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A CODA – Child of Deaf Adults – Lon Chaney

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 20 April 2018

Many children of deaf people are hearing.  In deaf studies they are sometimes called CODAs – Children of Deaf Adults.  Being a CODA has its own set of issues and problems growing up, but it also has some advantages.  A CODA child will often be roped in to interpret between parents and officials, doctors, or the world in general, but it can also give them a foot in two cultures.  One example mentioned many times in these blog pages, is the Rev. Fred Gilby.  His parents were discover that he was not Deaf, and he learnt to sign when other children were beginning to speak (memoirs p.8).

Another such child, was the famous actor, Leonidas Frank “Lon” Chaney (1883-1930).  His mother, Emma, was Deaf, the daughter of Jonathan Kennedy, a farmer from Illinois, and from the birthplaces of his children you can see how their family typified the movement of settlers west onto the prairie; Ohio, then Kansas, then Emma married in Colorado where Lon was born.  Emma’s sister Matilda and brother Orange were also Deaf.  Jonathan Kennedy founded the Colorado Deaf School in 1874, no doubt because of his Deaf children.  We have some U.S.A. institution annual reports, but not those for Colorado unfortunately.

Chaney’s father, Frank, a barber, was also Deaf, and born in Ohio.  He met Emma at the Colorado school.  It seems that Chaney was a very private man, and there are many gaps in his early life, where comparatively little is known.

It may be that his facial expressiveness was part of a skill set he acquired when communicating with his parents, then used in his theatrical life.  He certainly put his abilities to great use in silent films, portraying, for example, the deaf Quasimodo, in the 1923 film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

I have not had time to delve into his life, so I cannot say whether he was a true signer or not.  If you know, please comment with a source for any reference and I will update this.

Lon Chaney, the ‘Man of a Thousand Faces’ (source of photo unknown)

If you know the song ‘Werewolves of London, you may recall he gets a mention –

“I saw Lon Chaney walking with the Queen

Doing the Werewolves of London.”

Though he was the Phantom of the Opera, and his son was the Wolf Man!

See www.ancestry.co.uk for his family tree

“Brandy for giddiness, 2s” – Jonathan Swift’s Meniere’s Disease

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 13 April 2018

One of the great writers of English, Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) was plagued for much of his life by bouts of giddiness, and by increasing deafness, though in many other respects he was healthy and lived to the age of seventy-seven.  It sometimes incapacitated him for long periods.

In August 1727 he wrote to Lady Henrietta Howard,

About two hours before you were born, I got my giddiness by eating a hundred golden pippins at a time at Richmond, and, when you were five years and a quarter old, baiting 2 days, I got my deafness, and these two friends, one or other, have visited me, every year since: and being old acquaintances, have now thought fit to come together.

It seems to have begun when he was twenty, according to the autobiographical notes in Forster’s biography (p.27),  but there, there is a footnote inserted that says Swift had added, “in 1690.”  The word ‘hours’ in the letter to Henrietta Howard may be an error for, or misreading of, ‘years,’ or it could be he had forgotten precisely when it happenened.

At first he self-medicated – on the 16th of November, 1708, he wrote “Brandy for giddiness, 2s.”

Bucknill (p.495-6) quotes Swift’s ‘Journal to Stella’ for October 1710: “This morning, sitting in my bed, I had a fit of giddiness; the room turned round for about a minute and then it went off leaving me sickish, but not very.  I saw Dr. Cockburn to-day, and he promises to send me the pills that did me good last year; and likewise has promised me an oil for my ears, that he has been making for that ailment for somebody else.”  The diagnosis seems to be that he had Ménière’s disease (see Bucknill and Bewley).

Some years after the letter, several newspapers published a poem that Swift had written about his illness, both in Latin and in English (Grub Street Journal, Thursday, November 14, 1734; Issue 255), although the version with the answers seems to be later –

Vertiginosus, inops, surdus, male gratus amicis;
Non campana sonans, tonitru non ab Jove missum,
Quod mage mirandum, saltem si credere fas est,
Non clamosa meas mulier jam percutit aures.

