Lorina Bulwer, “A Properly Shaped Female”

Nineteenth Century Doctor at work
Nineteenth Century Doctor at work

“I MISS LORINA BULWER WAS EXAMINED BY DR PINCHING OF WALTHAMSTOW ESSEX AND FOUND TO BE A PROPERLY SHAPED FEMALE ”  [From Transcript of one of Lorina Bulwer’s embroidered letters].

Last year, someone asked me to go look at a fascinating textile  – some kind of embroidered sampler – they had in storage at the Thackray Medical Museum, in Leeds. They wondered if I could shed any light on it, in view of my fascination with eighteenth and nineteenth century asylums, and the crafts done in them.

I went – not reluctantly, but not expecting much. Embroidery and samplers are slightly out of my comfort zone. Plus… I was a bit put off,  to find out the thing I was going to see was maybe Edwardian, so “after my time”. But went anyway.  I didn’t come away disappointed.  Turned out, the ‘sampler’ was in fact a twelve foot long embroidered rant by a woman called Lorina Bulwer; a sort of Tweet (well an entire prolific Twitter user’s entire account’s worth of Tweets) from the past.

You can read more about the embroidered letters and the indomitable Lorina here, on the excellent Frayed: Textiles on the Edge  blog.

Briefly, Lorina Bulwer was christened 13th May, 1838, in Beccles, Suffolk; her father: William John Bulwer; mother: Ann Turner.  She grew up in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk where her parents had a modest chain of several grocery shops. Lorina appears to have been well educated and probably lived a fairly comfortable life with her parents and siblings, Edgar, Anna Maria, Amelia, and Walter. When her father died, and with all her siblings having left home, Lorina met that fate common to many women of that time and her social class – she helped her mother and their home became a ‘boarding house’. Letting rooms to strangers being one way to keep some kind of roof over your head.

I will not repeat here the info you will be able to find in my article in June’s ‘Family Tree Magazine’. In that article, I’ll be talking about crafts and asylums generally, and what kind of info genealogists might be able to find about their asylum inmate ancestors.  Here, I am going to go in search of a character whose story is worked into Lorina’s samplers.

And I’m going to tell you why this is so close to home for me.  Lorina’s letters were remarkably like over 700 illiterate, unpunctuated, 90 page long emails full of biblical quotes and random threats I received last year, over a period of 12 months,  from someone who has since received a suspended prison sentence and a restraining order. (You’ll be glad to know the blood and thunder emails have now stopped).  I received emails in bold and caps lock (the modern equivalent of green ink?) emails so epic in scale, the police couldn’t afford to print them out;  full of rage against various targets, and copied in to as many as over one hundred people, including myself. I found myself starring as the major hate figure in the sender’s emails, just as Lorina’s sister, Anna Maria Young (AKA Anna Maria Pinching), figured in the three extant embroidered rants. I started to feel a certain sympathy for Anna Maria.

If she lived now, Lorina might well use the medium of CAPS LOCK email and the ‘CC’ button. The beauty of her embroideries is, of course, their permanence as a medium. Had she written letters rather than embroidered lengthy scrolls, they would no doubt have ended up in the bin.  To complain about your lot and rail against the world using the medium of embroidery does seem to me to be remarkably apt for a nineteenth century/early twentieth century woman. Using the very activity meant to subjugate; to protest.

Insanity and how it is diverted into creativity or destruction, was of great interest to me, at this period of feeling under siege. Most researchers see it sympathetically, from Lorina’s point of view, but I have to admit, I had a sneaking regard for her arch-enemies, who were at the sharp end of the rants, as well!

The sampler was about to go to Norfolk to go on display with their “Lorina” (also several metres long, and similar rants although the Norfolk sampler is thought to pre-date the Leeds one by several years). Antiques Roadshow-style a third sampler has recently come to light, found in an attic in County Durham.

Now, my day at the Thackray Medical Museum had an added bonus as one of the Thackray’s incredible staff showed us ‘behind the scenes’ and it turned out, the museum is the old Leeds workhouse. Many working class folk or ‘paupers’ as they were stigmatised, once their working lives were over, ended up in workhouse hospitals or asylums. I entered the Museum by the grand entrance hall (intended for dignitaries and  the Great and Good) but ended up seeing the still intact inmates’ staircase, hidden  behind the scenes, and although the building has been extensively re-modelled, was shown the few original bits of the workhouse, that remain.

I noticed, from the Frayed blog, Ruth Burwood from the Norwich Castle Museum saying:

There is without a doubt much more research to do! I have followed up quite a few of the 70 or so names that she mentions, and they all seem to be real people.  Save one…Dr Pinching.  I can find no trace of “Dr Pinching of Walthamstow, Essex” who is worryingly linked to her sister; “Anna Maria Young alias Dr Pinching”.  Intrigued? You should be.  You will have to visit the sampler on show to read what, according to Lorina, Dr Pinching does to her…

Well, Gentle Reader, you know me…  Always up for a genealogical challenge.

So I found Dr Pinching.

