Roots of Audiology – the Audiometer

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 15 May 2015

Modern audiology was only really possible with late 19th century advances in technology and the understanding of electromagnetism that allowed for the measurement of hearing ability.  This allowed the invention of the audiometer, then the development of transistors to replace valves enabled the amplification of sound in a convenient portable device, which became the ‘modern’ hearing aid in the 1940s.

The audiologist has roots in both the medical and the technical –

  • there were the otolaryngologists, doctors who treated and investigated hearing,
  • then there were those who sold instruments like ear trumpets and their ilk, the dispensers,
  • and there were the scientists who developed the theories of acoustics, and the instruments that were used to measure hearing.

One of the latter was David Edward Hughes who was a pioneer of the microphone (which we covered in a previous blog).  Hughes, a great experimenter, developed his ‘audiometer’ at around the same time (1879), and it was first mentioned in his article in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, On an Induction-Currents Balance, and Experimental Researches Made Therewith.

During the course of these experiments with this instrument I noticed my own hearing powers varied very much with state of health, weather, &c., that different individuals had wide differences of hearing, and that in nearly all cases one ear was more sensitive than the other; thus whilst my degree of hearing was 10, another might be 60 in one ear and 15 in another.*

*To this portion of my instrument when used as a measurer of our hearing powers, we have given the name of audiometer.

( Hughes 1879 p.58)

AudiometerThe Illustrated London News (see picture with the sonometer to the left and the audiometer numbered 4) described the device –

The audiometer, an adaptation of the sonometer, being an instrument for exactly measuring our power of hearing and chronicling the progress of recovery from deafness. It was first applied by Dr. Richardson to some very remarkable investigations relative to our hearing powers.  a is the scale measured into 200 millimetres.  bb are the two primary fixed coils, both exactly similar to those in the sonometer as to length and size of wire, although what should be the thinner coil is here padded out, so that they look both alike as to depth.

The wires from these coils are connected with the microphone, c, and Leelanche’s battery cells, dd; e, secondary and moving coil, connected through the binding screws, ff, to the telephone, h. The switch, g is a brass arm pivoted on an ebony plate, on which are also fixed two brass studs. The free end of arm placed over either of these gives either the force of one or, when desired, two cells, the stronger current being used only for very deaf patients. (Illustrated London News , 1879)

Benjamin Ward Richardson, a great friend of Hughes, experimented with this instrument, and coined the name.

“In this preliminary report I have omitted many subjects of interest, but I hope I have related enough to show that the world of science in general, and the world of medicine in particular,is under a deep debt of gratitude to Professor Hughes for his simple and beautiful instrument, which I have christened the audimeter, or less correctly but more euphoniously, the audiometer.” (Richardson, 1879)

Richardson was a close friend of John Snow of cholera fame, and a remarkable man in his own right, being a physician, sanitarian, anaesthetist and historian of medicine.

In his 1979 article on Hughes and his audiometer, Stephens says Hughes “does not appear to have been interested in the application of his audiometer”.  Hughes was awarded a Royal Society Gold Medal in 1885, and his funeral in Highgate was attended by the U.S. ambassador as well as representatives of the governments of Serbia, France and Greece (Stephens, p.3).  Richardson was also diverted by his many other interests and did not pursue research with the audiometer.

T.Hawksley, who manufactured and sold hearing devices, went into production with the “Hughes’ Sonometer” in 1883, and it seems it was still available as late as 1912 (Stephens p.4).

Audiometers do not seem to have taken off however, and Stephens says there are few references to them in the otolaryngological textbooks of the period.  It was only with the increased use of valve audiometers in the 1930s that audiology as a separate discipline began to find its own place.

Hughes, D.E., On an Induction-Currents Balance, and Experimental Researches Made Therewith, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, 1879 Volume 29, pp. 56-65

Hughes’s Electric Sonometer and Balance, and Audiometer.Illustrated London News (London, England), Saturday, November 15, 1879; pg. 463; Issue 2109

Richardson, B.W., Some Researches with Professor Hughes’ New Instrument for the Measurement of Hearing; the Audiometer, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, 1879 Volume 29, pp. 65-70

Stephens, S.D.G., David Edward Hughes and his audiometer. Journal of Laryngology and Otology, 1979, Volume 93 pp.1-6

“Then you’re a fool,” said my father – Arthur Upson – deaf missioner in Egypt

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 8 May 2015

As anyone who has read even a small amount about Deaf History will know, there is an intimate relationship between religion and mission work, and deafness, throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, with positive and negative effects on those involved.   Usually this takes the form of religious missions among deaf people in the country concerned, sometimes bringing them together into communities by the formation of institutions with educational or religious aims.  A different example is Arthur Thomas Upson, who lost his hearing when a young man when he was already determined to lead the life of a missionary abroad, but whose missionary activities were in Egypt.