DOCTOR: Deaf, giddy, helpless, left alone.
ANSWER: Except the first, the fault’s your own.
DOCTOR: To all my friends a burden grown.
ANSWER: Because to few you will be shewn.
Give them good wine, and meat to stuff,
You may have company enough.
DOCTOR: No more I hear my church’s bell,
Than if it rang out for my knell.
ANSWER: Then write and read, ’twill do as well.
DOCTOR: At thunder now no more I start,
Than at the rumbling of a cart.
ANSWER: Think then of thunder when you fart.
DOCTOR: Nay, what’s incredible, alack!
No more I hear a woman’s clack.
ANSWER: A woman’s clack, if I have skill,
Sounds somewhat like a throwster’s mill;
But louder than a bell, or thunder:
That does, I own, increase my wonder.

Although he lived to a good age, Swift’s final few years seem to have found him the victim of what Bewley calls, ‘terminal dementia’ (p.604).
Bewley, Thomas, The health of Jonathan Swift.  J. R. Soc. Med. 1998;91 :602-605

Bucknill JC. Dean Swift’s disease. Brain 1881;4:493-506

Forster, John, The Life of Jonathan Swift, Volume 1

The Works of the English Poets. With Prefaces, Biographical and …, Volume 40

Three Deaf Tailors of Plymouth

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 6 April 2018

This photo, shows three tailors of Plymouth who were deaf.  The photo probably dates from 1910/20.  It is possible that one of men, on the right or in the centre, may be Edward John Tavenor (1855-1938), who was born in Plymouth, but attended the Old Kent Road Asylum where he is listed in the 1871 census.  Perhaps those in the photograph are a little young looking, but perhaps the photo is a little older than my guess.

At any rate, Edward was not born deaf according to the 1861 census, and so he probably lost his hearing having already acquired some speech.  He was involved in the local Plymouth and District Deaf and Dumb Mission for a number of years as a member of the committee.  At that time the missioner was Hiram Blount, who was himself deaf.  Edward married a Deaf lady, Susannah Creber, in 1880.  I am not sure if she was educated locally or not.

I have touched on the Plymouth Mission before, and there is a rich seam of Deaf history to be mined here.

1861 Census – Class: RG 9; Piece: 1442; Folio: 68; Page: 56; GSU roll: 542813 (Edward)

1861 Census – Class: RG 9; Piece: 1454; Folio: 85; Page: 27; GSU roll: 542815 (Susannah)

1871 Census – Class: RG10; Piece: 601; Folio: 112; Page: 5; GSU roll: 818907

1891 Census – Class: RG12; Piece: 1744; Folio: 140; Page: 43

1901 Census – Class: RG13; Piece: 2093; Folio: 27; Page: 46

1911 Census – Class: RG12; Piece: 1725; Folio: 24; Page: 42

Plymouth Mission Annual Reports for 1915, 1916, 1919, 1920, 1922, 1924 (we have incomplete holdings)

“Edmond Searle, lately deceased, was so famous at curing all sorts of Deafness” – the Searls of Pye Corner & their Rival, Graves Overton

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 23 March 2018

Last year while searching for something completely different, I came across the name Margaret Searl or Searle, around 1700, in Smithfield, London.  She has a brief mention in the excellent book by C.J.S. Thompson, The Quacks of Old London (Barnes and Noble, 1993).  She was the last of her family it seems, who had carried out a business near Pye Corner, which is where the Great Fire of London ended. What we can glean from advertisements of the time, on Bills that survive and in contemporary newspapers, is that her father Edmund or Edmond, together with his nephew we must assume, Samuel, set up in business from at least 1668, ‘curing deafness.’  The first record I have come across for Edmund, is his burial on the 7th of July, 1695, at St. Sepulchre’s Church, Holborn, which is opposite the Old Bailey.  His son, Samuel, was buried in the same church on the 17th of December, 1699.

