UCL Ear Institute & Action on Hearing Loss Libraries


“Heathen Bristol” – Matthew Robert Burns, first Deaf Headmaster (Part 1)

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 11 April 2014

Matthew Robert Burns (1798-1880) was the first deaf man to become a head teacher of a school for the deaf.  There is a brief account of him in Peter Jackson’s book, Britain’s Deaf Heritage.  Much of what follows is a based on the article that appeared in The Deaf And Dumb Times (1889, Vol.1 p.37-8).Matthew Burns

Burns was born in Dundee on 10th of November 1798.  His father was a major in the 84th Regiment  while his mother was the daughter of a Lombard Street banker.  “Little Matthew” as he was known, was educated with hearing boys, and the article says he claimed that because of that he ‘learned the ordinary idioms of society’.  He moved to London when he was a little older and he went to the Old Kent Road School for a while (I am not sure what year).  The article confesses ingorance as to what Burns did after leaving the Old Kent Road School until 1830, when he was back in Scotland at Edinburgh, where he helped set up a deaf church.  Assisted by Charles Buchan and Alexander Campbell he opened the Carubbbber’s Close Chapel day school in 1832.  Below we see a photograph of the card they issued with annotations by Burns, one saying “This school was given up in the month of June 1834 when I got an appointment to the Ins. at Aberdeen.”  After that Mr Drysdale took over both mission and school.

Carubbers Close

These were trying years for Mr. Burns who had to work through many obstacles that would have discouraged many a stout heart; however, he had done much to be proud of. Whatever he originated, continued and prospered, and he seemed to find no resting place himself. Indeed, between his being at Edinburgh and at Aberdeen, he appears to have endeavoured to establish a Sabbath school at Dundee, his birth-place; this we find in the Edinburgh Long Magazine for 1831; and in the sixth report of the Edinburgh Deaf and Dumb Benevolent Society, “regret” is expressed at their separation from a valuable fellow coadjutor, who from being appointed headmaster at “Dundee” was obliged to leave Edinburgh. Be that as it may, the Aberdeen Journal of 24th April, 1844, referring to the year 1834, quotes “The directors of the Deaf and Dumb Institution of Aberdeen hereby give notice that in consequence – of the resignation of Mr. Tayler, a new teacher, Mr. M.R. Burns, has been engaged to take charge of the pupils after Whit-Sunday.  First, the rates of board are £32 per annum for the higher class, and £16 for the lower class of pupils… Mr. Burns will be accompanied by his sister, who is well qualified to assist,” etc

He was in Aberdeen until 1841, then he returned to Bristol but was there for only for two years before he came into conflict with the management committee.  “Their main complaint seems to have been him having his sister as housekeeper.  Without his sister Burns appears to have been lost as she interpreted for him.  So if she had to go, he would not stay.

The Deaf and Dumb Times article says,

The Bristol folk did not contribute much for the instruction of deaf-mutes, and in comparing Bristol with Glasgow, Mr. Burns speaks of “heathen Bristol.”  Though others may have “founded” the Bristol school, yet Mr. Burns was, we believe, the first principal, and the first report speaks in glowing terms of the great success of the master.  “No labour or self-denial (your committee believe) would be deemed a sacrifice on the part of Mr.  Burns in the prosecution of his arduous and interesting labour.”  Thus runs a report of the school.  In the following year, August, 1843, Dr. Kay, (then the secretary of the Bristol society) wrote, accepting Mr. Burns’ resignation, as to “his zealous and efficient services as the instructor, and regret as to their loss.”

For some reason he seems to have made enemies who forced him out, perhaps on account of his (hearing) sister Rachel.  She was about eight years older than Matthew, had been born in Guildford.  It would appear that she devoted her life to being his helper and housekeeper.  One wonders what happened to upset people.





Poster Advertising the Public Examination of Aberdeen Pupils, 13th of June 1839

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 4 April 2014

ExaminationAgain from a photograph of a poster from what I imagine may have been one of Matthew Burns’s scrapbooks.  Of Matthew Burns, more next time.

