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Days Gone By - When 'idiot' was a medical term commonly used in Ipswich

PUBLISHED: 17:00 20 December 2016 | UPDATED: 10:36 22 December 2016

The Cornhill, Ipswich in the 1920s when the report on Ipswich was written. The offices in the centre, next to the Post Office on the right, were replaced in 1928 with the building which is there today.

The Cornhill, Ipswich in the 1920s when the report on Ipswich was written. The offices in the centre, next to the Post Office on the right, were replaced in 1928 with the building which is there today.

Dave Kindred

Attitudes have changed beyond recognition since a survey of Ipswich was published in 1924 by the Ipswich Local Committee on Christian Politics, Economics and Citizenship, which came to light recently, writes David Kindred.

The report suggests that the increasing use of buses from Suffolk villages was bringing problems to Ipswich. This Eastern Counties bus was on the Old Cattle Market around 1930The report suggests that the increasing use of buses from Suffolk villages was bringing problems to Ipswich. This Eastern Counties bus was on the Old Cattle Market around 1930

Those who served on the committee included senior members of the church, local industry and the headteacher of Ipswich School.

The Cricketers Inn at the junction of William Street and Navarre Street, Ipswich, in the 1920s. This public house closed in the mid 1930sThe Cricketers Inn at the junction of William Street and Navarre Street, Ipswich, in the 1920s. This public house closed in the mid 1930s

Under a section headed “Defectives” a report written by the Ipswich Medical Officer of Health “Lays stress on the gravity of the problem of mentally deficient children”

This chart was published in the 1924 report under the section 'Defectives'This chart was published in the 1924 report under the section 'Defectives'

The report shows absolutely no compassion for the less able and only saw them as a burden on the town.

Trolley buses replaced the Ipswich trams in the 1920s. This photograph was taken in Princes Street near to the junction with the Buttermarket.Trolley buses replaced the Ipswich trams in the 1920s. This photograph was taken in Princes Street near to the junction with the Buttermarket.

In this week’s Days Gone By I have used extracts from the report, which, if written today, would cause national outrage.

By 1926 the Ipswich trams were taken out of service. This picture was taken in Norwich Road, close to the junction with Blenheim Road, as cars which came into service in 1903 were dismantled.By 1926 the Ipswich trams were taken out of service. This picture was taken in Norwich Road, close to the junction with Blenheim Road, as cars which came into service in 1903 were dismantled.

In his report on Medical Inspection of Elementary Schools for 1922 the Ipswich Medical Officer of Health for the town said, in words that sound like they were written a century earlier in even less enlightened times: “The feeble- minded male is the eternal nucleus of the unemployable. He has no trade and cannot be taught one. He has no place in the labour market. He forms the bulk of the hopeless class, who are known to the law as incorrigible rogues and vagabonds. The result is that if they are not supported by charity he is supported by the ratepayer in the workhouse, or the taxpayer in our prisons.

William Pryor butchers shop at 73 Wherstead Road, Ipswich, with a young delivery boy and dog outside.William Pryor butchers shop at 73 Wherstead Road, Ipswich, with a young delivery boy and dog outside.

“The feeble-minded female is a greater menace to society than her brother, because she is frequently very fertile, and being without morals or control of any kind, breeds mental degenerates in numbers sufficient to assure that civilised communities will never be without an ample supply of the mentally unfit. If a woman of this type marries, as many do, she is incapable of managing her house or her children; and as the latter are also more or less mentally defective, they form the nucleus of the unclean, the verminous, the insubordinate, and the vicious amongst the school population, poisoning the atmosphere of the school physically and morally.”

Norfolk Road, Ipswich, in the 1920s. Children were then able to play in a road clear of cars. Norfolk Road, Ipswich, in the 1920s. Children were then able to play in a road clear of cars.

The report goes on: “In view of this expression of opinion, which no social worker doubts to be entirely true, it is disturbing to find that no less than 151 mentally defective children, including imbeciles and idiots, were found in Ipswich elementary schools of Ipswich in three years. For the most part they are still attending the ordinary schools, though incapable of receiving any benefit there, and are thus deprived of that special kind of training and instruction which is capable of developing to the full such capacities as they possess.

Vehicles like this were seen on the roads at the time the report was publishedVehicles like this were seen on the roads at the time the report was published

“The figures for Ipswich are abnormally high, being much above the average of other towns, and though this may be partly due to the greater efficiency of the means employed here for the detection of such cases, such as the work of the Voluntary Mental Welfare Association, mental inspection of schools, and the ready help of teachers, it is feared Ipswich has an undue pre-eminence in this matter. It is not impossible that the contributory cause may be found in the isolation of many Suffolk villages, and the consequent inbreeding. This isolation is now being broken down by motor buses and other features of modern life, but its results remain.

The Ipswich Town Football Club team for the 1921-22 season.
The Ipswich Town Football Club team for the 1921-22 season.

“Mentally defective children are divided into three classes: 1. Mentally defective; educable in an elementary school. 2. Mentally defective; not educable in an elementary school. 3. Imbeciles, idiots etc.

The junction of Back Hamlet (left) and Grove Lane, Ipswich, in the 1920s.
The junction of Back Hamlet (left) and Grove Lane, Ipswich, in the 1920s.

“A dull child, more than two years behind the normal intelligence, is presumably, though not certainly, defective. The Education Authority does not deal with imbecile and idiot children.

A post card view of St Matthews Street, Ipswich, in the 1920s.A post card view of St Matthews Street, Ipswich, in the 1920s.

“A scheme has now been approved by the local authority and sanctioned by the Board of Education whereby the existing Britannia Road Infants School 
will be converted into a school 
for defectives.”

Majors Corner looking into St Helens Street, Ipswich, in the 1920s.
Majors Corner looking into St Helens Street, Ipswich, in the 1920s.

I have featured photographs from the period to illustrate how life in the town carried on, blinkered to the unfortunate attitudes of the better-off.

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