Liverpool School for the Deaf and Dumb, Liverpool, Lancashire
The Liverpool School for the Deaf and Dumb owed its founding to a local businessman, Edward Comer, who in 1824 heard an evening lecture on the subject by the superintendent of the Dublin Institution. Initially, he tried to organise matters on his own by employing a master to give daily instruction to four children. After this proved an unsatisfactory arrangement, he paid for the use of residential accommodation where twelve children were housed and taught. His scheme attracted public support and a meeting was held to form a management committee and raise funds. The School's date of foundation is usually given as 1825, although its first Annual General meeting did not take place until April 1828.
The School initially occupied premises on Wood Street, Liverpool, where ‐ unusually for that time — day scholars were provided with free education and a daily dinner. The first headmaster was John Anderson, previously head of the Glasgow Deaf Institution, who was tempted to move to Liverpool by the extremely handsome salary of £250 a year. He was succeeded in 1830 by Mr J.C. Scott at the rather more modest remuneration of £110. The number of pupils then on the books was then 25. More than half of them had attended Sunday services at St Michael's church — it was said that 'the ritual of the Church of England, from its periodical changes of posture and prescribed regularity, is peculiarly adapted to those who join in its services with the eye and not with the ear.' In the same year, an Evening School was opened for other pupils, and land and premises adjoining the existing building were purchased with a view to enlarging the School when funds allowed.
The subscribers' Annual Meeting in March 1838 was told that there were thirty-five boys and fourteen girls in the school, with nineteen of boarding in the lodging-house. The new master, Mr James Rhind, had introduced the practice of articulation into the instruction at the School. A gymnasium had recently been created beneath the school room, with exercise there being allowed as a reward for good conduct and attention in school.
Each year, pupils at the School gave a public exhibition of their abilities. Below is a report of the proceedings in 1838.
Mr. Rhind, the master of the school, called up the first or lowest class, consisting of little boys about eight years of age. The first thing they taught them was to learn to write. The deaf and dumb, when they spoke, always expressed the idea by the countenance. Mr. Rhind then expressed several short words by signs to the pupils, which they wrote with chalk on a board placed at the back of the platform. He then called up the second class who were advanced to short and easy sentences, such as “what is your name?” “Are you fond of school?” &c., which the children wrote with great readiness on the board. One of the boys, on being asked what he learned, replied, he “learnt to write, and read, and cypher, and understand Latin.” Several similar questions were put to them, and their ready answers appeared to give much satisfaction. He then called up the third or head class; it consisted of about an equal number of boys and girls. They were asked questions of an abstruse nature; as “ What is sugar?” to which a girl answered “Sugar is a sweet substance obtained from the sugar cane.” “Where does the sugar cane grow?” “In the West Indies,” “What is tea ?” “Tea is a plant which grows in China.” “How is tea made?” “The leaves of the tea tree are picked, dried, and packed in boxes, and brought to this country in ships; it is infused by pouring boiling water upon it, and used for breakfast and in the afternoon.” This was the written reply of a remarkably intelligent looking girl. A number of questions of a similar kind were put to both boys and girls, which they answered in a similarly satisfactory manner. The master said, in order to prove that these questions were not prepared, he should be glad if any of the company would ask them questions. A number of questions were then put to them, some of which they answered, and in some of which they failed. They were then questioned on subjects of a religious character, in which they showed a pleasing and remarkable proficiency, readily finding required texts, in answer to such questions as, “Whom does the Bible say created the world?” &c.
The pupils were next questioned on subjects relating to geography, in which science they have received but a few lessons. Mr. Rhind requested one of tho boys to trace the outline of a map upon the canvass, and on the company requesting him (the boy) to show the situation of Liverpool, Bristol, Isle of Man, Isle of Wight, London, and several other towns, he did so with the greatest exactness. Several interesting questions were put, and answered in a manner which reflects the highest praise upon Mr. Rhind as a teacher.
Mr. Rhind next proceeded to show the principle upon which articulation was taught them when dumb. They treated them upon the power of the vowels, not the sound. The teaching of articulation was an entirely mechanical process; which was accomplished by placing the finger of the scholar upon the throat of a person whilst talking, which made him acquainted with the particular movement of the larynx, and by pressing the tongue to the teeth on the roof of the mouth, &c. Mr. R. here entered into a very interesting explanation of the system of teaching articulation, and after showing the great advantage of this system over others, requested the scholars to articulate the Lord's prayer, which, considering the great infirmity under which they laboured, they did in a very clear, intelligible manner, each one taking a sentence. After this had been gone through, a boy, about ten years of age, came forward, and delivered the following address, in a manner which elicited the warmest approbation:—
“Ladies and Gentlemen,—Permit us humbly and respectfully to solicit your patient and indulgent ear, while we attempt to express, in words, our gratitude for the kind support which you have hitherto afforded to the School for the Deaf and Dumb, and entreat a continuance of the same on behalf of our schoo1-felows, and all those who are similarly situated to ourselves, that they may experience corresponding advantages to those which we enjoy.
“Without your fostering care we might have lived in ignorance, and grown up a burden to society and useless to ourselves. —a grief to our friends, and a terror to those around us; but through your liberal bounty we have been rescued from mental darkness, taught to distinguish between right end wrong, and made capable to hold intercourse with our more favoured fellow creatures, who are not suffering under the privation of hearing and of speech; and by your generous aid we have been enabled to read and understand the Sacred Scriptures, from which we have been instructed in our duty to God, our neighbours, and ourselves, and become acquainted with that Saviour, through faith in whom all who believe may obtain salvation.
“The institution has been established about thirteen years, and contains, at present, forty-nine pupils. Until a few months since, I was unable to utter a syllable, now we are ALL learning to SPEAK, and I feel grateful to Almighty God for having put it into the hearts of Christian people to provide instruction for the deaf and dumb. We heartily thank you, kind friends of the institution, for what you have done for us, and we hope that all deaf mutes may succeed in obtaining admission where they may be taught how to be useful and happy in this life, and made wise in those things which concern our everlasting peace.”
At the 1839 Annual Meeting, it was announced that the Liverpool council had granted the School two thousand square yards of land on which to erect a new school for one hundred children. The site had previously been the northern section of the old Botanic Gardens, at what is now the east side of the junction of Oxford Street and Melville Place. The new building was occupied in October 1840.
The School site is shown on the 1905 map below.
James Rhind resigned as Principal in 1851 to focus on the teaching of private pupils.
In 1890, the object and admission regulations for the School were stated as follows:
From around 1902, the education of all the School's children was taken over by the Liverpool School Board in a new building located close by, between Crown Street and Olive Street (see map above). The exiting building was then entirely used as a boarding establishment.
In 1927, the institution was renamed Liverpool School for the Deaf and moved to Lancaster Road, Birkdale, while the Oxford Street premises became a 'Hostel for the Deaf'.
In 1948, it became then the Liverpool School for the Partially Deaf. Further name changes came in 1957, to the School for the Partially Hearing, Birkdale, and then in 1973 to Birkdale School for Hearing Impaired Children. The School finally closed in July 2003.
The Oxford Street building no longer exists. In 2019, the Birkdale premises were standing empty.
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.
- Liverpool Record Office and Local History Service, Central Library, William Brown Street, Liverpool L3 8EW.
- 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)
- None identified at present.
Except where indicated, this page () © Peter Higginbotham. Contents may not be reproduced without permission.