UpsonArthur was born is Essex in 1874, the son of Arthur Upson of Rayleigh, a harness maker, and his wife Sarah.  In the picture we see Upson in the back row, third from the right.  We read about his gradual ‘conversion’ to mission work in his memoir, High Lights in the Near East (1936), p.14-15).  He worked as a student teacher in Rayleigh after finishing school, and in the wet summer of 1890 the new term was delayed by one week so the boys could help with the harvest.  Walking by Southend pier, Arthur was asked by Alex Nielson of Forest Gate if he was a Christian.  He replied that he hoped he was, was given a pamphlet “Safety, Certainty and Enjoyment”, which when he had read it gave his his first Damascene moment. Later, when he decided to become a missionary, he was accepted by the North Africa Mission.  His father’s response to his determination to go abroad was, “Then you’re a fool”.  He started to learn Arabic, and soon found himself engaged to Miss Kitty Philpott, but the marriage was delayed until 1901.

Upson dedicationUpson became ill in 1899, while he was in Egypt learning Arabic.  He had ‘confluent smallpox’, which damaged the hearing in his right ear, then underwent an operation on a ‘burr’ in his left nostril (whatever that means), supposedly causing hearing problems in his left ear.  The operation did not address the problem and seemed to make it worse as he started to lose his hearing in that ear as well.

It is hard to gauge how successful Upson was as a missionary.  Then, as now, apostasy from Islam was not allowed.   The memoir is not a great piece of writing or a narrative of his life, but it is a collection of ‘episodes’ and reminiscences.

The outbreak of war in 1914 saw the start of a massive troop movement into Egypt.  Where there were soldiers there would be prostitution and Upson was greatly exercised by this.

“Brands plucked out of the fire” (Zech. 3:2). What imagery!  What urgency!  How the fire burned within me at the very thought of the thousands of troops and hundreds of officers that were being destroyed in the fires of Cairo and Alexandria. Twenty-five streets and lanes in our one city of Cairo were given over to the detestable traffic in girls and women. And still the area was continually being enlarged until much of what is commonly called the “European Quarter” was involved. Near us, a single building of about 40 rooms, formerly a well-known hotel, was used by “Officers Only.” Further, there had been almost a complete breakdown of attempts to make vice “safe” (?), and not a few of the bolder men, such as Anzacs, had taken matters into their own hands and several brothels had been burnt down in revenge for disease taken from the women.
many were greatly worried at the mounting percentage of V.D. cases.
One can hardly walk past those beautifully-kept cemeteries at Cairo, Jerusalem, and other places in the East without wondering how many were victims of Turkish bullets and how many of unmentionable diseases! (ibid p.68-9)

Upson’s answer was to distribute ‘purity’ leaflets in English and Arabic, over four years 40,000 of each.  We might wonder if his use of ‘brands’ was deliberately suggestive!

He continues,

The matron of one hospital wrote to ask my help to try to stop “Sandbagging,” a species of crime that I have never heard of in any other connection.  On going into the matter, it appeared that soldiers – Anzacs, if possible, for they carried more money – were invited into certain brothels, taken up to balcony rooms, made drunk, and then violently struck in the centre of the spinal column by something hard enough to benumb the victim but without wounding him – originally a bag of sand was used – then the poor wretch would be pitched over the balcony into the street, and perhaps killed, or one or more limbs would be broken.  Needless to say, the victim was always robbed of all he carried before he was thrown into the street.  When picked up by the Military Police, there was every evidence of drunkenness and so it became easy to conclude that he “Fell over the balcony whilst drunk.”  Terrible!  But we made urgent representations to the Authorities and the patrols of Military Police were strengthened and a better look-out was kept, and in time that particular form of crime seemed to come to an end. (ibid p.70-1)

Upson letterAs you will see, Upson sent copies of his two books to Selwyn Oxley, and into one, Oxley has stuck a letter from the author.  Upson returned to Essex around 1934, dying there in 1958.

Abdul-fady, Evergreen and other Near East Bible Talks London ; Edinburgh : Marshall, Morgan & Scott, (1938)

Abdul-fady, High Lights in the Near East London ; Edinburgh : Marshall, Morgan & Scott, (1936)



Ernest Seton Thompson, William Tomkins, & sign language of the American Indians

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 1 May 2015

Before Europeans went to North America, it seems there were already extensive sign languages there, which were used for inter-tribal communication.  In the introduction to his book Universal Indian Sign Language of the Plains Indians of North America (1st ed. 1926), William Tomkins says,

There is a sentiment connected with the Indian Sign Language that attaches to no other. It is probably the first American language. It is the first and only American universal language. It may be the first universal language produced by any people. It is a genuine Indian language of great antiquity. It has a beauty and imagery possessed by few, if any, other languages. It is the foremost gesture language that the world has ever produced.

