The Finger Spelling alphabet

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 21 November 2014

There is not much written about finger spelling, but in April 1889 Albert Farrar, who had been educated by Arnold at Northampton, wrote an article in Quarterly Review of Deaf-Mute Education on the history of the manual alphabet;

The use of signs and pantomimic gestures is undoubtedly of great antiquity, so much so, that its origin is lost in the obscurity of the distant past. Language has various forms, speech being one, and signs and gestures another, and when we consider how permanent and universal is the faculty of expressing our thoughts in different ways, we may well believe that signs were resorted to as soon as men felt the need of some such expedients to supply the deficiencies of speech, or to facilitate intercourse with other tribes or nations. Some think they preceded speech. We must, however, look on language as a Divine gift, and probably the most reasonable conjecture we can form would be that most of its different forms existed from the first and helped one another till speech, greatly amplified and perfected, became the one medium of intercourse and the highest mode of expression. The “survival of the fittest,” if you like! Signs or gestures were, however, not entirely displaced [...]

Farrar was writing only a few years after the death of Charles Darwin whose views on the origin of language are discussed here and he slips in Spencer’s phrase ‘Survival of the fittest’ that is widely associated with Darwin.  We can dismiss the “Divine gift” idea, but the idea that gesture and signs preceded language is still a major theory.  Farrar points out that the history of the British two handed alphabet was not terribly well known, but reminds us the Bede wrote about such a system in De computo seu Indigitilatione et de Loquela manuali per gestum digitorum [also described as De Computo vel Loguela per Gestum Digitorum].

FarrarFarrar concludes his article

In usage, our manual alphabet is not quite uniform over the country, but the differences are so few and slight as to be unnoticeable, except in v and z.  Both the forms of q in Digiti-Linga are used.  Dr. R. Elliott writes me, “I have every reason to believe the manual alphabet in its present form has always been used in the Asylum (Old Kent Road).  I have met with two of the first six pupils, and the only difference they made on the present usage was, to put the knuckles of the forefingers together with the fingers spread out for v.

We have illustrated older finger alphabets on the blog previously, but today we are inserting the alphabet from Digiti Lingua that is missing from our copy.


Bragg, Lois (1997). Visual-Kinetic Communication in Europe Before 1600: A Survey of Sign Lexicons and Finger Alphabets Prior to the Rise of Deaf Education. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 2:1 Winter 1997 p.1-25 [a very comprehensive survey]

BRIEN, D. Dictionary of British Sign Language/English. 1992, Faber and Faber. p. 849. Fingerspelling in British Sign language.

BRENNAN M. Making borrowings work in British Sign Language. in: BRENTARI D. Foreign vocabulary in sign languages. 2001, Lawrence Erlbaum. pp. 49-85. (Library location: UTB TNX)

FARRAR, A. Our manual alphabet and its predecessors, Quarterly Review of Deaf-Mute Education  1889, Vol. 2 p.33-41

SPENCE, R SUTTON-, WOLL B, ALLSOP L. Variation and recent change in fingerspelling in British Sign Language. Language Variation and Change, 1990, 29(3), 313-330. (Library location: C6845 REF)

SPENCE, R SUTTON-, WOLL B. The status and functional role of fingerspelling in BSL. In MARSCHARK M, CLARK M D. Psychological perspectives on deafness. 1993, Lawrence Erlbaum. pp. 185-208.

SHIPGOOD L E, PRING T R. The difficulties of learning fingerspelling: an experimental investigation with hearing adult learners. European Journal of Disorders of Communication, 1995, 30(4), 401-416.

SPENCE, R SUTTON-. Grammatical constraints on fingerspelled English verb loans in BSL. In LUCAS C. Pinky extension and eye gaze: language use in deaf communities. 1998, Gallaudet University Press. pp. 41-58.


Margate Deaf School London Offices, May 1921

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 14 November 2014

I had no idea that the Margate Deaf School at one time had London offices – in Cannon Street.  I am curious as to why they needed some London presence.  From the calendar I think  the internal photo was taken at 1.18pm on Friday 13th of May.  On that day, had you purchased a copy of the Times, you could have read about the 1921 ‘coal crisis’, and the great Brixton born England cricketer and England footballer Andy Ducat scoring 131 the previous day against Warwickshire at the Oval.

Cannon Street 2

Click onto the images for a larger size.  I cannot make out the face in the photo over the books, but in the second picture St. Paul’s Cathedral is visible through the haze.  Can anyone tell us the name of the ‘school officer’ in the second picture?