“Anna Maria Young” is mentioned a lot in both the known samplers.

“MRS ANNA MARIA YOUNG ALIAS PINCHINGS DAUGHTER / HAS BLUE EYES THE 2 SONS HAD LIGHTER GREY BLUE / EYES LIKE THEIR FATHER GEORGE WALTER YOUNG /”  [Transcript of sampler]

And:

“HIS WIFE WAS LIVING I FIND MISS / ANNA MARIA BULWER MARRIED GEORGE WALTER YOUNG…”

When it came to Anna Maria Young, Lorina wrote several variations on this theme:

“SHE IS NOT RELATED TO THE BULWERS NOT THE LEAST RELATIONSHIP / SHE IS AN IMPOSTOR FORGER DEFRAUDER”

It didn’t take me long to find Lorina had a sister, born in 1837  , called Anna Maria. In The Essex Standard, May 11th, 1860:

“Marriages.  May 1st 1860 at Yarmouth, Mr George Walter Young, of Walthamstow, to Miss Anna Maria Bulwer”

 

And I found Anna Maria Young on the 1861 Census, living in Walthamstow, Essex, with her  husband George Young (“Agent – Spirits”) and two stepchildren, his children from a previous marriage and their own baby, Walter G Young. I remembered Ruth Burwood’s mention of “Dr Pinching of Walthamstow” and wondered if there was a connection. Lorina lived with her parents, later with her widowed mother, in Great Yarmouth and there was no obvious Walthamstow connection until I found Anna Maria there with her new husband and baby.

By the 1871 Census, I couldn’t find George Young at all, and neither could I find one of his daughters, or his son with Anna Maria –  although the other step-daughter was living with her grandparents; a general servant and gardener and his wife, in Littlebury, Essex (where George Young himself had been born). What had happened? If George Young had died, why was his daughter not with Anna Maria, her step-mother?  And where was Anna Maria?  In the samplers, Lorina claimed to have no sisters – maybe she felt alienated from them, as on the night of the 1861 Census, Anna Maria had had a visitor – her sister Amelia. Maybe Lorina felt both Anna Maria and Amelia were “imposters”. Lorina seems to have believed she and some family members had been swapped for young royals. Much of her obsession seemed to centre round her siblings Edgar, who it is thought, had her committed to the asylum, and Anna Maria – whose role was more nebulous.

So who was the mysterious Dr Pinching?  In one sampler, Lorina said:

“I MISS LORINA BULWER WAS EXAMINED BY DR PINCHING OF WALTHAMSTOW ESSEX AND FOUND TO BE A PROPERLY SHAPED FEMALE “

Richard Lloyd Pinching was born around 1810, in Ireland. At some point, he came to England, qualified as a surgeon in London in 1833 and married a Londoner whose first names were Mary Martha. According to the 1851 Census, Dr Pinching and family lived on Marsh St, Walthamstow, where he was listed as “General Practitioner, M.R.C.S, England” with three sons, “W.H.G” (12) “H N” (9) and “R L” (8), all born Walthamstow.

I was able to pick up the story of Richard Lloyd Pinching in the newspapers as he was at the centre of ‘The Walthamstow Scandal’.

In 1855, Dr Pinching was appointed a Guardian of the West Ham Union (of workhouses) for Walthamstow.   In 1859, The Lancet reported Dr Richard Lloyd Pinching of Walthamstow was being investigated for indecency with a 13 year old girl. (Reynold’s Newspaper, March 13th, 1859) and there were calls for him to be struck off the medical register. The following week, the same paper printed a threat by Pinching to litigate “…Mr Pinching has maintained an honourable position as a surgeon in a large practice in Walthamstow for upwards of twenty years…” (‘The Alleged Walthamstow Scandal’). Dr Pinching seems to have exonerated himself – apparently he blamed “strong tea” for the incident, and didn’t deny sending the child many explicit letters.  Pinching continued to practice as he hit the national headlines again.

In 1860, he was described as the deceased’s ‘medical attendant’ in an infamous lawsuit involving a legacy. It seemed his patient, the testator,  tore up a will he had made in favour of a certain person, and Pinching was in the process of persuading him to make a new one when he died.

1825 Doctor.

“..A doctor, one Richard Lloyd Pinching,who acknowledged to unsavoury antecedents,  and who attended the dying man from February to the end of April, charged the enormous sum of £962, besides £76 14s and 3d to his son for medicines!” (The Bury & Norwich Post, December 11th, 1860).

During the Dent Legacy court case, Pinching was asked about “The Walthamstow Scandal”, and gave his side of the story, artfully changing the age of the child and glibly wriggling off the hook:

‘In the early part of 1859 unpleasant circumstances had occurred at Walthamstow. I was formerly the medical attendant of the Infant Orphan Asylum at Walthamstow. I was attending a family one of the members of which was a girl of the age of 15. I had been invited to their table, and they had treated me as their intimate friend and medical attendant, placing every confidence in me. I was charged with a deliberate attempt to seduce the daughter. I had frequently written letters to the girl clandestinely. There was no legal charge made against me. I consulted Mr M Chambers, and I was advised not to justify my conduct, and I resigned my appointment at the asylum…’

Lorina was not admitted to the Great Yarmouth workhouse, until decades later. If he did indeed examine Lorina and find her to be “a properly shaped woman” (I think we can guess what kind of examination that was, and how mortifying it must have been for her), he did it before 1870 and when she was still a young woman; possibly in his capacity as her sister, Anna Maria’s ‘doctor’.