The author lectured on Indian problems to many audiences, and at all times the keenest interest was shown in sign language demonstrations, and he was asked, hundreds of times, to make the record permanent, and to thereby preserve and perpetuate the original American language which otherwise is fast passing away.

This is shown by the fact that in 1885 Lewis F. Hadley, at that time a foremost authority on sign, claimed that as a result of extensive investigation he had determined that there were over 110,000 sign-talking Indians in the United States. (ibid p. 3)

Tomkins grew up, he tells us, in Dakota Territory, at Fort Sully. I have been unable to uncover any further biographical information about Tomkins (please contribute below if there is anything you can add), but his book was adopted by the Boy Scouts of America and used at the World Scout Jamboree of 1929.  I suspect that is when this copy was signed by him.  Tomkins is pictured with one of the last great Sioux chiefs who helped preserve his nation’s culture, but whose life reflects his nation’s eclipse, Chief Flying Hawk.

TTomkinsSouth Shields born Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946), was a skilled artist and writer who started modern scouting in America, inspiring Baden Powell, and was one of the pioneers of the conservation movement.  He was also father of the historical novelist Anya Seton.  There is plenty to be found about this fascinating man so I will not repeat it.

We have a copy of Seton’s book, Sign Talk, A Universal Signal Code, without Apparatus, for Use in the Army, the Navy, camping, Hunting, and Daily Life (1918), that was owned by Sir Richard Paget, and perhaps influenced his sign system.  Here we see some of his marginal notes – click on the image for a larger size.

Scanned from a Xerox Multifunction Device (6)
Sign Language – Indian Sign Language [accessed 1/5/2015]

Davis, Jeffrey E. Hand talk : sign language among American Indian nations, CUP 2010

Tomkins, W., Universal Indian Sign Language of the Plains Indians of North America, 1st ed. 1926 and 4th ed. 1929

Seton, Ernest Thompson, Sign Talk, 1918

NOTE: I use the term ‘American Indians’ because that is the term Seton and Tomkins used.

“his slow and painful, yet most joyful death” – Deaf Author Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna and John Britt ‘The Happy Mute’

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 24 April 2015

In a passage about the Ulster Society for Promoting the Education of the Deaf, Dumb and Blind, I cam across this line – “one of the most fascinating writers of our day, […] who, having become deaf in her youth, is obliged to hold communications by means of an interpreter, – Charlotte Elizabeth, – a name known throughout the world” (Report of the Ulster Society for 1838, p.13). Since she seems to have faded from memory, I thought her a fitting subject.   Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna, (nee Browne)  was born in Norwich on 1st October 1790, where her High Tory father was a minor canon (ODNB).  He mother was of Scottish covenenter descent, and with such parents she grew up inculcated with strongly anti-catholic views (Murphy 2005).  A sickly child, she became deaf when aged 10, then threw herself into reading and literature.  “Later in life she came to see this fascination as sinful because it served no useful, religious purpose, but her early reading in drama, poetry, and fiction provided excellent preparation for her future writing career.” (ibid)  She influenced both Harriet Beecher Stowe and Elizabeth Gaskell.   CharlotteElizabethTonna

She married Captain George Phelan and moved with him to Canada for two years, then to his estate in Kilkenny.  He was abusive to her, and we are told this was a symptom of oncoming insanity.  After he died she married a much younger man, the evangelical writer Lewis Hippolytus Joseph Tonna.

The complex and contradictory nature of her attitudes to the Irish is best illustrated by her relationship with John Britt, a deaf mute from Kilkenny.  She regarded him as her adopted son and educated him and converted him to Protestantism, even alienating him from his own family. Yet ultimately, she treated him as a servant rather than as a child of her own. (Murphy)

Early in her book about Britt, The Happy Mute, she  says,

in truth, every one of us is born dumb, and must remain so until reason dawns, and we begin to imitate the words used by others.  But when a person is born deaf, he continues dumb because he hears no language spoken ; or, at best, he will only make strange noises, in attempting to imitate the movements that he observes in the lips of others, who can use their organs of speech.  Thus are the poor mutes shut out from communicating their ideas, except by such signs as they can devise to express themselves by ; and these are seldom understood or regarded, unless by those very nearly and tenderly interested in the welfare and comfort of the afflicted creature who uses them.  Of course, all moral instruction is confined to mere tokens of approval or displeasure, as the child’s conduct is correct or not ; and religious teaching seems to be out of the question, where words are wanting to convey it.  We may teach a child who was born deaf, to kneel to hold up his hands, to move his lips, and often he will do so with the most affecting aspect of devotion ; but we can tell nothing of God the Creator and Preserver, the Redeemer and Sanctifier of our fallen race. (Elizabeth, 1841 p.9-10)