Update 18/11/2014 Obviously the offices were useful for administrative reasons, presumably as many pupils were from London rather than just being from Kent, but someone contacted us to say that it drops into place something that her mother had told her.  At the end of the school term they would travel to London from Kent, then be collected from the office.

Cannon Street

Harancour Place; or the Orphan Protected

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 7 November 2014

Harancour Place; or the Orphan Protected is based on a play by the French writer Jean-Nicolas Bouilly (1763-1842), Deaf and dumb : or, The orphan protected. : an historical drama, in five acts.  The story involves the Abbé de l’Epée who rescues the orphaned son of a French aristocrat, the Count de Sola, who has been rejected by his guardian, D’Arlemont.  Everything ends happily as in all good melodramas,  with the hero restored to his inheritance.


This book was published in 1802 as a prose version of the play, presumably cashing in on the success of the English version of the play, put on at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1801. Our copy has some of the pages misnumbered, for which no doubt some poor apprentice got a good beating, and that may explain why the binding is not hard but is parchment. Even more intriguingly, the inside of this parchment has an old legal document written on it, see below.  This was not uncommon, as the bookbinders were careful not to waste valuable material.  It seems to be a will, and you will note that no spaces are left between words so nothing can be added afterwards.  I defer to those of you who are familiar with old hand writing to try to date it or read it – perhaps 18th century?

Will 1

will 2
In 2011 Gallaudet produced a satirical play based on the Bouilly piece.  Bouilly has another link with deafness – he was the author of the libretto that formed the basis of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio.

Brunswick House Hostel, “for Deaf and Dumb Girls who have no homes and are lonely in their affliction”

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 31 October 2014

In 1919 the Brunswick House Hostel for Deaf and Dumb Girls was founded at 19, Beaulieu Villas, Manor Gate, Finsbury park in North London.  It seems that a moving spirit behind the foundation was Mrs Herbert Jones, who was I believe the wife of the Rev. Vernon Jones, Chaplain to the Deaf in North London.  It aimed “to provide a safe and comfortable home for deaf and dumb girls who are alone in the world, or whose relations are unable, or unwilling, to look after them.” (Annual Report 1929, p.1)

In August 1930 they were given six weeks notice to leave Beaulieu Villas as they were required by “the Electric Railway Company, in connection with the new Tube Railway Station  that will be built at Manor Gate, Finsbury Park” (Annual Report, 1930 p.3), but they were fortunate to find a house opposite the St. John of Beverley centre in Green Lanes (see image below).  The house is still there.

Barratt 001 Here is one of the worthy patronesses, Lady Barrett, Chairman of the hostel, who was “Called Home” in 1930.  Other founding members  were Lady Maxwell Lyte, Lady Baddeley (wife of a Lord Mayor of London), Mrs. Edmondson, Mrs. Firminger, Mrs. H.R. Oxley (I am not clear if this was a relative of Selwyn Oxley), Mrs. A. J. Wilson (see earlier entries for her husband), Mrs. Wise, Mrs. Hankey and Mrs. Woods.

I do not wish to belittle the efforts of these people, but for some of them at least it was clearly one of those cases when those with wealth found charitable work that sat comfortably with their weltanschauung.

When the home closed we do not know, but I suspect that the war may have meant they were evacuated, and the improved social welfare of the post-war years saw many changes to these small charities, with closures or state institutions taking over.

Finsbury Hostel 001Annual Reports, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1933, 1938


Update 5/11/2014: Thanks to @DeafHeritageUK for pointing out that we have a couple of photos of the hostel prior to the move, including this one with Selwyn Oxley enjoying tea with the ladies, probably in the early 1920s.

girls hostel Finsbury Park

A 1933 Letter from the League of Nations: Ludwik Rajchman, Medical Director

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 17 October 2014

In a half-filled folio sized scrap book of Selwyn Oxley’s, various letters and odd documents were gathered by him or his wife Kate, from when he first became involved as a ‘missioner to the deaf’ in 1914, through to the 1930s.  Together with a small number of short letters from Dr. Eicholz (who we hope to cover in a future item), there is this letter which appears below.  The League of Nations was conducting an enquiry into Deafness, and Selwyn Oxley obviously wrote to say that he was willing to be of assistance, presumably with information and contacts.  The content of the letter is not particularly interesting, but the author is.

