Burden, Harold Nelson 1860 - 1930


(1860-1930), philanthropist

Reverend Harold Nelson Burden was born in Hythe, Kent on 20 March 1860. After completing his theological studies in Cambridge and being ordained in Carlisle in 1888, Burden moved to East London to perform charitable work in slum areas. There, he met his first wife, Katherine Mary Garton (1856-1919), whom he married on 26 September 1888.

Shortly after the marriage, the Burdens left to work as missionaries among Ojibway communities in Uffington, near Toronto, Canada. However, following the deaths of their two young children and Katherine’s own declining health, the couple moved back to England in 1891 to take up the curacy of Shoreditch. Between 1893 and 1895, Harold served as a chaplain while studying at Cambridge University. After his graduation, the Burdens moved to Bristol, where Harold took up the role of chaplain of Horfield Prison and Katherine became superintendent of the Royal Victoria Home for Women. Shocked by the conditions in the city’s prisons and shelters, the Burdens became increasingly active on issues of poverty, alcoholism, and mental disability.

The latter became an increasing concern for the Burdens in the years that followed. Through his connections in the Home Office, the Inspectorate of Prisons and Reformatories, and the Board of Control, Harold secured a position on the Royal Commission on the Care and Control of the Feeble-Minded in 1904, established to inquire into the institutional care of the mentally disabled. Here, Burden advocated for the institutional separation and rehabilitation of such individuals in newly built ‘colonies’, a view which was later enshrined in the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913.

Pre-empting these legal developments, the Burdens had already begun setting up a network of institutions for alcoholics and individuals with mental disabilities, controlled by their charitable trust, the National Institutions for Persons Requiring Care and Control (NIPRCC). The largest of these sites, the Stoke Park Colony in Bristol, was established in 1909, and the Burdens provided financial support for physicians wishing to carry out psychiatric studies of its inhabitants. Stoke Park would later become home to the Burden Neurological Institute, a pioneering neuroscientific research unit founded in 1939.

Katherine Burden died on 25 October 1919 following a stroke. The following year, Burden married a close friend, Rosa Gladys Williams (1889-1940), with whom he continued his philanthropic work over the following decade. Harold Burden died from heart disease on 15 May 1930.