Unfortunately for Samuel’s widow Margaret, who was I assume his cousin, a former servant or apprentice of Edmund’s, Graves Overton, gave out that Margaret was dead, and that he had the secret of the deafness cure [I reproduce the text with the orthography of the original] –

WHereas Mr. Edmond Searle, lately deceased, was so famous at curing all sorts of Deafness, this is therefore to Advertise all Persons that Graves Overton, his only Servant , lives at the Hand and Ear in Pye Corner, alias Gilt-spur-street, near Newgate, where he performs the same Cures by his Masters secret Method. There being now, none of his Masters Family living but himself, that performs the said Cure. (Friday the 1st. of March, 1700, Old Bailey Records)

Another advertisement says, “Graves Overton, who Cures Deafness and is the only Surviving Servant of Mr. Edmund Searle, who was famous in that art, lives at the Hand and Ear in Pye Corner, next Giltspur Street.” (May 29, 1701)

He must have had the first advertisement for a while in 1700, as a month before that, this riposte appeared in The Post Boy (Issue 753) refering to ‘The [Old Bailey] Sessions paper’ –

This ding-dong of rivalry must have gone on for a while.  Here is the text of one of Margaret’s bills which survive –

Margaret Searl, Wife to the late Samuel Searl, Famous for Relieving and Curing deafness, Depending on any External Obstruction Of the Organ of the Ear; Who had Practised This art above Thirty Eight Years past, and Communicated the Secret to me only, who Practis’d it with him, in his Life time, for many Years, after the same Way and Method. Still living in Pye-Corner, over-against the Golden Ball, by West-Smithfield, London; (though it is Reported that I was Dead, by some Pretenders to deceive the World) where I am ready, upon any Occasion of that Nature, to serve such as apply themselves to me: Being the Surviver of my Father Edmund Searl, and late Husband Samuel Searl. Whereas several Servants of my Father Edmund Searl, have put out Bills for Curing of deafness. This is to Certifie, That neither my Father, or Husband, ever Instructed, or Communicated this Secret to any of their Servants, or any Apprentice whatsoever. (1706, 18th Century Collections Online)

When Overton’s daughter Mary was baptised, on 17/12/1693-1694, he was living with his wife Rebecca on Snow Hill, just around the corner, and they were still there when his son John was born in 1696.  Overton had married Rebecca Walserd in Temple Church, on the 25th of November, 1692.  Overton died in 1704, and was buried at St. Sepulchre’s on the 4th of March.

Poor Margaret Searl – the quacks multiplied, as they tend to, and it seems Overton was not her only rival, for in The Post Boy for January 16th, 1701, we read (with spellings accurately rendered),

WHereas Graves Overton does put out Bil’s for Curing of Deafness; This is to certify all People, that Mr. Edmund Searl declared before his death, that he never did instruct him in that Art, especially being a Turn-over to him, nor any other of his Apprentices that were bound to him, if they would have given Two hundred Pounds down, as can be Attested by several Persons. Neither did Mr. Samuel Searl ever instruct Thomas Lamb, his Brother-in-Law in Curing of Deafness, nor any thing but a Barber’s Trade, nor any other Person but his Wife, who (being the Survivor of those two famous Men) lives still at the Old House in Pye-Corner, who practis’d with her late Husband Samuel Searl in his Life-time, and now does after the same Way and Method with good success.

From this then we learn the not surprising fact that the Searls (also sometimes ‘Serle’) were barbers, the trade with which surgeons in England had a close association for 200 years.  I wonder if he had any association with St. Bartholomew’s Hospital which is right opposite Pye Corner.  At any rate, it is perhaps unfair to call them quacks as their deafness ‘cures’ were probably harmless, while a doctor of the time was far more likely to kill you.

Margaret Searl[e] was buried in St. Sepulchre’s on the 29th of March, 1709/10, and what became of the ‘cure’ we can only guess!

