemetery and history has been able to decipher the terminology in Ruth's medical notes. Also, the helpers (to whom James is totally indebted and grateful) have managed to raise Ruth's headstone as it had, along with others, sunk quite a bit into the ground plus they have put a stone edge around it and infilled with pebbles. They sent James photos of what they had done. He has been able to find more information thanks to these wonderful helpers and more may be to come. One thing is for definite is that now he has a Mum and a memorial in this article and that Ruth Fenton is shown as a person not an unfortunate statistic anymore. It is also fitting that she was buried where she came to see as her home. Despite archaic legalities that caused so much stigma it is obvious that she was looked after extremely well by the nursing staff and judging by the amount of regular physical assessments and treatments she had her best interests for her physical conditions were well met.

It is fitting that others who have an interest in Brockhall and Calderstones and their residents should know the story of these people and James is very grateful that he has been able to tell his. He says it would be his wish that everyone who lived and passed away there should also have a marker with a name not just a number and history written but appreciates that not all can be achieved. However, the helpers have certainly helped him and many others to document their relatives place in history. 

Copyright - This article is not to be reproduced without the prior permission of James and Lesley Smith Fenton.

Ruth's grave September 2023
Ruth's grave September 2023