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Bristol and District Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, Bristol, Gloucestershire

The Bristol and District Institution for the Deaf and Dumb was founded at a meeting in the Guildhall on 18 August 1840. It admitted its first pupils in October 1841 in rented premises at 25 Orchard Street. It was intended to admit pupils from the counties of Gloucester, Somerset, Wiltshire, Herefordshire, Monmouthshire and South Wales.

The pupils were divided into three classes: the indigent deaf and dumb (charged £10 per annum), those in better circumstances (£20, and the children of parents in higher walks of like (£50), with separate accommodation and instruction being provided for the latter. As well as the boarders, day pupils were received at no charge. Lessons for adults were also given on Sundays.

The first teacher was Matthew Robert Burns, himself deaf and dumb, who had previously been master of Aberdeen's deaf institution. He was assisted by his sister, acting as matron, whom the charity's committee subsequently deemed to be 'unequal to the domestic duties' involved and removed from her post, with Mr Burns consequently resigning. They were replaced by Mr Webster, previously head master of the Claremont National Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, near Dublin, and Miss Armstrong. Like his predecessor, Webster adopted the manual method of teaching, using sign language and finger spelling.

In the autumn of 1843, the Institution had moved to premises on Park Row, formerly occupied by Bristol College, where a playground could be provided.

By 1846, an Assistant Instructor had been appointed in 1845. The services of a shoemaker had also been engaged to give a few of the boarders instruction in his trade to equip them for future employment. There were also plans to introduce training in the skills of tailoring, printing and mat-making.

As was common in such institutions, a public examination of the pupils' attainment was held each year. The following account describes the proceedings in 1846.

The signing of the Alphabet (Dactylology) having been gone through, q little boy, only six years old. and who has been but six months at the institution, as a day pupil, showed his knowledge of attaching names to objects by writing on a large board, “my hair, my eyes, my chin, my nose, &c.,” as those features were successively touched, and here, we may mention the extraordinary rapidity and accuracy, with which all the pupils wrote. Another boy, a little older than the last then wrote on the board, “I saw two glasses and a flask of water and some papers and reports on the table.” This sentence he translated, if we may be pardoned the bull, into his own dialect, as for instance, the “I,” by touching himself; “saw,” by pointing to his eyes; “two,” by holding up that Dumber of fingers; “glasses,” by pointing to them on the platform, and so on, giving to every word some perfectly intelligible sign or hieroglyphic. Another lad then made it manifest that they understand not merely the names of things but their objects and uses. In reply to a question by the master, he wrote, “the water is for the speakers to drink; the reports are for reading.” The Bishop of Sodor and Man then showed to one or two of the boys his seal, on which was engraved a mitre, and they being asked what the engraving was, after puzzling a bit, one the quickest took the chalk and wrote, "a cap." which was not far out considering that in all probability the boy had never seen a mitre in his life, and heard of it or talked about it of course he never had. The question was then asked. “what is prayer?” A boy who had been a year and eight months in the institution, wrote as answer, “The outpouring of the heart before God.” He was then asked, “What is God?” to which returned his silent answer, “He good a Spirit.” Another and older youth wrote, “He is a a Being of wonderful power, wisdom, and goodness.” A third pupil wrote, “He is the all-seeing, all-wise Being, who created ail things.” In writing the word “Spirit,” the little boy spelt it with a small s, and one of the others immediately altered it to a capital letter. The Bishop asked the boy, through the teacher, why he altered it, and the youth answered, “Because God is the greatest of all.” After the boys had further exemplified their progress, by exercises in adjectives, pronouns, verbs. &c., a very intelligent and interesting looking girl of 14, who had been a year and five months in the institution, was desired by the master to give her idea the word “pretty.” She wrote, “I am very fond of pretty flowers; they are pretty to look at; they are prettier than grass; I think the Forget-me-not is the prettiest of all the small flowers.” Others of the girls, mere children, were also questioned, and exhibited the most gratifying intelligence. The boys then answered several questions in Arithmetic and Geography accurately and quickly. Dr. Kay read some letters addressed to him by two or three of the boys, and which were remarkably well written, both as respects grammar and expression. It was then shown how the deaf mute can communicate with the blind. This is done by teaching the blind boy the finger alphabet, and then the deaf mute reads off, as it were, his question, from the former's fingers, who replies on his own. Much amusement was caused by the boys giving their ideas of soldier, sailor, schoolmaster, barber, doctor, &c.; marching and strutting as the first, hoisting sail as the second, caning a boy as the third, shaving as the fourth, feeling the pulse, &c., as the last and on. Two the little girls spoke (if the phrase may be used) a few words by acquired articulation, and the elder girl wrote down a short sentence spoken to her by Dr. Kay, and the words of which she understood by intently watching the movement of his lips, but the Doctor expressed a doubt whether that mode of tuition could ever be carried out to any practical purpose. With this the examination of the pupils concluded.

In around 1853, Mr Webster was succeeded as master by John Clyne, with Mrs Clyne acting as matron of the establishment. In 1862, the Clynes left to open a private college for the deaf and dumb at Clifton. They were replaced by Mr and Mrs Richard Jackson.

In March 1859, the Institution moved a short distance to the premises in Park Row formerly occupied by the University College.

On 25 November 1864, the Institution was authorised to operate as a Certified School, allowing it to receive children boarded out from workhouses by the Poor Law authorities.