London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Church of England Parish Registers, 1538-1812; Reference Number: P69/SEP/A/001/MS07219/003

Post Boy (1695) (London, England), February 3, 1700 – February 6, 1700; Issue 753.

Post Boy (1695) (London, England), March 12, 1700 – March 14, 1700; Issue 769.

Post Man and the Historical Account (London, England), September 24, 1700 – September 26, 1700

Post Boy (1695) (London, England), January 14, 1701 – January 16, 1701; Issue 901.

Post Boy (1695) (London, England), May 27, 1701 – May 29, 1701; Issue 940

Title: Samuel Searl, famous for relieving and curing deafness, depending on any external obstruction of the organ of the ear; Date: 1680-1689 Reel position: Tract Supplement / E8:1[75]

Title: Margaret Searl, wife to the late Samuel Searl, famous for relieving and curing deafness, … Date: 1706 Reel position: Tract Supplement / E8:2[59]

A Deaf suffragist – Kate Harvey 1862-1946

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 16 March 2018

Born Felicia Catherine Glanvill, but also known as ‘Glanville’ and as ‘Kate,’ little is known about the youth of this deaf suffragist.  Her father’s familiy was from East Surrey, her grandfather being a ‘philosophical instrument maker.’  She was born in Peckham in 1862, and named after her mother, Felicia Catherine La Thangue, whose father was a mariner.  Her mother died when she was young, in 1870, and her father Frederick then died when she was about sixteen, in 1879.  Grandmother Felicia, her mother’s mother, was described as a Professor of Music on the 1871 census, and I wonder if she took over care of her three grand daughters.  At any rate I was unable to find the three sisters on the 1881 census, so all we can say about her is that she lost her hearing at some point after 1871, probably as a result of illness but after acquiring speech.  She was certainly not noted as ‘deaf’ on the 1901 census, but, as said on many occasions in these pages, that does not always reflect the reality of a person’s hearing loss.

At some point in her 20s, where and when I cannot say, she met met Frank Harvey, a cotton merchant, and they married in India at Cuddapah, Madras, on the 12th of November, 1890.  Perhaps the family have records, perhaps not, but there may be more to discover.  Her youngest sister Edith married first, in the Cambridge registration district in 1889, while Florence married a Joseph Hopley in 1900 , who was five years younger than her.  The reason I have looked at the family, is that sometimes it allows a glimpse of the reasons why people made choices, such as whether to marry or not.  Perhaps Kate, as we will now refer to her (perhaps she preferred to use her second name), felt forced into marriage, and the Women’s Suffrage movement helped her assert herself.

After her marriage Kate had three daughters (and it seems the third Rita had a male twin Rex, who died in 1906, but that needs confirmation), but then her husband Frank died in 1905.  Her marriage left her with money, a governess for her daughters, and four servants, in stark contrast with her sisters whose husbands were skilled manual workers.

Kate was involved in early meetings of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage (NSPU) (Woodford, p.7, quoting a thesis by Gillian Rutter).  After her husband’s death it seems she became  a physiotherapist, albeit untrained, and was heavily involved in voluntary work with East London poor (ibid p.9).  At some point she met Charlotte Despard, through whose diaries we get a much better picture of Kate Harvey. They lived together, and protested together, forming a close bond.  I will not repeat the full story here as others have already covered it in greater depth, but after a siege of her home, bailiffs eventually broke in, and The Times tells us,

Mrs Catherine Harvey, of Bromley, a member of the Women’s Freedom League, has been conveyed to Holloway Prison to undergo two month’s imprisonment. At Bromley Police Court some five weeks ago Mrs. Harvey was ordered to pay fines amounting to over £16 under an Insurance Act application and over £5 under the Kent County Council prosecution. She declined to pay, and her presentimprisonment is the outcome of her refusal. (The Times, 1913)

After the war she took up work with children again, running some form of school at Hartfield in Sussex. Her close relationship with Despard weakened. Running of that school was taken over by The Invalid Children’s Aid Association from 1924 to 1927, but then she took up running the school again.  You can read more about Kate Harvey in the article by Doreen Woodford, who investigated to what extent she signed.  After conversation with a witness, it seems that Harvey used finger-spelling rather than sign language.