“The Origin of the Chapel for the Deaf and Dumb in London”

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 28 March 2014

Another interesting document from a photograph.  We do not know at present where the original appeared – please comment if you know.

The Origin of the Chapel for the Deaf and Dumb in London

Shaftesbury Hall, Aldersgate Street

It is interesting to mention the origin of this chapel, which took place by the personal exertions of a Mr. George Crouch, in the month of September, 1840, who was himself involved in deep affliction, by having three deaf and dumb children.  This circumstance peculiarly led the Crouch family into communication with a young man from Edinburgh, who had attended the ministerial services of the deaf Mute, Mr Blackwood, of that city, in behalf of the deaf Mute, in establishing this place of religious instruction.  It is evidently plain this place of worship was first opened by a few deaf mute persons on the west side of Aldersgate Street, opposite the Shaftesbury Hall, in the year 1840.  It subsequently removed to the Scottish Hospital, Fleet Street, for some time , when it separated , and formed itself into a distinct Society,  under the Rev. Robert Simson, M.A.  Mr. Crouch’s efforts were happily realized, although he had many adversaries to contend with, , who though they could not condemn his exertions, yet were unable to bring any reasons for their objections to his undertaking.  We deeply appreciate the philanthropic attempt of Mr. Crouch, and we believe every heart which feels for the Mutes will bless his memory.  We may easily conceive how sad and forlorn it is for a deaf and dumb being to be shut out from a place of worship.  Hearing persons have a great choice; and if it be their pleasure to reject the public ordinance of God, they can resort to reading; but with the poor Mute this is not the case; they cannot read so as to feel a deep and continued interest in their subject, from their knowledge of language being of so limited a nature.  The management of the chapel continued in the hands of the Rev. Robert Simson, from 1844, till his resignation in the year 1849, when a committee was formed of exclusively deaf and dumb individuals, and who now continue their endeavour to carry out the design of the church, at 36 Aldersgate Street, City, where selections from the Liturgy of the Church of England are read.  We beg to offer the warmest tribute of thanks and gratitude to this gentleman, for the kind interest in the spiritual welfare of this afflicted class of persons.  It is hoped this chapel will long continue through Divine favour, and that it may be the means of producing good upon the minds of the deaf Mutes under the spiritual charge of Mr. Burns, Biblical Instructor.

Origin of the Chapel 001


A Public Meeting May 26th 1841, Bristol

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 28 March 2014

From a photograph of a poster – a public meeting in, I think, Bristol in May 1841.  public meeting 1841 001

1840 “Prospectus for Perusal and Approbation”

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 21 March 2014

Another photograph from the Oxley collection of a document with the date 1840 written on it (the original photo is postcard sized, and although I scanned at high resolution there is some blurring).  If the document still exists in some collection I cannot say.  At any rate it has signatures and some interesting annotations.

Prospectus for Perusal and Approbation – Refuge and Self-Supporting Institution for the Deaf and Dumb

Patrons and Patronesses

M. Meredith

Vice patrons and Patronesses

Sir Charles Price Bart [Sir Charles Price was in the navy.  He was a relative of the actor Denis Price.]

E.H. Locker Esq.

A. Boyd Esq.

Provisional Committee

(Until the first General Meeting), with Power to add to their Numbers.
Matthew Marshall, Esq.
M.J. Raphall, Esq.
Henry Innes, Esq.
Mr J.G.Rowley
John Doutty Esq
Mr. A.U. Meredith,
Alexander Boyd, Esq.
Mr George Crouch,
E.H. Locker Esq,
J.J. Simpson Esq
Ja.s [James] Bowles Esq

Banker, Sir Charles Price Bart, H. Compt. King Will[iam IV?]
Treasurer, Sir Charles Price bart.
Secretary, H. Green Esq.
Assistant Secretary, Mr Samuel Gordon
Collector, Mr S. Hayes, 4 Pelham Road, Brompton


Perhaps there is no class of persons more deserving of the sympathy of their fellow beings, than the deaf and dumb.  The deprivation under which deaf and dumb persons labour, and their inability to make known their own wants, frequently prevent their obtaining relief; and it is to be feared that many have, from these causes, lived and died in wretchedness and misery.

