I started researching the Temple Lodge Home for Inebriate Women in Torquay, Devon, when I found one of my ancestors was a patient there in the 1901 census. I was intrigued… What was this institution like? What treatments did they use? Unable to find much information, and with the only surviving records being two minute books covering part of the time that Temple Lodge operated, I decided to research Temple Lodge and its patients myself.

Temple Lodge as it is today – now a boarding school
Image courtesy of the Lucerna Magic Lantern Web Resource, lucerna.exeter.ac.uk

I have identified 64 patients. I’m researching their lives and gathering data on their ages (when they were patients in Temple Lodge), marital status, birthplaces, and occupations (their own, father’s and husband’s), whether they had any criminal convictions, the age they died and their cause of death to try to understand more about them and the impact alcohol had on their lives. The terms ‘homes’ and ‘retreats’ are interchangeable, and could be licensed (by the government) or unlicensed. Reformatories were government-run establishments.

It’s been interesting to compare Victorian views on alcohol misuse with modern day attitudes, observing the parallels and the differences. I’ve enjoyed focusing on an aspect of women’s history; unless you purposefully investigate the context of their lives, women are often defined and described by their husband’s status and occupation. I have uncovered some fascinating stories. It might have been more straightforward to choose an asylum casebook with registers and photos of each patient and vivid descriptions of symptoms and treatments, but I didn’t choose this project, IT chose ME.

I must point out that I am not a professional historian, qualified genealogist, nor an academic working in the field. I am just a keen amateur; what is presented here are my findings from the research I’ve undertaken into the Temple Lodge Home for Inebriate Women. Some terms used in this website are those used in Victorian and Edwardian legislation, journals and newspapers, and therefore may sound politically incorrect to 21st century ears.