Ludwik Rajchman letter
Ludwik Rajchman (1881-1965) was from another of those remarkable families who produced a number of brilliant people, doctors, engineers and mathematicians.  He was born in Poland, son of the musician Aleksander Rajchman, and became a bacteriologist.  When aged only fourteen he was in trouble for distributing ‘subversive’ literature – educational brochures in Polish, which was suppressed by the Russian rulers (Duchene, 1999).  When he was caught at a banned socialist meeting in 1906, Rajchman was exiled.  After working in Paris at the Institut Pasteur, he became head of the Royal Institute of Public Health in London in 1911, though at the time he spoke no English.  The 1911 census shows him as Ludwig Witold Rajchman*, and he signs his name as such, born in Russian Poland, having been married to Mary Clotilde for six years, with two daughters, Irene Mary born in France in 1909, and Marte Alexandra, eleven months old, born in Austrian Poland.  His computer scientist son Jan Rajchman was born in London later in 1911, so the children came in quick succession.  In 1918 he returned to newly liberated Poland and helped set up the National Institute for Public Health, being so successful that he was asked to become head of the new League of Nations Medical Directorate in 1921 (Duchene, 1999).

The health section persuaded national administrators to co-ordinate statistics, standards, training, research, nutrition and infant care, all of them new fields, especially for international involvement. It made a much bigger impact than any other operational arm of the League and so was dogged by opposition of all kinds, from hostile nations, jealous institutes and conservative officials. (ibid)

After the Second  World War he was for political reasons rejected as a potential head for the WHO, but he went on to help found UNICEF.

Rajchman deserves to be better remembered as one of the great public health workers of the 20th century.

Duchene, Francois, Plotter for progress. Ludwik Rajchman, Medical Statesman by Balitiska, Marta A. (author) -
The Times Literary Supplement (London, England), Friday, February 19, 1999; pg. 28; Issue 5002.  Category: Book Review [accessed 17/10/14]

*Living at 16 Hargreave Villas, Hartswood Road, Stamford Brook Road, London W., with an Austrian Polish servant Tekla Lacheta, Class: RG14; Piece: 200

There is a biography by a grand daughter of his –

Balinska, Marta Aleksandra, For the Good of Humanity: Ludwik Rajchman, Medical Statesman, New York : Central European University Press, 1998
[Held in UCL this in the SSEES Library P.XVIII.3 RAJ BAL]

This book looks potentially interesting –

Borowy, Iris, Coming to Terms with World Health: The League of NationsHealth Organisation, Peter Lang GmbH,  2009



“There are two classes of deaf people” – Charles John Macalister

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 10 October 2014

Charles John Macalister (1860-1943) was the third  son of William Boyd Macalister of Bootle, who was a ship owner.  Charles went into medicine, but chose to study in Edinburgh, before returning to Liverpool.

We are told that he “formed a lifelong attachment to the Royal Southern Hospital, and from 1892 to 1900 was also physician to the Stanley Hospital. He interested himself particularly in children’s diseases and promoted the foundation of the Royal Liverpool Children’s Hospital.” (Lives of the fellows)

He was one of the earliest to recognise the value of ultraviolet therapy.  He also worked for long at the stimulation of healing of wounds and (with Benjamin Moore) at the possibility of anti-neoplastic factors in the embryo and young infant.  He may not have had spectacular success in either of these difficult fields, but undoubtedly his questing mind was a stimulus to his fellow workers. (Lancet Obituary)

He became involved in the Liverpool Institution and the Liverpool Benevolent Society, perhaps originally in his role of (honorary) consulting physician to the school.  He must have been on familiar terms with the great Deaf Liverpudlian, George Healey (1843-1927) Missioner to the Deaf, at the Liverpool Adult Deaf and Dumb Benevolent Society.

What is interesting for us is that from his close association with deaf children in Liverpool, he formulated clear ideas about how they should be best educated.

I have scanned and attached the short article, Deaf Mutes and Their Education, that Macalister published in the Liverpool Medico-Chirurgical Journal in January 1891.  In this article Macalister begins,

In October 1889 I brought before the Medical Institution some points bearing upon the education of deaf mutes, my object then being to show that, for the masses of the deaf, the pure oral system (as recommended by the Royal Commission on the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind, the report of which had just been issued) is not so satisfactory as is the combined method. [p.60]

[...the author reviews the history of deafness and then discusses three main methods of deaf education, signs, oralism and combined...]