The collected Memoir of John Britt (1850), collated from various of her writings after her death, lays on the fiery evangelical terror with epistrophe –

Oh remember, reader that they have, as you, an evil heart of unbelief – that they are, like you, born in sin and conceived in iniquity, and that nothing but the blood, the all cleansing blood of Christ can sprinkle their consciences and make them clean. (ibid p.7)

In 1823 in Kilkenny she came across a deaf boy called Sylvester, aged 12 to 13, but though he seemed to be intelligent, “he had no thought beyond his personal gratification, of which one part indeed, consisted in pleasing his friend” (p.9), but then in October he brought along ‘Jack’ (John), who made much better progress while Sylvester ceased to come to her. Large alphabet letters were used to teach him words like ‘dog’ and ‘man’, while the illustration shows how she tried to show him that there was a God by puffing bellows – he then said “God like wind! God like Wind!” (p.27).

We learn from the  Memoir of John Britt that Charlotte was expert at ‘Dactylology’ or finger spelling (p.13).  One wonders if there was a little confusion and if the compiler was aware of the possibility that she was signing with people as well as finger-spelling.  The aim of her education seems to have been to take him from a ‘natural’ Atheism through to a belief in God, and not the Popish God she so disliked – “Two things his soul abhorred – Satan and Popery” (Memoirs p.52).  These were her prejudices, or perhaps rather genuinely held beliefs, that she was filling him with, that she had absorbed from her parents.

When she left Ireland, she took him with her, moving to Clifton with her brother for a time. John Britt died in 1831 of consumption after a long illness of over a year – “sometimes when greatly oppressed, leeches were applied, and once half a dozen were put on his side, at his own request”(Memoir p.124).  The Happy Mute begins with the quotation in the title of this page, “a year and a half has scarcely passed since I saw him depart to be with Christ ; and often do I look back with thankful wonder on his short but happy life – his slow and painful, yet most joyful death ; and I look forward to the period when, through the blood of that saviour whom he so dearly loved, I hope to meet my precious charge in the mansions of glory” (p.7).

he was buried in Bagshot church-yard, near the Eastern window. It was a four miles’ walk through melting snow, under a drizzling rain, on a comfortless day, yet all the boys of the Sunday School, and a few of the girls, appeared, attired in their best, and formed in procession, following on foot the carriage which bore the dumb boy’s remains to their final resting place. (Memoirs p.137)

BrittIn 1844, “a schirrous induration  appeared under the left axilla, which soon rapidly took a malignant form, and after being an open cancer for more than eighteen months, eventually caused her death by its attacking an artery, and causing exhaustion from loss of blood.” (Obituary p.434)

She died on the 12th of July 1846,  “and about half an hour before her departure showed manifest signs of joy, altough unable to speak, when he who tended her death-bed, spelled on his fingers the name of ‘Jack,’ and reminded him that she would soon meet him again.” (Memoir p.140)

The happy mute; or, The dumb child’s appeal. 8th ed. London, L. and G. Seeley, Dublin, William Curry, and Robertson, 1841. 

Memoir of John Britt, the happy mute; compiled from the writings, letters, and conversation of Charlotte Elizabeth. 2nd ed. London, Seeleys, 1854.

Memoir of John Britt, the happy mute. 18–? Title page missing, information taken from front cover. (the two Memoirs are different slightly in pagination and it is possible I have used both editions in the quotations above)

Obituary in The Gentleman’s Magazine

David Murphy, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 94, No. 373 (Spring, 2005), pp. 105-107 Published by: Irish Province of the Society of Jesus Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30096012 Accessed: 24-04-2015 12:52 UTC



Francis Lieber: “Every blind-surd shows a decided consciousness of Mine and Thine”

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 1 April 2015

In 1845 Francis Lieber  published A Lecture on the Origin and Development of the First Constituents of Civilisation (1845).  Lieber (1798 or 1800-1872) was a German born jurist who formulated ‘rules of war’ that became the basis of the Geneva Conventions.Lieber 3

His date of birth is uncertain as he lied in order to sign up for the Prussian army, fighting at Waterloo where he was  wounded, and later he fought in the Greek War of Independence.  Moving to America,  he became Professor of History at South Carolina College, now the University of South Carolina.  Three sons fought in the Civil War, two for the Union and another was killed fighting for the Confederacy.  He was the first person in the U.S.A. to call himself a political scientist.

This essay links several remarkable people, with Lieber introducing the deaf-blind, or as he terms them, ‘blind-surds’, into his discussion, Laura Bridgeman, Oliver Caswell, and James Mitchell among others (p.9).

