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The Northern Counties School for the Deaf in Newcastle

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 28 September 2012

The Northern Counties School for the Deaf (originally the Northern Asylum for the Blind, Deaf, and Dumb) was the first public Deaf School to be founded in Queen Victoria’s reign in June 1838. The school’s first location was in Pilgrim St, Wellington Place.  Its first head was Mr A. Patterson (according to Selwyn Oxley’s card index*), but then a Mr Gould took over and he was in turn replaced by William Neill (in 1845/6) who had been at the Yorkshire Institution.

The first annual report that we have(1846) tells us that there were at the time of writing 31 inmates,

“of these nine are Blind, and twenty-two are Deaf and Dumb.  During the last year eleven Deaf and Dumb children have left the Asylum, and these have been apprenticed to useful occupations, or have returned home to assist their parents. […] It has been well ascertained that there cannot be fewer than five-hundred-and-fifty Deaf and Dumb in the four Northern Counties, of whom only twenty-five are at present under tuition, viz.:- 22 in the Northern Asylum; 1 in the Liverpool Institution; 1 in the Yorkshire Institution; 1 in the Manchester Institution.”

Born in Denny near Stirling on 31st of October 1818, at the age of only fourteen William Neill commenced work as a teacher under Duncan Anderson at the Glasgow Institution where he remained eleven years (Deaf and Dumb Times).  At a meeting in December 1848 Neill carried his plan to separate the education of the blind, and after a brief move to Charlotte Square, in 1861 the Institution moved to specially created premises in North Rd.  The arms manufacturer Sir W.G. Armstrong contributed generously to the cost of the new building.

In 1850 Neill married the Institution’s matron, Miss Jessie Cunningham Wright. In his obituary the Deaf and Dumb Times says

Mr Neill saw the Deaf and Dumb Institution of this city at its lowest ebb, and frequently he had to advance money out of his own pocket to keep the Institution going. Through his exertions- ably aided by his devoted wife- he saw the institution gradually grow in importance, usefulness, and influence, and has lived long enough to see it not only entirely free from debt, but almost self-supporting.

Click onto the picture for a larger size.

Neill was followed as head by Mr Andrew Wright (1890-?1910).  Wright was born in Edinburgh in 1834, then studied at the Edinburgh Royal High School which he left in 1869.  He came to the Northern Counties School shortly after that, becoming second master in 1883 (Ephphatha, p.41).

“In this rush for the ‘betterment’ of teachers,” said our own Gamaliel, “there is a distinct tendencyto run too fast and too far, and, as you know, I have not hesitated to raise my voice, feeble though it be, against it. […]
“Your leading horses, Otium and Oralism, are no doubt nice looking, sleek, and well groomed animals,” continued Mr. Wright, “but they will give you a nasty spill if they are not kept well in hand, and there are already indications that the man on the box is losing control. My advice is to ‘swop horses’ ere you reach the stream, and if you replace your leaders with these two thoroughbreds, Self-Denial and Anti-Humbug, you’ll mount the hill of Secondary Education, now looming in the distance, in grand style.”

“And do you consider that a commensurate improvement has also been effected in the education of deaf and dumb children?”

Andrew WrightMr. Wright’s answer is somewhat startling.  “I am afraid not,” said he.  “Doubtless a much larger proportion is being educated, but I do not find that the standard of general education has advanced.  I admit that their school curriculum now includes more subjects than were thought of 20 or 30 years ago, but we must confess to a weakness in their composition, and a meagreness in their general knowledge and attainments that was not so apparent in former days.”

I thought of men like Armour, Paul and Agnew; of Muir, Maginn, and McGregor; of Bright-Lucas, Payne, Davidson, and many another, and recognized that, compared with these, the scholars of the present day were “no great shakes.”  I asked Mr. Wright to what he attributed this “unsatisfactory state” of affairs.

