Ancestry UK

School for the Deaf and Dumb, Llandaff, Glamorgan, Wales

The Llandaff School for the Deaf and Dumb was founded in 1862 by Alexander Melville, who, for the previous three years had been the head of the Cambrian Institution for the Deaf and Dumb in Swansea. The Llandaff School was only the second such establishment to be founded in Wales.

The School opened on 6 October 1862 somewhere in the vicinity of Llandaff Cathedral, about two miles to the north-west of central Cardiff. In the summer of 1865, the establishment moved to larger premises at 'Clarendon House, Penhill' — a property at the western end of Romilly Crescent, Llandaff. In the School's 1866 annual report it was recorded that "we have now a large and airy school-room, excellent dormitories, and play-grounds, both open and covered."

In 1865, Melville married Hannah Louisa Chappell, a deaf woman he had known for many years, who had attended the London Deaf Asylum, on Old Kent Road. It has been suggested that her financial resources enabled the purchase of Clarendon House.

The 1868 report noted that the girls were trained in household work, instructed in plain needlework, mended their own and the boys' clothes, helped to make their own dresses. The School had been give a quarter acre plot on which it was planned to engage the boys in cultivating.

In 1871, the Marquis of Bute discharged the School's then debt of £195.

In 1877, a lengthy newspaper report described a visit to the School. An abridged version is included below:


Walking from the little green gate to the door of the establishment, which, by the way, is a long two-story building, presenting the appearance of a semi-detached villa, surrounded by a garden, the summons from the bell is quickly answered by a trim-looking waiting-maid, who ushers you, without further to-do, into the presence of the superintendent, Mr Alexander Melville, who is only too proud to receive visitors to his "home," and is never so happy as when he is showing them the results which have accrued from a small beginning, and the progress his "children,"as he loves to call them, have made in their studies, which are so carefully attended to by those appointed to instruct the happy, though heavily afflicted, inmates. From Mr Melville the visitor soon learns the history and the present position of this useful institution. The Llandaff School for the Deaf and Dumb was inaugurated in 1862, and is now in its 15th year of existence. At present there are 20 children, boys and girls whose ages range from seven to 18 years, in the establishment. Twelve applications have been received for admission this year, but, owing partly to insufficient accommodation and to the state of the funds, Mr Melville was compelled to refuse them. Having obtained an insight into the position of affairs, you are kindly shown over by Mr Melville. First of all it may be mentioned that the girls occupy one portion of the building and the boys the other. Entering the girl's workroom you find the occupants busily at work, some sewing, others knitting, crocheting, and darning. They all rise as the visitor enters, showing how thoughtfully they have been drilled but quickly and unostentatiously resume their occupations. The room is comfortable, and prints of a sacred character are hung on the walls, not only here, but throughout the building. Passing through the corridors you enter the new schoolroom, which has recently been erected. It is now in full use, is very commodious, and fitted up with desks, the walls being painted and used as blackboards. On the arrival of a visitor the children are called away from their various avocations to the schoolroom, where they are seated in readiness for any examination which they may be put through. When they are altogether you have a good opportunity of judging their appearance, and they are not a little proud when they are noticed, and called upon to exhibit their aptitude in what they have learnt. They are all scrupulously clean; the boys in neat suits are seated at desks on one side, and the girls, in white pinafores on the other. The oldest lad is 18, and there was a world of fun about his face when he happened to be particularly smart in answering questions of a scriptural or arithmetical nature, as the case might be, on the blackboard. The youngest boy was evidently possessed of a happy nature, and the little fellow's efforts to attract the attention of his teacher, Mr Williams, and his anxiety to prove himself not behind his companions in the various accomplishments were quite refreshing. Mr Melville pointed with pride to one of the eldest girls as the cleverest of the lot, and certainly she carried off the laurels in the examination which ensued. The youngest girl was a little dot with brown hair, and an impressive little face, on which a smile ever played. She eyed us as we entered the schoolroom, and after satisfying her curiosity was soon clinging to the side of Mr Melville, and making signs that she also wished to distinguish herself. And she did, too, for her knowledge of the names of animals and other things, young as she was, was not only astonishing, but intimated to us that the seeds of a really substantial education were being engrafted in her young mind. We inspected the handwriting of the children, who were in great glee when we expressed our pleasure at their caligraphy. We left the schoolroom well pleased with what we had witnessed, and the children were dismissed to their work. The whole management of the institution is under the direction of Mr Melville, who is ably assisted by Mrs Melville, Miss Cuzuer, and Mr Williams. Proceeding upstairs we entered the new boys' dormitory, a very spacious room fitted with little bedsteads and every accommodation. The fresh air sweeps through the room, which smells sweet and wholesome, and, as the late Rev. Charles Cook remarked to Mr Melville, "There is nothing of the hospital about it." The numerous alterations which have been carried out have greatly improved the institution. There is now a room which, in case of emergency, would be turned into a hospital for the sick, and a commodious visitors' room will shortly be completed. The establishment is now entirely free from debt. The freehold has been purchased, not a penny is owing to anyone, and neither will there be, for Mr Melville's guiding motto is "Owe no man anything, but to love one another." Of the £1,000 and over which was subscribed for the Llandaff Deaf and Dumb Institution the greater part of it, if not all, has been swallowed up in the purchase of the freehold and the carrying out of improvements. The consequence is that the funds are ebbing rapidly, and more must be obtained. Proceeding to the back part of the premises we came across a narrow covered playground for the boys, which Mr Melville informed us was once a skittle-alley, one portion of the buildings in days long gone by having been a double-licensed house, and evidently a well-known one, for our kind conductor told us that people have knocked at the door for quarts of beer since the institution has been established, and that he was constrained to recommend the would-be buyers to exhaust their pence in the purchase of "Old Jonathan." From the covered play-ground we proceeded alongside a low built row of houses. Only one of them is now occupied, the former occupants having been far from respectable, and Mr Melville felt called upon to remove them. Thus any contaminating influence has been removed from the children in the institution, and the houses are now utilised as much as possible by Mr Melville. There is a carpenter's shop, a wash-house, a bathroom, and everything is in apple-pie order. Among other things, most of the bread consumed by the inmates is baked at the institution twice a week, but the oven being too small, some portion of the "staff of life" has to be purchased. There is one matter that we must not forget to call attention to. It has been the custom of the large coal-owners of Cardiff to present the institution with coals. Such gifts were very much appreciated but, unfortunately, this year, they have been discontinued, for some unaccountable reason. It is very probable that it has been an oversight, and that when this letter comes before the notice of tins coal-owners there will be no lack of coals at the Llandaff Deaf and Dumb Institution in future. At the rear of the buildings there is a large green, used as a recreation ground, and which is protected by a stoutly banked enclosure. Adjoining is an extensive vegetable garden, where found most of the boys working. It is well stocked with all kinds of vegetables, and has proved a profitable undertaking. Retracing our steps to the girls' department, we find it on the same principle as the boys. This brief sketch of the institution will, perhaps, give the public some idea of the routine of the establishment. Every one of the inmates are employed in work healthy both for the mind and the body. They receive their educational instruction from ten to one in the morning, three to five in the afternoon, and six till half-past seven in the evening, the intervals being occupied with the work we have already described.