In considering the question as to which of these three systems is most suitable as a general means of education for the deaf, we have to take into account that there are two classes of deaf people to deal with, viz., those who are totally deaf and have been so since birth, and those who were once able to hear and speak, or who remain still susceptible to loud sounds.  And, again, we must distinguish very importantly between the rich and the poor, for the means taken to educate the one must be recognised as being sometimes unsuited to the other.  It is not my wish to define which method should be adopted in the case of those that are well-to-do – they can get the advantage of private tuition, and the amount of time spent over their education is not of importance; and I have no doubt that for them, as well as for those who can hear a little, or who were once able to speak, the pure oral system is worthy of adoption, and has met with much success.  [p.70-1]

His view contrasts with that of Patterson in Manchester, who became a late convert to the Oral method of education (see previous blog entry).

Below is the Liverpool School as it appeared a generation before, in 1853.

Liverpool school 001
Obituary, Lancet, 1943 Volume: 242 Issue: 6271 Page: 589- 90

Charles John Macalister [Who Was Who, accessed 10/10/2014]

Lives of the Fellows [accessed 10/10/2014]


‘He was a “father” of the profession’ – Andrew Patterson (1803-83) of Manchester, Teacher of the Deaf

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 3 October 2014

Andrew Patterson was highly regarded in his day as a teacher who had learnt his trade as an assistant to Bingham.  Born in Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1803, he started work in the printing-office of The Berwick Advertiser (Buxton 1885).  On finishing his apprenticeship he moved to London, where for a time he worked alongside Douglas Jerrold, then himself an apprentice.  He left London for Devon, becoming a school-master, there making the acquaintance of Henry Brothers Bingham, who had himself trained with Thomas Braidwood at Edgbaston before becoming the first headmaster of the Exeter Institute (1826-34).  They were were close in age and must have got on as Bingham invited Patterson to join him when he started work at the Manchester.  The Institute, founded in 1825, was “situated in an obscure street on the banks of the Irwell” (Deaf and Dumb Herald) – Stanley Street.  Then the Institute was moved to a more suitable location in Salford and opened officially in June 1837.

For a short period from 1839-41, Patterson ran the school at Newcastle but returned to Manchester as head when Bingham departed, encouraged to found a private school by wealthy parents who did not like to send their offspring to a charitable institution (Bingham, p.14).

Patterson also introduced Sunday services for deaf adults, under the auspices of The Manchester Adult deaf and dumb Society. He remained at the new Salford home of the Institution for most of the remainder of his life, retiring after he had seen through the introduction of oral education in the school.

In his obituary, Buxton calls him an original teacher and a leader,

He had none of the ambitions of a leader, and none of his self-assertiveness; a more modest man never existed. He did the work which came before him because it was the duty of the day. If it became a precedent and formed an example, that had never been in his mind, and furnished no part of his motive. Its modesty enhanced its value, and this excellence it had in common with the work of others – the “fathers” of our profession, indicated in the words with which this article begins.

In a paper read at the Social Science Congress held at Nottingham in September, 1882, and which was published in the Annals for January, 1883, I joined, in the same sentence, speaking of “the oldest teachers of the deaf in England, France, and Italy,” the names of three men who shortly afterwards, within the space of a few months, disappeared from among the ranks of the living.  They had all been sign teachers; all became strong advocates of the Oral System; all, by example and teaching, most strongly influenced the new developments in their respective countries; each was the patriarch amongst the teachers in his own land, and all were at nearly the same time called to their account. [...] Tommaso Pendola, Léon Vaïsse, Andrew Patterson. ((p.20-21). 

Patterson was also a pioneer in the education of the deaf and blind, after being inspired by the account of Charles Dickens writing about the education of Laura Bridgman.  He found a blind child called Mary Bradley in a workhouse, “being teased by the other children with whom she was, screaming and trying to catch some of the offenders” (Deaf & Dumb Herald, p.50).

Mr. Patterson then applied himself to the task of teaching her the names of objects, and after daily efforts during some weeks, and making various experiments to establish a means of communication without any apparent success, he was almost about to give up the matter in despair, when suddenly her countenance brightened up- the connection between the name of the object flashed upon her mind, and from that time she made considerable progress, and at last was able to converse with others; she also wrote letters to him and his family when they were away during the midsummer vacation.

