Alice Bowskill

(1817 – 1879)

Alice Bowskill was born in 1817 in Settle and had to contend with multiple mental health issues. Her brother William was the blacksmith who built the row of houses called Bowskill’s Yard on Castle Hill in Settle. Alice’s father John died when Alice was seven and her mother Ellen died when she was 19.

Despite this unfortunate childhood, in 1840 Alice married John Himsworth, the son of a Wakefield farmer who had been well educated and come to Settle to work for the Hartley firm of solicitors as a clerk. Alice promptly set about producing nine children, one every two years while they lived on Belle Hill in Giggleswick.

There was no provision for mental health in those days and in 1860 poor John drowned himself in a moment of ‘temporary insanity’ which was the standard description for death by suicide. Poor Alice was left with nine children and the youngest, William, was just two. Imagine that.

Having had a middle class occupation, John had been able to leave Alice £200, which was not a bad sum. This meant that Alice didn’t have to work to survive. She moved the family to cheaper accommodation in Upper Settle to bring the children up. She didn’t remarry.

Little William died aged four. Alice’s daughter Eliza was described as an ‘imbecile’ — a term which described many mental health and learning difficulties at that time. Eliza spent her last 20 years in Giggleswick workhouse, which offered the only medical provision available, especially for the poor. She died aged 50. William and Eliza are buried in the graveyard. The other children had successful lives, several moving to the coast of West Cumbria to work in the new iron industry.

And what about poor Alice? Mental health issues may have featured in both sides of this family as Alice died in an asylum in York in 1879, having been a widow for nearly 30 years.