Every blind-surd shows a decided consciousness of Mine and Thine, and a consequent perception of the value of exchange.  They deeply blush if detected filching.  All show a decided sense of decorum; a consciousness of right and wrong, and resentment at injustice; all willingly acknowledge superiors, even among themselves, which latter is at least the case in the only instance in which, to my knowledge, two blind-surds have been brought in contact, namely Laura Bridgeman and Oliver Casswell.  All have shown the internal necessity of language, which promptly manifested itself so soon as ingenuity and wisdom had contrived the means of breaking through the thick walls which kept their souls immured and of establishing a bridge of communion with the outer world. (p.8-9)

Lieber 1Our copy was sent ‘with the authjors resp[ects]’ to a famous Norfolk-born British judge, Baron Alderson (1787-1857).  He was a cousin of the novelist Amelia Opie, Quaker friend of the Gurney family (Elizabeth Fry etc) and Mary WollstonecraftLievber 3



“What an uneducated deaf mute can do” – Joseph Watson of Ayrshire

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 27 March 2015

Joseph Watson was born circa 1811, and was unfortunate to never have the opportunity to get an education.  In a publication of the Ayrshire Mission (bound in the library as Talks about Jesus to our silent ones) we are told

He grew up without any knowledge of reading, or writing, or language. He learned his trade as a weaver, and afterwards started on his own account as a barber with wonderful success until his death. He was intelligent and industrious. He possessed a measure of wit, which could make long faces “laugh and grow fat”. Any hearing or deaf person could easily understand him by signs. He often lamented his want of education. He made correct models of scenes in the land of Burns. The models, which are shown at Kilmarnock, are said to be the best and most correct that were ever made. It cost him many years’ labour to finish them

Joseph WatsonIn the article before this one, the Ayrshire Mission reprinted an Address on What an uneducated deaf mute can do, first published in the Ayr Observer of 15th May, 1886, in which the writer describes an address by the Ayrshire Deaf missioner James Paul, we learn that, in addition to his model making skills,

How skilful he is as a canary breeder, and also as a cultivator of flowers.  What do you think of the fact that this uneducated deaf mute bought a small property with his savings, and how able he is in attending to the duties of a landlord?  How intelligent he is as manifested by his conversation in signs with any one who can understand him.

Our Deaf and Dumb (published by Roe at the Derbyshire Institution) adds, “The fact that his birds were amongst the best warblers in the district puzzled many of the barber’s customers but the secret was that Watson had been careful to get a good whistling bird to set the example to the others, and so he had no difficulty with his young birds.”

His end, sometime on the night of the 22nd to the 23rd of September, 1888, was however tragic.

The body of an old man was found on the railway near Auchinleck, on Sunday morning, 23rd September last. The name of Joseph Watson on a slip of paper, with £15 and a gold watch, were found in the deceased’s pockets, and the remains were supposed to be of Joseph Watson, deaf mute, who resided in Ayr, and being away from home, was expected back on Saturday but did not return.  The watch had stopped at 9.30, which had just allowed time to walk from the traiin to the spot where he met his death.  He had been to Edinburgh by the excursion viaMuirkirk, on Saturday.  He had evidently left the train at Cumnock, where the engine of the train was being supplied with water.  The reason for his leaving the train is unknown, but it is supposed he might have mistaken Cumnock for Ayr, and proceeded along the line towards the bridge where his body was found.  There was no parapet wall, and in the darkness he had missed his footing and slipped over.  Apointsman at the Templand Viaduct identified him as a man he had called to not to proceed along the line, but of course his warning was not heard.(see Death of Joseph Watson)
cork modelAbove one of his models.  I wonder if any survive?  Any Scottish readers in Ayrshire, let us know!

1841 census – Parish: St Quivox; ED: 5; Page: 8; Line: 1390; Year: 1841

Death of Joseph Watson, p.21 of an unnamed issue bound in Talks about Jesus to our silent ones.

The Late Joseph Watson, Our Deaf and Dumb, vol.2, p.200-1

“we were enabled to ward off the small-pox” – The Indiana Asylum

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 20 March 2015

To show that our collection is not merely parochial but of international interest, we have a visit to our American cousins today.

I discovered that we have two overlapping bound volumes of the Indiana Asylum for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb.  The paper is beautiful in quality, the annual reports were printed and bound together in 1855, ten years after they were produced.  The Asylum took young people between the ages of ten and thirty, which seems quite an interesting age bracket, but quite progressive when you consider how difficult the transition from youth and dependence to maturity and independence is for young people anyway, and perhaps more so for Deaf young people.Indiana 1

The building is impressive and substantial looking, and the state levied a property tax in order to build it.  Its founder, William Willard, was a pupil of Laurent Clerc.

There are lists of pupils, stating the (supposed) cause of their deafness.  These would be interesting to analyse as they present a substantial data set.