Few persons seem to be aware of the extent of this dreadful calamity, and many will no doubt be surprised to learn that there are in Europe 130,000 deaf and dumb persons and dumb persons; of which number Great Britain contains more than 14,000.  Institutions have been established in the various countries of Europe, for the purpose of receiving and educating these unfortunate creatures; and several benevolent individuals have devoted their time and talents to the work of instruction.  In England there are six Public Establishments for this prrpose, the first established, and the most wealthy of which is the London Asylum, situated in the Kent road.  It was opened in the year 1792, and receives ample support from the affluent in all parts of the kingdom.  The The object of the Institution is to educate deaf and dumb children, and by apprenticeship, or otherwise, to give them the means of obtaining their future livelihood.

From the above facts it appears that the necessity of providing a peculiar means of education for these unfortunate beings, is fully  recognized, and the degree of support which the various Institutions receive, shows that their claims take a high place in the public estimation.  It is, however, somewhat singular that the hand of benevolence should have stopped where  it has, and that no institution should have been formed for the purpose of receiving the deaf and dumb, when unable to get employment, and when without the means of obtaining subsistence.  The deaf and dumb workman labours under great disadvantages in the way of obtaining work, especially if he have no friend who can make his wants and capabilities known.  And the great proportion of masters will [...]

Prospectus for perusal and approbation 001There the document continues over a page, so I cannot say ‘what masters will’!  I have not come across an original of the document though that does not me there is not one in the library somewhere.  The annotation on the left tells us that it was drawn up by George Crouch, while the one after Alexander Boyd’s name is quite rude – he calls him “an Irish deaf & dumb monkey”!  It seems whoever wrote the comment had an axe to grind.

There are challenges here, such as to research all the named people and work out their connections.  Why this group of men and not another?  Who was Meredith?  Later in the Victorian age we would find many more women in charities, but there are none here in 1840.  Other than Boyd, were any more here Deaf?  Why did the commenter dislike Boyd?

If you know any of the answers or discover anything about these people please add a comment with any sources you might have.

An Irish 001

As usual with the pictures, click for a larger size image.

Heroic Deaf Scout Saves Drowning Boy

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 19 March 2014

In around 1928 (I am not certain of the date) Jack Kellett of Water Street, Holbeck, a deaf scout from the Leeds 14th South-West Troop of Boy Scouts, was walking along the Leeds and Liverpool canal bank in Globe Road having been for a swim.  Another child pointed out a boy, George Henry Wright aged 4, who was struggling in the water.   Jack dived in, grabbed the boy’s coat, lifted his head from the water, swam with him to the bank and then pulled him out.  He immediately began artificial respiration until further help arrived.  The boy recovered, and Jack, who had learnt life-saving and swimming in the scouts, was given the Royal Humane Society’s Testimonial certificate, presented to him by the Lord Mayor, Alderman David Blythe Foster.

There are many fascinating things about this story.  Jack was a signer – that is he used BSL – and the presentation was interpreted, the mayor saying,

The deed was very fine and brave.  I am glad to know that you can swim.  That is one of the things I cannot do and I am now too old to learn.  I hope that all the girls and boys of the city will learn to swim, so they can render service in case of emergency, as you have done.

Jack would have been born around 1913 but I have not found him on the Free BMD website.  Perhaps ‘Jack’ is not his proper name.  There is a challenge there for someone to find out more about Jack, his family, where he went to school and so on.  Perhaps someone remembers him?  Kellet seems to be a common name in Leeds so there may well be relatives.

The Royal Humane Society‘s records are now in the London Metropolitan Archives and would certainly be interesting to check.

Finally, it is really curious to note that I have come across a number of examples of Deaf people rescuing others from drowning.  There is a fascinating article on “Heroic rescuing behaviour,”  which says, “Males with low socio-economic status were more likely to rescue in all the contexts (fire, drowning, violence and traffic accidents).”  The article links such behaviour to evolutionary theory.  I found the article on ResearchGate.