She died at her house of Wroth Tyes, Hartfield, in 1946.

I could not find her in the 1911 census.  Perhaps I did not look hard enough, but I suppose it is possible she refused to fill in the form.
Article from The Vote, June the 17th, 1911

The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Sep 03, 1913; pg. 4; Issue 40307

Woodford, Doreen A. ‘A Deaf Fighter for the Rights of Women.’ Deaf History Journal, 1999, Vol.2 (3) p.7-21

https://web.archive.org/web/20160304000606/http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/womens-suffrage-movement-the-story-of-kate-harvey-516710.html

A Deaf Women from the Suffrage Movement, Helen Kirkpatrick Watts (1881-1972)

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 9 March 2018

There at least are two women from the suffrage movement who are of interest to the history of d/Deaf people.

This week, Helen Kirkpatrick Watts, was born on the 13th of July 1881, in Bishop Wearmouth, Sunderland.  Her grandfather Henry, was classics teacher in Sussex, and father, Alan Hunter Watts, was a Church of England clergyman, who was for many years Vicar at Lenton, Nottinghamshire.  Her mother, Ethelinda, was born to British parents in Oporto.  Helen was one of nine children.  One of her father’s brothers was John Hunter Watts, a life-long socialist who was a friend of William Morris.  I wonder whether he had any influence on her becoming politically active as a suffragette?

She does not appear on census returns a ‘deaf’ but we know that it those forms do not always reflect the reality, as the informant might not be aware of the hearing loss or might wish to ignore it.  However, from corroborating evidence we know that Helen had hearing loss, though how bad we cannot be sure.  Her friend Helen Blaythwayt said “She is a nice girl, but difficult to talk with because besides being very deaf herself she speaks so that it is very difficult to understand her.” (p.702, Crawford, 2001)

Crawford quotes Watts as saying,

“Votes for Women” will not be won by drawing room chatter. It has got to be fought for in the market-places, and if we don’t fight for it, no-one else will… The open-air meeting is a symbol of the principles, the method, and the spirit of the most vigorous movement towards Woman Suffrage in England today. The Suffragettes have come out of the drawing room, the study and the debating hall, and the committee rooms of Members of Parliament, to appeal to the real sovereign power of the country – THE PEOPLE.

Helen was imprisoned in Holloway gaol in 1909, and she spoke at many public meetings on socialist and feminist topics.  After she left the Women’s Suffrage Political Union Helen joined the Women’s Freedom League. During the war she nursed at the Mineral Water Hospital, Bath and later worked at the war office and Ministry of Labour before she emigrated to Canada for a while, perhaps intending to stay with her sister Ethelinda.  For some reason she returned to Britain, leaving a trunk of posessions and papers in Avonmouth Docks for many years.  She died in Somerset in August, 1972.

Read more about her on Elizabeth Crawford’s web pages.  I think much more could be put together about her life from all these disparate sources.

Crawford, Elizabeth, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide, 1866-1928, 2001.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/WwattsH.htm

Suffrage Stories: Helen Watts And The Mystery Of The Unclaimed Trunk

The Times (London, England), Friday, Feb 26, 1909; pg. 7; Issue 38893

Census 1911 Class: RG14; Piece: 14657; Schedule Number: 101

Census 1901 Class: RG13; Piece: 3164; Folio: 129; Page: 18

Census 1891 Class: RG12; Piece: 639; Folio: 7; Page: 8

 

Four Deaf Brothers of Bristol, and various Deaf spouses…

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 2 March 2018

In the late 19th Ccentury, the Williams family of Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol, was large – ten children in all, including four deaf brothers, Henry (1850-192?), George (1852-193?), Frederick (1861-193?), and Joshua (1868-1954).  Henry was the first child, son of a Westbury labourer, Henry Williams (1820-86) and his Hull born wife, Matilda Ingram (1826-1912).  Henry was born in Hull, so he might be claimed by the Yorkshire Deaf community as one of their own, while the other brothers were all born in Gloucestershire, where the family moved in the 1850s.