The School site is shown on the 1880 map below.

School for the Deaf and Dumb site, Llandaff, c.1880.

Like most such institutions, the pupils were occasionally subjected to a public examination of their attainments — something which generally proved beneficial to he School's fund-raising efforts. They could also be put through their paces for the benefit of visitors to the School, as recorded in this report from 1883:

There was a special examination on my account, and I shall never forget the pleased faces of these bright little pupils as they disclosed, for my edification, their stores of knowledge, and their educational acquirements. The lowest class can write and cypher — wonderful accomplishments when it is considered that the bulk of them could not spell their own names — in fact, were not aware they ever had any — when they were admitted to the school. The second and third classes, I found, were as forward, so far as writing and cyphering and reading are concerned, as children with all their faculties about them, which is evidence incontrovertible of the attention bestowed on their training. In the first class the scholars are more than ordinarily intelligent. They can count money, do arithmetic as far as practice, and are as well informed upon the topics of the day as any other children of their age. In answer to several questions which I put they wrote down in clear, flowing hand-writing that Cardiff and Swansea were the principal towns in Wales, and that they were both noted for their ships. They knew all about coal, its value, its shipment, and its sources. It was with some trepidation I asked did they know what newspapers were? but an affirmative answer came readily from all, accompanied by a merry twinkling of eyes at my simplicity in propounding such a question. "What do newspaper contain?" I ventured to proceed. Down went the words "Accidents," "Murders," "Wrecks," "Riots in Ireland," "Wars," &c., according to individual ideas, I dare say, of what was good reading in the cases of the respective respondents. Asked where the recent war had been, one girl, who can articulate, could not wait for the slow process of the chalk and the blackboard — or rather the coloured wall which does duty for it — and blurted out "Egypt" before one could say the immemorial "Jack Robinson." They also knew that there were trouble and bloodshed in Zululand — one wrote it Zulu, but it was immediately corrected by another — and some asserted that Cetewayo was a "tyrant," "nearly a cannibal," "a very cruel man," and "a savage." I thought they might one day find out that even this much-abused monarch was a good deal more black than he was painted, but I held my peace, I then inspected the saving-bank books, and was surprised to find that every one of the pupils had an account at the post-office savings' bank and that the deposits were from 5s to £1 13s. Having taken a peep at the well-ventilated and really spacious dormitories, and perambulated the grounds, paying particular attention to the cultivated kitchen garden — the boys are the sole gardeners — I left the institution strongly impressed with its unpretending and character.

As the above extract illustrates, the instruction in the School was largely manual but training in vocal articulation was also in evidence.

Hannah Melville died in 1885 and not long afterwards Alexander, then aged 64, married Elizabeth Wilson, the author in 1881 of the book Lights and Shadows of Ancient European Mythology, Language, and History, which had received rather less the flattering reviews. Elizabeth appears to have largely taken over the running of the School.

In 1890, the admission regulations for the School were stated as being:

By application to the trustees and payment. No recommendation is necessary. Every child admitted must be deaf and dumb; not under 7 years of age; not deficient in intellect; not subject to fits; not labouring, under any infectious disorder; and have been vaccinated or had the smallpox. Charge never exceeds £10 a year; in many cases it is less. Clothing must be supplied by friends. Inmates remain on an average about 5 years, when they are put to trades. Paupers are eligible. Priority is given to cases from Wales and Monmouthshire.

In 1892 it was reported that since the School's opening, a total of 117 pupils had been received, 31 of whom were currently resident. Of the previous seven who had left, all were doing well. Two were at Maple's as French polishers, one has gone to a wall-paper manufacturer's, one was a weaver, one a carpenter, one a shoemaker, and one worked alternately at coal mining and tin-plate work.

Alexander Melville died in April 1891 and Elizabeth continued to run the School until her death in 1904. The School struggled on for another two years but in 1906, its management committee decided to close the establishment.


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