They’re stealing the fat of the insane!

On January 29 1820 Britain’s King George III died insane at Windsor Castle. And speaking of the insane, I’ve been reading Edwin Trueman’s ‘History of Ilkeston’ a gem of a book from 1880. Under the section on local beliefs and customs was an extract from a local newspaper in February 1867, replete with attempts to render the Victorian Ilkestonian accent and dialect in print:

The schoolmaster is certainly abroad at Ilkeston, or else the public are not aware of the secret doings of medical men. A few days ago, to the enquiry made by a gentleman of this town, how a deceased relative had been treated at a lunatic asylum, the answer given was “Ts nowt to say againt tratement he wor fat enuf, and lewked well, but they fatted him up fort docturs.” On the gentleman expressing some surprise at the statement, and asking what the good woman meant, she replied, “O, they fattens up them soat a people, and docturs taze ‘em.” “Take them – for what purpose?” said the gentleman. “O, to be sewer, they taze ther fat owt, and maise kester oil ont. I’s always bin agen kester oil sin I know’d it.”

According to Trueman’s reprint of the local paper, some of the good folk of Ilkeston believed doctors were overfeeding the insane to steal their fat and turn it into castor oil. Trueman took as sceptical a view as the reporter, rounding off the story with details of more way-out thinking, stating:

About as sensible as this old woman’s belief is the superstition, very commonly entertained in this locality, […] that it is ” bad luck” to carry a spade into the house on the shoulder, to cross two knives on the table, or to twirl a chair round on one leg.

You can read the whole of Trueman’s book for free. There’s a plain text and scanned version of it available through open library:



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