Indiana 2One of the charms of this type of publication, is the stories they published that were written by the pupils.  Here is one –

By a Boy Two Years Under Instruction
A boy was walking along the road and he met a drunkard. He laughed at the drunkard, and he threw his bottle at him and hurt him much. A man ran and carried him home. His mother was troubled and called the doctor. The doctor came and put some court-plaster on his head, and he got well again and he ran about the city. His mother told him he must not laugh at the drunkard, for if you will laugh at the drunkard he will kill you. The boy obeyed his mother. (1854 p.63)

Indiana alphabet 2The Institute’s physician, Livingston Dunlap, shows frustration in his November 1st 1854 report, when during a smallpox outbreak, he vaccinated the scholars, only to find that “a thoughtless woman came with a child while laboring under genuine varioloid to the asylum – and in a few days, the 23rd of March, five girls showed evidence of having varioloid; it spread immediately among the girls and boys until twenty-six were down with the disease, and continued until the 26th April, at which time they were all capable of attending to their duties in school.  By the timely application of the vaccination, we were enabled to ward off the small-pox and have the varioloid*, which has terminated so favorably, that no deformity was left upon the fac, nor any other undesirable result.” (p.43, 1854)

*Varioloid is a milder form of smallpox in those who have had it or been vaccinated.

Indiana Asylum for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb Annual Reports 1-15, and 11-24

“when we talk about Deaf and Dumb we use a misnomer” – Ladies Christian Homes for Deaf & Dumb Children

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 19 March 2015

The Ladies Christian Homes for Deaf & Dumb Children From Four Years of Age, on the Oral System were first established in 1875.  The first home was in Pentonville Road, North London, between Angel and Kings Cross.  Other branches were to follow in rapid succession so by 1880 there was a home at 6 Victoria Park Square near Bethnal Green, and one at 171 Grange Road, Bermondsey.  Several more opened in the following years.  The homes emerged from the founding of the London School Board after 1871, as there was insufficient provision for the education of Deaf children in London, with 300 not receiving any education (Woodford, 1999).  William Stainer of the Royal Association in Aid of the Deaf and Dumb, was approached to begin classes at Bethnal Green, in the Wilmott Street Board School with five pupils (ibid).  Children attended and boarded for the week days, but went home at weekends.  Doreen Woodford’s 1999 article is well worth reading, but despite consulting records at the London Metropolitan archive, it seems she could find none of the annual reports for these institutions.

Stainer home 2It may well be then that this single report, with what was the earlier name of the homes, is one of the few of their records that survive.

The 1881 census shows the children were almost all girls – there are only two boys –

Harriet Mealey Servant (Head) Widower 54 female  Housekeeper Datchit Nr Windsor
Alice Ensor Boarder  25  female  Assistant School Teacher Hackney Middlesex
Sarah Barnes Servant  16  female  Gen Servant Clerkenwell Middlesex
Eleanor Rivers Boarder  12  female  Scholar Penge Surrey
Beatrice Allen Boarder  14  female  Scholar Marylebone Middlesex
Mary Welch Boarder  14  female  Scholar St Lukes Middlesex
Elizabeth Johnson Boarder  13  female  Scholar Finchley Middlesex
Ellen Mays Boarder  9  female  Scholar Kensington Middlesex
Alice A. Hale Boarder  9  female  Scholar Rugby Warwickshire
Steller ? Frost Boarder  12  female  Scholar  Chiswick Middlesex
Emily Shelford Boarder  6  female  Scholar  Highbury Middlesex
Emily Harris Boarder  7  female  Scholar  Barnstaple Devon
Emily Alderton Boarder  6  female  Scholar  Blackheath
Eliza Sparrowhawk Boarder  17  female  Scholar  Hackney Middlesex
Sarah Pufferd Boarder  Younger Than 1  female  Fulham Middlesex
Margaret Jarvis Boarder  7  female  Scholar  Battersea Surrey
Beatrice Underhill Boarder  12  female  Scholar  New Cross Kent
Abraham J. Webb Boarder  9  male  Norwood Surrey
Ernest F. Howard Boarder  9  male  Warwickshire

In 1881 Stainer was living at 1 Gore Road, Hackney, and had a number of private pupils (I have excluded details of where they were born for reasons of space) –

William Stainer Head Widower 53 Male Curate St Matthews Beth Gr & Inst Deaf & Dumb School Bd For Lndn
Macdonald Campbell Boarder 18 Male Articled Asst Teacher (School Master)
Ann Honey Servant Widow 66 Female Housekeeper Domestic Serv
Mary A. Miller Servant 54 Female Housemaid Domestic – Deaf & Dumb
Jane Faulkner Servant 19 Female Housemaid Domestic
Samuel Smith Boarder 26 Male Scholar – Deaf & Dumb
William P. Turner Boarder 13 Male Scholar – Deaf & Dumb
Horace E. Sharp Boarder 13 Male Scholar – Deaf
William Randale Boarder 11 Male Scholar – Deaf & Dumb
Gerard Hiel Boarder 7 Male Scholar – Deaf & Dumb
Florrie Mann Boarder 9 Male Scholar – Deaf & Dumb

Doreen Woodford pointed out in her 1999 article, that most of the sources of material on the Stainer Homes, at least early on, is partial.  Stainer was behind the Deaf Quarterly News  and as he “was one of the original promoters of the “Conference of Headmasters”, as well as being on nearly every committee, including some internal ones, most of the evidence is biased.” (Woodford 1999).