The boys all attended the Park Row School, according to the British Deaf Times (1930 p.79).  Henry, or Harry, was there in the 1861 census, along with George, living in we must suppose.  The school was then under the headmaster John Clyne, who was Scottish born, and whose wife Caroline was the matron.   In the 1891 census Harry is shown as a blacksmith, a trade also followed by George.  The article from 1930 says Harry ‘died a few years ago, in London’ though I am not ot sure when, as Henry Williams is not going to be a rare name!  George was at school with Henry, and their names are next to each other on the census record.  George left Bristol and moved to Cardiff in 1887, retiring circa 1928 (ibid).  He had married a Deaf Bristolian lady in 1881, Mary Ann Burston (1856-19??).  Mary was a pupil at Park Row in 1871, when it was under the headship of the Yorkshire born teacher, Robert James Jackson, with his wife Thirza, who was matron.  George made a mess of the 1911 census form, but it looks as if they had no children, or maybe one.

Fred was Mary Ann’s contemporary at the same school, and so was her younger brother, Henry Burston (b.1861).  The 1861 census shows us that Mary Ann’s older sister, Maria Burston (b.1845) was also deaf, but she never married, working in Bristol as a laundress.

The next three boys, John, Frank and James, were all hearing.

Joshua, the youngest of the deaf boys, became a ‘boot clicker,’ and married a deaf lady, Mabel Florence Hurley (1869-1848), whose name appears just before his on the 1881 census record for the Bristol Institution.  At that time they were at Tyndalls Park School, and under the headship of William B. Smith.  Mabel, who was born in Weston-Super-Mare, daughter of Thomas Hurley a railway policeman and his wife Martha, was ‘deaf from childhood’ according to the 1881 census, and I think we might hazard a guess that it was due to illness.

Fred also worked in the shoe trade.  Fred’s wife, Mary Emery, was hearing, and they had eight children.

Here we see Fred, then 69, George, then 77, and Joshua, then 62.

I am sure that there are many interesting things to be discovered about these people and their relationships.

British Deaf Times 1930 p.79

see also Census returns. 

[Usually I give the full reference but today there were too many to do that easily in the time available.  The details should be comparatively easy to find using a family history database, although the common name makes finding death records a lot more difficult.

For those of you with an www.ancestry.co.uk account, begin here where someone has put together records for Joshua and Mabel https://www.ancestry.co.uk/family-tree/person/tree/42185401/person/19995316700/facts]

 

Hearing Awareness Day – Patient Information

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 27 February 2018

By Abir Mukherjee @ClinicalLibUCLH

This second post of this series highlights a small selection of reliable patient information resources for hearing loss in general. Once again, these sources either meet the NHS Information Standard or are produced by reputable organisations.

Action on Hearing Loss (formerly the Royal National Institute for Deaf People – RNID) estimates that one in six people in the UK has hearing loss or is deaf, and increasingly people are accessing help to hear better. Their website discusses in clear terms, the different types and causes of hearing loss and deafness, as well as what people can do if they are worried about hearing loss – from seeing a GP to getting hearing aids or a cochlear implant. They also have a very useful glossary for hearing disorders and symptoms. NHS CHOICES also provides a relevant overview of hearing loss including symptoms and treatment options. In line with this year’s World Hearing Day theme of ‘Hear the Future’ they also discuss some simple but common sense ways of reducing the risk of damage to hearing such as:

· not having the television, radio or music on too loud

· using headphones that block out more outside noise, instead of turning up the volume

· wearing ear protection (such as ear defenders) in a noisy environments

· using ear protection at loud concerts and other events where there are high noise levels

· not inserting objects ears – this includes fingers, cotton buds, cotton wool and tissues

· Get a hearing test as soon as possible if worried about hearing loss -the earlier hearing loss is picked up, the earlier something can be done about it.

