Institution for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb, Bath, Somerset
In around 1830, the Rev. Fountain Elwin, of the Temple Church in Bristol, found a young deaf and dumb girl in his parish, took into his home and educated her. When the family moved to Bath in 1832, his daughter Jane and her friend Miss White found a number of neglected deaf children on the streets and began to teach them in a rented room in Orange Grove.
In 1842, plans to make the school into a public institution attracted considerable opposition from supporters of the Bristol and District Institution for the Deaf and Dumb who felt that such a move would result in unnecessary competition for their establishment, which included Bath in its catchment area. Nonetheles, in 1843, the scheme went ahead in premises at 9 Walcot Parade, Bath. By 1846, the school had expanded into 8 Walcot Parade and become the Bath Institution for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb and. The Elwin family resided at 10 Walcot Parade.
In 1850, an account of a visit to the Institution appeared in a local newspaper. An abridged version is included below:
It was a great gratification to us, the other day, to go to the Institution for the Blind, and Deaf, and Dumb, in Walcot Parade, and to spend some time with the afflicted, but interesting, children who are there gathered under one roof. How uselessly would their lives have most likely passed had they not been received as inmates in this most valuable establishment; and who can measure the amount of good conferred on them by training them to be industrious and happy members of society? The boys are taught tailoring, basket-making, and other things which may be turned to future account; the girls, knitting, needle-work, &c, beside the valuable acquirements of reading, writing &c. It was most gratifying to look at the neatly-kept drawing-books of some of the children, to see how much had been done under their master's instruction, and to inspect the needle-work of the blind girls, which which would put some little girls who have the use of sight quite to the blush. We went to the room in which Divine service is performed by a clergyman of the Established Church, and listened, with much emotion, to the sweet voices of the blind children raised in praise to the God of light, who is the Father of all his creatures, and careth especially for the afflicted and destitute. A blind lad played on the organ with much expression. There are two children blind, deaf, and dumb; yet even these are instructed. They look quite happy, and are much pleased at being noticed. One of these poor children was amusing herself by running up and down in the garden, guiding herself by a rail. We shook her by the hand as passed; she smiled, and felt our dress, as if to ascertain who we were. Much praise is due to the matrons of this institution, who regulate everything for the happiness and well being of the children; and very much praise to the lady who devotes daily the greater part of her time to the work of teaching these unfortunate but interesting children.
On 6 November 1863, the establishment was authorised to operate as a Certified School, allowing it to receive children boarded out from workhouses by the Poor Law authorities. It maintained this status until 21 August 1896.
In 1868, Miss Elwin also established an Industrial Home for deaf and dumb adults at 11 Vineyards, Bath. In 1877, it occupied premises at 15 Walcot Parade, moving to 1 The Vineyards in 1887 and then to 13 Walcot Parade in about 1890.
In November 1891, a member of the Industrial Home's management committee wrote to a local newspaper to try and stimulate support for the establishment:
Sir, I am desirous of calling attention to an excellent institution in Bath that is too little known, I allude to the Industrial Home for Deaf and Dumb Women at 13, Walcot parade. The inmates, 12 in number, do not live in idleness, some of them go out to work by the day, and others do plain needlework at home, executing any orders given them extremely well and at very moderate charges. As, however, those received into the home are all very poor, the sum they are requited to contribute for board and washing is necessarily very small — about 5s. a week each, and it will readily be understood that the institution cannot be entirely self-supporting, but must be to some extent dependent on the kindness and liberality of friends. The Committee solicit visits from any who are interested in the deaf and dumb, feeling sure that the Home only requires to be known to meet with the support it deserves. The Matron will show visitors over the house any afternoon and if further information is sought will give the names of the secretary and treasurer, or other members of the Committee, who will readily answer any questions.
In 1895, the School's Committee found itself unable to meet the increasing demands of the education authorities, and the children, about 30, were removed to the West of England Blind Institution at Exeter. The Trustees of the Bath school handed over certain investments from legacies to the Exeter institution, and transferred the two houses and other investments to the Deaf and Dumb Industrial Home, and the whole property was placed under the care of the charity's trustees. With its increased accommodation and additional income, the Industrial Home was then carried on much more successfully, subsequently occupying 9 and 10 Walcot Parade.
At the age of 78 Miss Elwin retired from active work, but remained involved in committee membership until 1902, and died in 1904 the age of 90.
In 1932, the Industrial Home was taken over by National Institute for the Deaf. In 1934, it relocated to new premises, known as 'Poolemead' at Twerton-on-Avon, near Bath. The establishment is now known as the Leopold Muller Deaf Home.
Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.
- Ear Institute & Action on Hearing Loss Libraries, UCL Special Collections, South Junction, University College, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT. Holdings include the inmates ' register for the Deaf and Dumb Industrial Home (1868-1932).
- 1881 Census — Institution for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb, Bath
- Higginbotham, Peter Children's Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain's Young (2017, Pen & Sword)
- Pritchard, D.G., Education and the Handicapped 1760-1960 (1963, Routledge & Kegan Paul)
- Watson, J, Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb (1809)
- Watson, Thomas J., A History of Deaf Education in Scotland 1760-1939 (Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Edinburgh, 1949)
Except where indicated, this page () © Peter Higginbotham. Contents may not be reproduced without permission.