In the proceedings of the meeting, Mr. Sydney Buxton said (p.5 of 1880 Annual Report), in a particularly dull passage announcing his Oralist intentions –

I am afraid I have no special claim upon your attention for I have no particular information to give with reference to the work that is going on.  The only information I can place before you has been from attending the Committee of the School Board which has reference to this special work.  I think after the remarks of the Chairman with reference to the Report that no addition is required from me with regard to it, what he said with respect to the Oral Teaching shows that when we talk about “Deaf and Dumb” we use a misnomer.  This is rather a pity.  “Deaf and Dumb” has become a common phrase, but in point of fact, excepting a few children who have a malformation of the mouth, no child is really dumb.  Every child can really be taught to speak if sufficient attention be given to it. […] At the Conference held in Milan, the large majority of the members were of the opinion that the Oral System was infinitely better than the Manual System, and that it was the only true scientific way by which to teach the Deaf and Dumb.  The London School Board has now, after trying the two systems, practically adopted the Oral System in all its schools, and it would be a good thing if it went a little further, and declared that the Oral system [sic] was the best.

Further on, the Rev. Septimus Hansard, of St. George’s in the East adds his ha’pennyworth –

Think how fifty years ago these deaf children were left to grow up as idiots! It never entered the heads of people to educate the Deaf and Dumb.  After some time it is true education was provided for the Deaf and Dumb, but only for those who had reached nine or ten years of age, and these institutions exist to this day.  But the little ones were left to drift into imbecility. […] I have known Mr. Stainer for many years, he has devoted his life to this work.

Stainer was Hansard’s curate at this time in Bethnal Green.  Hansard looks to be a very interesting person – taught by Arnold at Rugby and F.D. Maurice in London and involved in the ‘Surplice Riots’ of East London.  Indeed, “he was a schoolfriend at Rugby of Thomas Hughes, who based the Tom Brown’s Schooldays character of Holmes the praepostor, ‘one of the best boys in the school’, on him.” (St. George’s in the East website)

The homes later went into a decline and were eventually closed.

STAINER HOMESStainer home 1

The Ladies Christian Homes for Deaf & Dumb Children , Fifth Annual Report, 1880

LAISHLEY, R. Report on deaf-mute institutions. VIII. London Board Schools and the Rev. W. Stainer’s Homes. Quarterly Review of Deaf-Mute Education, 1888, 1, 300-305.

Quarterly Review of Deaf-Mute Education, 1888, 1, 320.

WOODFORD, D.E. The rise and fall of the Stainer’s Homes. Deaf History Journal, 1999, 3(2), 27-38.



Census returns for 1881 – Class: RG11; Piece: 353; Folio: 4; Page: 2; GSU roll: 1341076

Class: RG11; Piece: 312; Folio: 106; Page: 59; GSU roll: 1341067

 St. George’s in the East website  [accessed 19/3/2015]

The Wych School, Hampstead

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 6 March 2015

The Wych School in Hampstead was started I believe around 1902. In the 1901 census the Headmistress, Cecile M Parker (aged 26), was living in South Hill Park, Hampstead, along with Martha S Suiter of Southport (aged 28), both being described as teachers of the deaf.  They must however have been teaching elsewhere, running a day school.

Born in Surbiton circa 1875, in the 1881 census Cecile Parker was, aged only six, already being boarded out in London.  In 1891 she was a school boarder at a private school in Hilldrop Road, Islington, with three other Parker girls who I surmise were her younger sisters.

The Wych school taught orally, with an emphasis on lip reading.  They held an annual, well attended, open day, as well as regularly having visitors ‘drop in’ to watch the children being taught.  Some might be kind and say that ladies of leisure in those times probably thought they were doing what was expected and sociable, others might have a less charitable view.

Wych School 001At any rate, the school seems to have been fairly well supported.  At the 1905 summer bazaar, on 11th of July, the aims were –

1 To widen the children’s interests in life.
2 to arouse their sympathy for others, and to awaken the desire to help them.
3 To increase their vocabulary.
4 To teach them the use and value of money in a practical way.
The Bazaar was a great success in every way. The children were the stall-holders, and managed very well with the money. Three stalls were arranged in the drawing room – a large one each for Cecily & Claude, & a small 2nd stall for Cliff. Each stall was draped with pink muslin & the top of each covered with green muslin. Behind each stall we pinned up strips of brown paper, & on this we put up various notices about the articles. Cicely sold all the needlework doyleys, tidies, pincushions, some blotters, [jean’s?] boxes, etc. Claude had on his stall all the arving, boxes of home made sweets, “Turkish” boxes filled with sweets, frames, penwipers, some blotters & photographs of the school.