Lyons, Minna, Who are the heroes?  Characteristics of people who rescue others.  Journal of Cultural and Evolutionary Psychology, 3(2005)3– 4, 239–248

 This post is based on a photograph of a newspaper cutting of unknown date.

Jack 001

Wilfred A. Streeter – an Osteopathic Aurist

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 14 March 2014

In the 1920s osteopathy began to be widely practised in the U.K. to the point that it came to the attention of the General Medical Council and the government.  Osteopathy began in the U.S.A. in 1874, and it relied on wealthy clients to grow.  In the article to which we link below, Jure Stojan discusses why in the 1920s there were moves to regulate osteopathy.

Osteopaths first attempted to achieve state regulation in the 1920s. In 1925, the British Osteopathic Association (BOA) sent a deputation to the Minister of Health. The House of Commons dropped the Regulation and Registration of Osteopathy Bill three times, in 1931, 1933, and 1934. The Bill was subsequently introduced in the Lords, where it had received a second reading before being referred to a Select Committee and finally withdrawn. After the collapse of the Osteopathy Bills—partially because of fierce opposition from the medical profession—osteopaths opted for self-regulation and established the General Council and Register of Osteopaths (GCRO). (Stojan p.2-3)

Stojan says that in the pre-war period osteopaths decided that ”either they opted out of the market for alternative medicine (by obtaining statutory regulation) or they improved their position within it.”  He asks “Was statutory regulation really the desired outcome of this process?”

He argues that

When pre-war osteopaths decided not to advertise, they were signalling professionalism by following the example of other professions. An osteopathic book of the 1930s makes this connection obvious: ‘As in other respected professions, the qualified osteopath does not advertise. The results which he obtains advertise themselves.’

Wilfred Alberts Streeter, who wrote a book about osteopathy called The New Healing, used osteopathy to treat hearing problems.  I do not believe that there is any evidence to support this as a reasonable treatment and it seems that the G.M.C. agreed as we see in the cutting below.  That it comes from The Tatler is indicative of what Stojan says about their reliance on wealthy clients.

The well-known osteopathic aurist, whose achievements in curing deafness by manipulative operations are well known. Mr. Streeter’s practice is being seriously interfered with by a warning issued by the General Medical Council to doctors that they must not assist practitioners whom the council consider “unqualified.” Mr. Streeter has been employing a qualified doctor as an anaesthetist.

Regardless of the merits of osteopathy in treating back pain and the like, it is pretty clear that if he claimed to ‘cure’ deafness with it that he was a quack.




Stojan, Jure, Signalling and the quest for regulation in British complementary medicine

Heia Norge! Norwegian Deaf Ski Club at Barum, 1919

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 28 February 2014

In celebration of Norwegian success at the Winter Olympics, I just came across this picture of the Christiania (Oslo) Deaf at their ski club in Barum 1919 and decided to post it.

Norway Barum 1919

More Norwegians from Christiania (no snow here!)…Norway barum 2 click onto the images for a larger size.Barum 001

Norway Deaf AthletesFinally some Norwegian Deaf athletes – I suppose from 1919 or so.  The photos are probably connected with Selwyn Oxley’s visit to Scandinavia when he went to several Deaf Institutes.

Om det finnes noen som gjenkjenner disse folk vaer så god å skrive til oss (på norsk om du vil).

[We have been very busy so no time for a proper blog entry again!]


A Statistical Survey of the London Deaf, 28th of August 1855

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 14 February 2014

From one of the pictures in Selwyn Oxley’s photo collection comes a postcard sized copy of this fascinating document.  Were you to ask anyone what the deaf population of London might be today, you would have to have some fun with the O.N.S. and might well struggle to find any useful information, for statistics related to Deaf people or Deafness are notoriously hard to find.  Define what you mean by d/Deaf  to start with.  Do we include people deaf in one ear?  There is a gradation in the population from those with no hearing loss to those with complete hearing loss or profound deafness.  This document was compiled by someone – I am not sure who but I expect that someone might know or have an educated guess – on behalf of the “Association in Aid of the Deaf and Dumb”, that is what became the Royal Association in Aid of the Deaf and Dumb, now the R.A.D.

