Ancestry UK

Institutions for Deaf Children

Britain's first school for the deaf was Thomas Braidwood's Academy for the Deaf and Dumb, founded in Edinburgh in 1760. As well as using existing techniques such as teaching his pupils to write, finger spell, speak and lip-read, Braidwood is credited with devising a system of hand gestures, an approach which eventually evolved into the British Sign Language.

In 1783, Braidwood moved to London and opened a school in Hackney, where he was assisted by his nephew, Joseph Watson. In 1792, Watson was appointed as Principal of the newly established Asylum for the Support and Education of the Deaf and Dumb Children of the Poor — the country's first public institution for such children. Later based in Margate and known as the Royal School for Deaf Children, the institution continued in operation until 2015.

In 1810, the Edinburgh Institution for the Deaf and Dumb began operation, with Thomas Braidwood's grandson, John, briefly as its headmaster.

In 1812, the Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb (later known as the Royal Institution for the Instruction of Deaf Children) was established in Edgbaston, Birmingham, with another of Thomas Braidwood's grandsons, also named Thomas, appointed as the teacher.

Glasgow's Deaf and Dumb Institution was founded in 1819 by John Anderson and occupied a building in Townhead, on the Barony Glebe.

Further institutions which received deaf children followed in Manchester (1823), Liverpool (1825), Exeter (1827), Doncaster (1829), Belfast (1831), Newcastle (1838), Cork (1839), Preston (1840), Bristol and Brighton(1841), Rugby and Bath (1842), Dundee (1846), and Swansea and Aberystwyth (1847). These early establishments were protective places and gave children very limited contact with the outside world. The education they provided was rather basic, and although they offered some practical training, many of their inmates subsequently failed to find employment and ended up destitute.

Two homes were set up for children of particular faiths. In 1863, the Jews' Deaf and Dumb Home was opened in Whitechapel, moving in 1875 to Notting Hill, and in 1899 to Wandsworth. The St John's Institution for Deaf and Dumb Catholic Children was founded in 1870 by a Belgian priest, Canon Désiré de Haerne, and run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul. Its first premises were at Handsworth Woodhouse, near Sheffield, but it moved into a new building in Boston Spa in 1875.

The various institutions varied as to whether they preferred to teach the 'silent' (or'French') system (based around sign language and finger-spelling) or the 'oral' (or 'German') system (based on vocal articulation and lip-reading), or some combination of the two. Following an influential conference in Milan in 1880, the oral method came to dominate much of the instruction of deaf children.

Of the national children's charities, the Barnardo's Home for Deaf and Dumb Girls, opened in 1900 at 51 Mare Street, Hackney, was the only one at that period which provided facilities for such children. It later became mixed and also added provision for blind and physically disabled children.

From the 1870s onwards, a number of local School Boards began to make provision for deaf children. One of the first was the London School Board which, in 1875, established a number of day centres for deaf children, in collaboration with Dr Stainer's Homes. In 1903, the Board opened a residential home in Anerley, to provide technical training for older boys. A home for girls was opened in 1905 at Oak Lodge, Wandsworth, next door to the Jews' Deaf and Dumb Home. After the Anerley home closed in 1957, Oak Lodge became mixed and continues to provide a residential and day school for students with hearing, speech and communication needs. In 1900, the London County Council opened its Home for Deaf Children in Homerton, which subsequently became the only such establishment to be certified as an Industrial School. The home moved to Buckinghamshire in 1921 and became known as Rayners School, later acting as the only Approved School for deaf children

In Scotland, the Greenock School Board opened a daily school for deaf children in 1883 in a room at the Glebe School, Crawford Street, which absorbed the pupils of the establishment started in 1878 by Alexander Graham Bell. At Dundee, in 1885, despite the existence of the town's Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, the Dundee Board, which disliked the Institution's use of the manual system, opened its own oral-based day school. The School Board at Govan started a class for deaf children in its Copeland Road School.

Over the next century, education for the deaf was increasingly provided by local authorities, and was increasinly integrated into the state educational system.