How do we know this?  Well, in in 1956 Ronald Hyett Suffolk Missioner to the Deaf and Dumb, found the school book that Cecile used to record the visitors in the period from December 1904 to February 1906.  I suppose if Cecile Parker died unmarried in Norfolk in 1952, that would explain how the book ended up in Ipswich.

Wych 2 001

Here is the school as it was in 1911, with the school then at 9 Keats Grove, Hampstead, London:

Cecile Mary Parker   Head 1875 36 Female Single TEACHER OF THE DEAF Surbiton, Surrey, England
Meta Suiter          Head 1874 37 Female Single TEACHER OF THE DEAF Cumberland, Cumberland, England
Jean Bassett              1891 20 Female Single SCHOOL   South Africa  – Deaf from 6yrs
Muriel Holmes             1893 18 Female Single SCHOOL   York, York, England – Deaf from birth
Dora Hubbard              1897 14 Female SCHOOL Leicester, Leicester, England – Deaf & Dumb
Dora Redhead              1900 11 Female SCHOOL Berlin, Germany – Deaf & Dumb
Lenore Dawson             1902 9 Female SCHOOL   Unknown  – Deaf & Dumb
Clifford Adams            1896 15 Male Single SCHOOL Lesbury, Buckingham, England  – Deaf from 1 yr
Edward John Mansell      1897 14 Male SCHOOL Asti, Sussex, England – Deaf & Dumb
Alex Holmes               1898 13 Male SCHOOL York, York, England – Partially Deaf
Teddy Skuse               1906 5 Male SCHOOL London, United Kingdom – Deaf & Dumb
Lizzie Macbean   Servant 1884 27 Female Single MOTHERS HELP WANDSWORTH, England
Rotha Inch       Servant  1895 16 Female GENERAL SERVANT DOMESTIC Foxearth, Essex, England

By 1923 the school had moved to Haslemere, and we have quite a few photographs of it there.

1911 Census Class: RG14; Piece: 603

Mumu, a deaf slave from Sierra Leone

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 13 February 2015

In the Quarterly Review of Deaf Mute Education for October 1892, there is an item on the Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and Blind, Bath, (an institution connected with the ‘Industrial Home’ that we examined in a previous item).

In 1853, a fifteen year old ‘deaf and dumb’ girl from Sierra Leone called Mumu entered the institution.  I will let the original article tell the story –

In 1846 she had been rescued by a British Cruiser from a slave ship and placed, with her liberated companions, in the school at Charlotte, established by Government for the purpose of receiving and educating liberated slave girls, and now under the charge of the Church Missionary Society.   On hearing of the case, the committee of the Bath Deaf and Dumb Institution offered to receive this girl free of expense.  Mumu was accordingly sent to England, and very soon made rapid progress in her lessons.  She was of a very amiable, teachable, and affectionate disposition, and her health, too, was remarkably good.  The instruction she gained in a period of about five years was attended with the happiest results.  After due preparation, and at her own earnest desire, she was admitted by Baptism into the Christian Church and received the christian names of Annie Jane.  She then became deeply anxious that her mother should learn the truths of the Gospel and constantly prayed for her.  Her father, who was captured, had been cruelly put to death before his child.  She was afterwards, for a short time, in service of the Church Missionary College at Islington, but, subsequently, she returned to Bath, and remained in the Institution until her death, which occurred, after a short illness, in May, 1866.  She died beloved and regretted by her friends, teachers, and companions.  Her love of the word of God, her simple reliance on her Saviour, and her conscientious endeavours to discharge faithfully the humble duties of her station, evinced that this once heathen girl had become a Christian not only by profession, but also in deed and in truth.  Certain marks on her forehead proved on inquiry that she was a princess in her own country.

The ship that rescued her would have been part of the West Africa Squadron.  In limited time I could not find further mention of her.  It would make a very interesting dissertation for someone to research this more thoroughly – subaltern history.  If you can add anything let us know!

The charity Sound Seekers that lives next door to us in the UCL ear Institute, has been doing work in Sierra Leone, unfortunately on hold at the time of writing due to Ebola.

UPDATE 16/2/15: Our friend @DeafHeritageUK has pointed out that Mumu appears in the 1861 census as a servant, under her adopted name & having taken the surname of Jane Elwin (see previous post) – living in Suffolk.  I am hoping to follow this up further, and will of course add any new information I discover.

Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and Blind, Bath.  Quarterly Review of Deaf Mute Education October 1892 p.1