Whether the document survives in its original form or not we simply do not know.  If you do, feel free to comment.  You may like to compare this with the famous Booth poverty map of London.   There are many interesting questions you could consider with this topic.  Did poorer areas have more deafness due to illness in childhood, or did wealthier people ‘disguise’ deafness in their children?

To the Secretaries of the Association in aid of the deaf and dumb.


In submitting to you my last report, permit me in the first place to lay before you a “statistical account” of my labours in visiting the 36 districts into which London was divided.

Idiots not mutes Adults untaught From 5 to 14 years untaught At School Residences not-known Anxious to be visited & attend chapel Total
1 (Districts -) Marylebone 12 4 7 7 21 16  67
2 St.George’s Hanover sq. 7 0 1  0  13  6  27
3 St.James’s 0 0 0 0 9 1  10
4 Westminster 3 1 3 0 11 7  25
5 St.Martin in the Fields 0 0 1 2 3 2  8
6 St.Giles & Bloomsbury 1 2 1 1 15 4  24
7 Strand 3 2 2 2 5 7  21
8 Holborn 1 0 2 0 11 6  20
9 St.Pancras 5 2 7 1 19 27  61
10 Kensington 1 0 2 2 11 4  20
11 Chelsea 3 2 0 0 8 8  21
12 Islington 3 1 1 0 20 8  35
13 Clerkenwell 3 1 1 1 13 5  24
14 St.Luke’s 1 3 2 0 6 3  15
15 East London 1 2 0 3 4 9  19
16 City of London 0 0 1 1 11 6  19
17 West London 1 1 0 1 9 6  18
18 St.George’s in the East 1 2 3 1 13 6  26
19 Whitechapel 2 6 6 3 13 13  43
20 Stepney 2 4 5 2 14 9  36
21 Bethnal Green 0 3 4 1 16 9  33
22 Hackney 1 1 5 0 7 3  17
23 Shoreditch 2 2 0 5 16 9  34
24 Lambeth 3 2 3 2 18 16  44
25 Wandsworth 1 0 0 0 6 5  12
26 Camberwell 2 0 3 0 12 5  22
27 Newington 0 1 3 0 13 14  31
28 Bermondsey 1 1 0 0 8 14  24
29 Rotherhithe 0 0 2 1 1 5  9
30 Hampstead 0 0 1 0 0 0  1
31 St.Olave’s 0 0 1 0 4 2  7
32 St.George’s Southwark 0 1 4 0 11 5  21
33 St.Saviour’s Southwark 0 4 0 1 7 7  19
34 Poplar 0 1 2 0 8 0  11
35 Greenwich 0 0 2 2 16 10  31
36 Lewisham 0 1 0 0 2 9  12
60+ 50+ 75+ 39+ 374+ 266= Total 864

By the census returns there appears to be 1325 deaf and dumb in London, including men, women and children – I can only account for 864 which who with the 301 in the Old Kent Road Asylum make 1165 leaving a deficiency of 160 – But taking into account on the one hand the deaths and removals of the deaf mute population since the census was taken and the number of deaf mute infants born since the census was taken and the number of deaf mute infants born since that period we may fairly conclude that at least there are 1325 mutes in the Metropolis.

survey deaf London 001

Click onto the image to see it in a larger size.

Before quoting from the table, double check the picture – I wrote the totals from that rather than adding them manually.

Homerton School for the Deaf, Bible Class ca.1919

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 13 February 2014

Homerton Bible Cclass


It is hard to guess when these photographs were taken but 1918-21 seems most likely.

Also known as Homerton Residential School for the Deaf, it removed to Penn, Bucks. in 1921 and was renamed Rayners Residential School in 1929. 

WOODFORD, D.E. Early photographs of a London school for the deaf: Homerton 1900-1921. British Deaf History Society, 1998.

 WOODFORD, D.E. A short account of the history of a London school for the deaf: Homerton 1900-1921. British Deaf History Society, 1998.