It is interesting to read how Patterson says (at the Milan Congress, quoted by Buxton p.27) he became an Oral advocate only after visiting Mr. Schöntheil’s school after the previous conference – so it seems his was a Damascene conversion.
PattersonBuxton, David, Quarterly Review of Deaf-Mute Education, 1886, 1, 20-30 (reprinted from American Annals of the Deaf, 1885)

Bingham, Fanshawe, A Memoir of Henry Brothers Bingham (ca. 1929)

Deaf & Dumb Herald, 1876 vol 1 no. 4, 49-51 – photograph

Deaf man from Brentwood circa 1920

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 26 September 2014

This gentleman, whose name we do not know, was a carpenter.  On the left we see him in photographer Mr. Hallet’s garden by his dark room, on the right he is in a uniform – we believe it is that of a fireman but the writing on the reverse is unclear.  All we can say is that he was from Brentwood.  Can anyone identify him?Essex man

“urging that the Library should be transferred to Manchester” – The Arnold Library book loans register (1899-1922)

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 12 September 2014

Among the curious mix or archives and books in the library, we have this interesting register that was used to record loans of books by the Arnold Library (1898-1922).  This was the library of the National Association of Teachers for the deaf (N.A.T.D.).  The nucleus was formed by the collection of the late Rev. Thomas Arnold, with additions from Mr J.Howard, Dr William Stainer and others.  In 1905 the librarian was a Mr J.D. Rowan of the Deaf Schools, Versailles Rd, Anerley, which is in south east London.   It seems to have remained there until 1912 when it was taken over by the National Bureau for the Promoting the General Welfare of the Deaf and housed in their rooms at Holborn.

In 1921 we read in The Teacher of the Deaf that there were arguments in the N.A.T.D. over whether the library should stay there.  “A discussion ensued, Messrs. Craig, Greenslade, and B.P. Jones urging that the Library should be transferred to Manchester, while Miss Croghan, Messrs. Addison, Brown and Ince Jones, spoke in favour of the Committee’s recommendation.”  The decision went against a move at that time, but by April 1922 the idea was back on the agenda, being urged now by A.J. Story.  It was agreed to open negotiations and on September 16th the Library Committee reported that the sale was completed for £350.  The sale seems to have been at the time when the National Bureau was at its weakest, just before it was revived.  I believe some books that were not required by Manchester were retained.

Early borrowers of books include Miss E.F. Boultbee, who borrowed Van Praagh’s Lipreading, Miss Bodily who borrowed Peet’s Language Lessons, Frank Barnes, and A. Farrar (a former pupil of Arnold) who borrowed a variety of historical material including the 1880 Milan Congress report.  Below I chose pages from 100 years ago – click for a larger image and see what J.H. Haine of the Hugh Myddelton School and W.C. Roe of Derby were borrowing in the months at the beginning of the Great War.

Arnold LibraryThe Arnold Library Fund, British Deaf Monthly Vol.7, No.79, May 1898

The Teacher of the Deaf, Vol.19 (various issues with the committee reports), Vol. 20, p.57, 157

National Institute for the Deaf Medical Scrapbook, circa 1935

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 5 September 2014

As a conduit & clearing house for information on all aspects of hearing loss and deafness, the National Institute for the Deaf (N.I.D., now Action on Hearing Loss) was careful to gather information or stories that encompassed these topics in the popular press and in academic journals to which they had access.  This scrapbook from 1935 is illustrative of this.  It contains cuttings from a wide variety of papers and journals on medical aspects of hearing loss and deafness.  As it was the 1920s, when the topic of eugenics was extremely popular, many of the stories touch on that, some in favour and some against.

In one image we read about the huge number of Germans who were being sterilised, in the other we see sterilisation arguments in the British press.

Another story from 28th of march 1935 in the Daily Express, says that the Rotherham Schools Medical Officer, Dr. A.C. Turner

believes that more than 1,000 of the children under his care have varying degrees of deafness – but their class-rooms are too noisy for him to find out!

Recently his department bought a portable audiometer – a delicate instrument used in the testing of hearing – and his assistants have been going from school to school searching in vain for a room quiet enough to use the apparatus.
“Before the audiometer can function accurately we must have a room with perfect quiet,” Dr. Turner told me.

“We cannot find one! Each room we have tested has had so many distracting noises that the recordings are incomplete.

“I am advocating an aural clinic in which the audiometer could be installed in a sound-proof room.”

Perhaps someone in the Rotherham area interested in medical history could find out more about Dr. Turner and see if or when he got his room.

Click onto the images for a larger scale view.

scrapbook 1 scrapbook 2