Imbecile ward keepers wanted


Some scans from The Public Notice (1973, out of print) by Maurice Rickard. It’s a gold mine. First of all, the following poster from late 1861. Despite the ambiguous grammar, they were requesting keepers for a ward of imbeciles, not ward keepers who were imbeciles. Although such terms are now used interchangeably as insults for somebody who’s acting in a way deemed stupid, until well into the 20th century “imbecile” was a respectable diagnosis meaning that a person was more functional than an idiot, but less functional than a moron. In this notice the “imbeciles” are alternatively referred to as “HARMLESS LUNATICS”, which is hardly better. Note also that these poor people (in every sense of the term) were incarcerated in a workhouse, specifically the workhouse of Bancroft Road, Stepney, in north-east London.


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