Mary Hall lived in Bethnal Green in East London. Mary was married with a large family and was in her ‘sixtieth’ year. Her husband was a hard-working silk weaver but Mary had a tendency to drink.
I suspect today Mary Hall would have been diagnosed as clinically depressed or alcoholic (or indeed both of course) and she would have been able to get some professional help though the NHS and counseling service. Sadly, in 1867 none of this was available to her and in a poor area like Whitechapel or Spitalfields where she lived, she was just one of thousands suffering in similar circumstances.
In July 1867 she attempted to take her own life. Mary barricaded herself into a room at 46 Chilton Street, using nearly all the furniture she had, and took up one of her husband’s tools, a ‘silk shaver’ (a double bladed knife which was as sharp as a razor). Using this she cut herself twice in the throat.
Mr Hall found her, having called his fellow lodgers to assist him in breaking down the door. A doctor was called and managed to save her life. To the astonishment of ‘all who had seen her wounds, she was reported out of danger’. In the 1800s it was a crime to attempt suicide, hence the court appearance, but Mary was sorry and the justice released her.
We have no idea whether she recovered properly or whether life simply took its toll on Mrs Hall as it did on so many other poor families in the East End.
A Whitechapel Alley in the late 1800s, Chilton Street ran parallel to Brick Lane in the ehart of the ‘abyss’.
[From The Morning Post, Monday, July 15, 1867]