I have not yet found a death record for Anna Maria’s husband, George Young, or their baby son, Walter – but within two years of the Walthamstow Scandal, the notorious (and married) Dr Pinching had a son by Anna Maria Young. And, as Lorina reported in one of the letters, Anna Maria passed herself off as Dr Pinching’s wife:

 

“MRS ANNA MARIA YOUNG IS ALIAS MRS

PINCHING SHE HAS BEEN / USING THE NAME OF MRS PINCHING FOR

YEARS I MISS / LORINA BULWER WONDER_LOYD THE SHIPPER_DID

NOT / PROSECUTE HER SHE PASSED AS ANNA MARIA BULWER AND

WAS A PUPIL OF MISS WINN SCHOOL BECCLES SUFFOLK /”

As The Walthamstow Scandal and later, the Dent Legacy case, both hit the national newspapers, there can’t have been many of Walthamstow’s residents who didn’t know about Dr Pinching, or encounter the negative press.I doubt Anna Maria was ignorant of the cases as they were so well reported.

The reason I could not find the Good Doctor or Anna Maria on the 1871 Census was that in 1870, one Anna Maria Pinching arrived in California, with 8 year old son, Herbert, and husband, Dr Richard Lloyd Pinching, born Ireland ca 1820. (Pinching had knocked a decade off his true age, presumably to impress the new ‘wife’). According to censuses, his legal wife, Mary Martha, lived –  and on the 1881 Census,  Mary Martha Pinching was alive and well, and living with her son, stockbroker, Horatio Nelson Pinching, at Beulah Rd, Walthamstow.

The story was taken up for me by a fellow genealogist, Melissa, who kindly traced the Dr’s trail stateside and further afield. (I only have UK Ancestry.com).

The 1870 US Census had Anna Maria, ambiguously listed as ‘Keeping House’ in San Francisco  for the Physician. Son, Herbert was eight, born in England and had the surname Pinching which means whether George Young was dead within a year of the 1861 England Census or not, Anna Maria had a child allegedly by Dr Pinching, around 1862. There is no trace of Anna Maria’s children or stepchildren from her marriage to Young. The Pinchings lived at 312, Sutter and Dr Richard Lloyd Pinching was naturalised as an American citizen in 1873, his ‘nativity’ erroneously listed as ‘England’.

Pinching may have been in further trouble, as in 1882, the elderly “Dr R.L.Pinching”  sailed on the ship Zealandia, from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia, in steerage so not the most salubrious of crossings. In the New Zealand Gazette, Register of Medical Practitioners, Dr Richard Lloyd Pinching was recorded as being certified with the Royal College of Surgeons, in 1833.

He must have returned to the U.S, although was not with Anna Maria at the time of his death. On 10th August, 1888, Dr Pinching burned to death in a fire at a friend’s house, at Cherry Creek, Nevada. Cherry Creek is now a ‘Ghost Town’ (videos on YouTube) and looks like an abandoned mining settlement. It’s possible Pinching ended his days as a mining town pox doctor.  Cherry Creek was a world away from Walthamstow, in every way. He was still resident in San Francisco, officially, at the time of death and his “widow”, Anna Maria, survived him.

In 1920, their son, Herbert, was a copper miner in Primal, Arizona. I could not find a ‘Herbert Pinching’ on the Births Index of Free Births Marriages & Deaths, for 1862 or indeed, any date. I have, however, found a ‘Herbert Young’ born in the second quarter of 1862, and registered in West Ham. Walthamstow is part of West Ham registration district. I would have to buy the birth certificate to see the Mother’s name. But I have a feeling it may be… Anna Maria Young, of Walthamstow.

 

I would love to link to Lorina images but haven’t got permissions. If you Google images for ‘Lorina Bulwer’ – you can fill your boots! They are truly amazing.

Thanks to the Librarian, Thackray Medical Museum, Leeds

Melissa in the US who traced Dr Pinching after 1870

 

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “Lorina Bulwer, “A Properly Shaped Female”

  1. I have created a wikipedia entry for Lorina which should be on the wiki front page shortly (days?). I would like to credit you for finding who Dr Pinching is. Has this been published elsewhere? Wiki cannot use self published material, and although I dont doubt your well cited research I really need to see it published by a 3rd party…. You could leave a message on the talk page of the Lorina Bulwer article …. regards Victuallers aka Roger

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  2. Have just watched BBC2 programme Antiques Roadshow Detectives about Lorina Bulwer. Fascinating story – horrific too – so, well done on all this research!

    Like

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