ENT UK, produced by the Royal College of Surgeons also has easy to understand information on ear anatomy and how the ear works to explain hearing disorders and common causes. Patient Info also has a range of pertinent information on hearing disorders and downloadable leaflets.

Background for World Hearing Day

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 26 February 2018

By Abir Mukherjee

World Hearing Day is held on 3 March each year in order to raise awareness and understanding of deafness and hearing loss, and to promote ear health and the care provided by audiologists across the world.

This year’s theme is “Hear the future”, and World Hearing Day 2018 hopes to draw attention to the anticipated rise in people with hearing loss around the world in the coming decades.

The WHO’s figures estimate 466 million people worldwide live with disabling hearing loss. Unless action is taken, by 2030 the number will rise to nearly 630 million.

Key initiatives for #WorldHearingDay2018 include preventative strategies to stem the rise in hearing loss and steps to ensure access to the necessary rehabilitation services; communication tools and products for people with hearing loss.

All of these are important areas of research for Action on Hearing Loss, the UCL Ear Institute, the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital, and many other colleagues and organisations in the UK and further afield.

Throughout the week we will be writing blogs highlighting evidence and information in support of “Hear the future”, and World Hearing Day.

References: World Health Organization. (2018). 3 March 2018: World Hearing Day. [online] Available at: http://www.who.int/deafness/world-hearing-day/whd-2018/en/ [Accessed 23 Feb. 2018].

Silent Drill by Signs – a Scout Sign System from 1934

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 16 February 2018

Written in 1934 or 1935 by Martin Baker, who was Assistant County Commissioner for the Training of Scouters in Birminmgham, Silent Drill by Signs tells us that,

There is a fascination in Drill by Signs, a sense of good-will, cheeriness and scout atmosphere which is not to be found in Sergeant-Major’s methods.

Those participating experience an increased alertness, and can attain by the Sign method a smartness hitherto impossible, and this without domineering or bullying.

The idea of using Signs for drill is not new- some of the signs are as old as the hills; it is in the method of use that the new feature lies, and it will be found to make all the difference between perfect performance and chaos.

Although Drill by Signs has been taught on the Wood Badge Courses sincve the very beginning of Training, it has not become the onl;y scouty way of moving scouts, because the method lacked one essential of any good drill, an adequate warning.

The Sign given not only showed the Scouts what was required, but it was also the signal to do it!  Hence the brightest moved first, and there was no unanimity of movement, which is the soul of smart drill.

The method here described was first used as a camp-fire item at Oslo, during the “Calgaric Cruise” in the Baltic.  A team of twelve Scouters volunyteered to be drilled by this method, and the success of the attempt prompted others to take it up.  I therefore offer it to Scouters and Guuiders generally as a new and successful method which I believe will prove worth trying.

The Signs I have suggested are a mixture of those taught at Gilwell, American Indian Sign Language, and some made up on the spur of the moment, usually good common sense, descriptive of the required action where possible.

Other Signs may be invented as desired, but keep them simple, and if possible descriptive.

It is interesting to compare the sign used for ‘form line,’ with the Indian sign for ‘soldiers’ in Ernest Thomas Seton‘s 1918 book, Sign Talk.  In the scout version, Baker has the hands held high to be seen more clearly.  Seton was a pioneer of the Boy Scouts of America.  That book was in turn heavily influenced by the U.S. general, Hugh L. Scott, who had learnt Indian signs from a Kiowa, I-See-O.  Click on the images for a larger size.
We have a copy of Seton’s book that is heavily annotated by Paget.

I think our copy of Silent Drill is pretty rare.