In 1873, the charity acquired a site at Tyndall's Park, on which to erect a new building. It was opened on 16 June 1873 and occupied the following August. A contemporary report described the building as follows:


This handsome building is now all but completed, and will he ready for the reception of its inmates by the first week in August. It is intended to accommodate between seventy and eighty children, and there can be no doubt that it will be able to do so, and give them plenty of breathing room. Their new residence will form a very pleasant contrast to the dingy premises in Park-row which have so long been the home of the institution, but which were quite unsuited to its requirements. The newly-built institution is situated at the end of the abort roadway leading into the Park, opposite the Victoria Rooms, and a better position could hardly he desired. The building is Domestic-Gothic in style, and it is built of new red sandstone, agreeably relieved with freestone, the roof being of slate, with ornamental tiles running along the ridge. The front, which faces the north, has a very pretty and indeed striking appearance, the ornamentation of the gables being especially so. The building consists of underground, basement, and two stories. A flight of steps leads to the main entrance porch, which is built of Bath stone, and is moderately ornamental in character. Over the centre of the doorway the Royal arms are nicely carved. The porch leads into a small entrance lobby, paved with encaustic tile. Here the main staircase rises, and runs the whole height of the building, being well lighted from floor to ceiling by the front windows. The stairs are of pitch pine, with oak rails, slightly carved, and oak balustrades. A passage runs the whole length of the ground floor, giving access to the various apartments. On the right of the entrance lobby are the committee-room, and further on the boys' day-room — a nice, lofty apartment — with a teachers' room attached. On the left of the lobby are the matron's room and a girl's day-room, similar to that of the boys on the other aide. Fronting the entrance is the dining-room, 30 feet square and 14 feet high, well lighted by four spacious windows on the south aide of the building. Ascending to the first floor we find a similar passage to that on the ground floor, running from end to end of the building, out of which various rooms open. Facing the staircase is the common schoolroom for boys and girls. It is 30 feet square and 20 feet high, lighted by four large square-headed windows, and a small circular one from the south side of the building. It is especially well ventilated from the ceiling with patent ventilators, and will be a nice cool room. On the right of the passage are the boys' dormitory, and a teacher's-room. The former is 40 feet long, 17 feet wide, and 12 feet high. It is exceedingly well lighted, and is fitted up with wardrobes, fire-places, and other conveniences. On the left side of the passage there are similar rooms for the girls. On the second floor there are two more dormitories for boys end girls, similar in size to the ones beneath, and besides these there are two sick rooms and servants' rooms, all large and airy. Descending to the underground portion of the building we find on the right side a spacious lavatory for the boys, fitted with twenty wash-basins, and a large bath, with appliances for supplying hot and cold water. Next to this is a place set apart for the boys to play in in wet weather, and from this they can gain encase to a large playground, the lower part of which so intended for the larger, and the higher for the smaller boys. A wall divides the boys from the girls' portion of the house, to that they are separated when not at school or in the dining-room. The principal kitchen forms part of the lower apartments on the girls' side. It is fitted up with Gliddon's (Williton, Somerset) registered stove range — a very compact and neat affair, and said to be capable of cooking for one hundred children; an apparatus for steaming, which may be used either for drying clothes or keeping victuals warm. The back kitchen, coal-cellar. and larder are close by; and at the far end there is the girls' lavatory, fitted up similarly to that of the boys. The girls also have a covered playground as well as an open one. The house is lighted throughout with gas, and there is every convenience that experience can suggest. Attached to the institution, and indeed forming a part of it, is a residence for the master, consisting of two kitchens, two sitting-rooms, three bedrooms, and the requisite offices. The whole of the building is surrounded by a dwarf wall, built of the same material as the house, and surmounted by ornamental iron railing. The cost of the building will be about £7,500. The builder is Mr. Gay, of Cotham-park, and he deserves great credit for the substantial and workmanlike style in which the edifice is built. The architect is Mr. J. Bevan, of Nicholas-street, and be may be congratulated upon his successful design, which is not only pleasing to the eye, but affords all the necessary accommodation for the institution.

The Tyndall's Park site is shown on the 1882 map below.

Bristol and District Institution for the Deaf and Dumb site, Bristol, c.1882.

Bristol and District Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, Bristol, Gloucestershire, c.1874.

At the opening of the new building, William Barnes Smith was appointed as headmaster, a post he was to hold for 34 years.

The admission regulations of the institution in 1890 were stated as being:

By application to Hon. Secretary. Candidates should be resident in Bristol or in the adjacent counties. Admission by election of Committee. In the event of there being more candidates than vacancies, subscribers elect the inmates, a subscription of £1. 1s. entitling to one vote. Three classes are eligible for admission : the indigent deaf and dumb, who pay £15 a year; those in better circumstances, who pay £25 a year; and others at £50 a year or upon such terms as Committee deem advisable. Committee have discretion to admit at reduced rate, and to receive extreme cases free. A set of questions according to form has to be answered and attested by minister of applicant's parish. Age of admission, 7 to 12. Donor of £30 in one sum may nominate and admit at next vacancy a candidate at £15 a year. There is a special fund for assisting pupils who, on leaving the Institution, wish to be apprenticed to any trade.

The Institution closed in August 1907 as a result of the Bristol Council having established its own school for the deaf in the city.


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  • Bristol Record Office, 'B' Bond Warehouse (in the 'Create Centre' section from 3-Dec-2013), Smeaton Road, Bristol BS1 6XN. Holdings include Annual reports, Minute Books, Financial Records etc. but no pupil records.