Nottinghamshire History: The Extraordinary Story of Kitty Hudson – the Human Pin Cushion
KITTY HUDSON WAS BORN IN ARNOLD, NOTTINGHAM in 1765, the granddaughter of Mr. White, a sexton of St. Mary’s Church, Nottingham who she was left with from a young age. During the latter part of that century, Kitty’s strange story became infamous and saw her achieve something of a minor celebrity status due to it’s extreme oddity.
Artist’s impression of Kitty Hudson.
Available at: http://www.ournottinghamshire.org.uk/page_id__973_path__0p32p.aspx (R B Parish)
As a young girl of six years, Kitty was detailed to help out in St. Mary’s in keeping the place of worship spick and span and worked with a servant at the church, a young woman who would give Kitty instructions as they worked alongside each other. It is said that the servant girl would implore that Kitty pick up and collect any dropped pins and needles while sweeping the pews and aisles of the church and reward the youngster with a stick of toffee for every mouthful that she produced. The young Arnold girl diligently set about collecting the pins and needles and storing them in her mouth as she went about her work and it becoming a firm habit. The habit became so engrained in fact that it was said that Kitty could barely sleep, eat or drink without the strange practise of storing pins and needles in her mouth, even to the point of constantly disturbing her sleep to replenish the store of pins and needles in her mouth, that she might rest peacefully. Friends recorded at this time that Kitty’s teeth were ground down almost to her gums.
After time, the young girl reported an enduring numbness in her limbs and intense pain along with difficulty in sleeping and was taken to hospital in August, 1783 after numerous failed treatments. With inflammation in her right arm, a pair of needles were discovered under the skin adjacent her wrist and were removed. Other needles were also found in her arm and painfully extracted.
In an incredible story, before Kitty was finally discharged from hospital in the summer of 1785, the sexton’s granddaughter underwent a long series of operations to remove huge numbers of pins, needles and bone from her arms, legs, feet and other parts of her body. Both Kitty’s breasts had to be removed as needles and pins were lodged around her breastbone. Amongst various alarming notes taken during her two-year plus incarceration in hospital it was recorded that Kitty passed a needle through her urine and also vomited a needle. The minutes from her hospital stay were said to be voluminous and of extreme interest to the medical profession.
There was an extraordinary ending to Kitty Hudson’s story as she survived her self induced ordeal and was discharged to go on to marry her childhood sweetheart from the town of Arnold. The young man, by the name of Goddard, had coincidentally been an out-patient at the same hospital, being treated for a head complaint from which he subsequently lost an eye. Her to-be-intended would cheer Kitty’s spirits by telling her he would marry her should her life ever be spared. The young Arnold girl would later claim that it was her sweetheart’s faith and love that delivered her through her many sufferings to become well again.
The young couple married and, incredibly, Kitty bore her partner nineteen children. In this period of history with infant mortality so high, the practice was for children of the parish to be Christened within three days of being born. Duly, eighteen of Kitty’s children were baptised though sadly just one survived infancy. That child, a daughter, died at just nineteen years of age.
During her later years, Kitty carried the post on foot from Arnold to Nottingham – a round walk of some eight miles – twice daily. She was described at this time as being six feet tall, stout and somewhat masculine in appearance. She would wear a small bonnet about her way and drab clothing of worsted stockings, a coarse woollen petticoat, strong shoes and with a leather post bag slung over her shoulder.
In 1814 Kitty’s husband died and she remarried to Henry Ludham of South Wingfield in Derbyshire where she bore no further children. Interestingly, her step son, Charles Ludlam the village shoemaker stated in the Marlborough Express of 1907 that the legacy of Kitty’s swallowing of pins and needles remained with her for the rest of her life. That journal recorded thus: ‘To the end of life pins and needles kept coming at intervals from her body. At first a black spot would appear and then it soon began to fester, the head next came in sight, and it was pulled out, and the wound soon healed.’ Her step son stated Kitty’s body to be as ‘a colander, full of tiny holes.’ .
In spite of this, Kitty was able to live a decent and good life and remained fit and able to carry out her daily duties until passing away at seventy years of age. So ended peacefully the remarkable story of Kitty Hudson, the human pin cushion of Arnold, Nottingham.