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24 September 2014

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Grace Poole
By Pam Ferris

Grace Poole (Pam Ferris)

Discover the history of Jane Eyre character Grace Poole


Part 1

I've always thought of London as my home, but when I went back a few years ago, I didn't like it at all. Don't know why. Maybe it had changed. Or I had. Being up here, in this wild place, listening to their funny way of talking, I'd always felt like some kind of foreigner, but this is my home now, and I can't think of a better one.

I was born in the Royal Hospital of Bethlehem - Borough of Southwark. It wasn't that unusual for babies to be born there. "Where there's a will there's a way," the keepers used to say, and sometimes it seemed there were as many men trying to break in as there were mad women trying to break out.

My little mother, (I always think of her as little - she was only about 14) was already big with me when she arrived. They say she was trying to harm herself and refusing to speak. Turned out she'd been got at by her local minister, so the joke on the women's galleries was that she was in a "State of Grace" - and when I arrived that's what they called me. My little mother didn't last long after I was born, so the second half of my name comes from Mary Poole. She was the best 'mother' anyone could want.

Mary was one of the keepers at Bedlam, and how she persuaded old Dr Munro to let me stay up I'll never know. Babies went to the workhouse. But I was lucky. I was brought up by Mary and her friend Alice Wheatcroft. I started doing odd jobs around the Hospital when I was very young, getting coins from the ladies on the top floor - some of them were as sane as you or me, and were only locked up because their husbands wanted the money. Like Lady G - she taught me all about fine clothing and how to sew with tiny stitches, and later on, how to read and write. I never saw the wild women on the bottom floors when I was young, but I heard them. Everyone did.

When I became a keeper myself Dr Munro started taking me out on home visits. He said I wasn't as frightening to his patients as some of the older women. I went all over London and saw rich people's houses, even the palace, but I'm not supposed to talk about that.

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