“Some headmasters and teachers with whom I have discussed this subject, attribute this decline to the time spent over articulation; others say that now-a-days too much time is devoted to kindergarten and manual training during school hours.  But be the cause what it may, the result is one which we must all deplore.” (Ephphatha, P.41-2)

After Andrew Wright, came Mr D.C. Baldie (1910-26, then administrative head for a further two years); Miss Hutchinson (teaching head 1926-8); Mr W. Wearmouth (from 1928 to 1963); Mr F.W. Hockenhull (1963-65).  During the war the school was temporarily evacuated to a camp on the Northumberland coast.  According to the 1941 Annual report, the school resumed at the Institution on the 3rd of April, 1940.  The same report tells us that 5 tons of potatoes were produced from 3/4 of an acre of the school’s land put under cultivation – a valuable addition to the war effort at a time when food production was critical.  In 1946, one of the teachers, Mr. Mundin, left to become head of Mary Hare School.

The 1978-9 Annual report has this brief chronology of the school –

1838 School founded in Wellington Place
1849 School moved to Charlotte Square
1861 School moved to a new building on the Great North Road
1905 Extensions to School Building
1909 School Hospital opened
1955 Nursery Department building opened
1966 Major alterations and extensions to Junior and Secondary teaching accommodation
1967 New Senior Residence, Swimming Bath and Gymnasium opened
1968 Provision of car parking facilities for pupils’ transport
1971 Extensions to Nursery Department teaching and residential accommodation and provision of Educational Assessment facilities

In 1963 when Wearmouth retired, he wrote in the Annual Report,

I am pleased to record my appreciation of the excellent work Mr. Boon has done for the School.  He was always available to help out and I thank him sincerely for the valuable aid he gave me.  I will miss him as we have been colleagues for some 40 years.

WearmouthInterestingly, the 1964 report tells us (p.7) that there had been a drop in numbers as there were no longer partially hearing children in the school. There were 170 pupils registered that year.  In 1965 Mr. Hockenhull and his wife left to become Headmaster and Matron of the Yorkshire Residential School in Doncaster on the 1st of January, 1966, where he replaced D R. E.S. Greenaway. The new Head was Lionel Evans. In the 1968-9 Annual Report it seems that there were 198 pupils from fifteen Local Education Authorities. The prize-giving in 1970 was done by Mr and Mrs John R. Boon. John Boon was at the school for 43 years, 26 as Deputy Head, and Mrs Boon was at the school for 19 years.  The 1980-81 report shows that the school was facing a financial crisis, and that the number of registered pupils was down to 125 from the previous year when it was 143.  In his comments, John Atkinson the Chairman of the Governors, said that the drop meant that some positions in the school had therefore become redundant.  The drop was a direct result of increased ‘mainstreaming.’  At the time Evans was The Powrie Doctor Visiting Professor of Deaf Studies at Gallaudet College.  The acting Headmaster, T.A. Purdy, defended the school:

Dr. Conrad’s recent research strongly indicated that the ‘combined method employed in this School is the most appropriate method for the education of profoundly deaf children.  The publication “Psychology and Communication in Deaf Children” by R.D. Savage, L. Evans and J.F. Savage, which is based on research carried out in the School from 1973-79, has now been published and complements Conrad’s findings, adding evidence as to the efficiency of “manual media for for transmission of linguistic information” (p.245). There is also an abundance of American research which has findings supporting the use of this method.  The School has a staff well-skilled in using the combined oral-manual method.

The following year, the number enrolled had dropped further to 104, 46 resident and the remainder day pupils.  There was a consequent drop in staffing levels, and in the last annual report we have, for 1982-3, there were only 98 pupils, down from 188 a decade earlier.  The school celebrated its 150th year anniversary in 1989.  It seems to still be going according to the OFSTED reports (below).  It seems there are school records in the Tyne and Wear Archives.

Further Reading:

Mr. Andrew Wright, an interview. Ephphatha 1898, p.41-2

HALL, I. Keeping it in the family: five generations of deafness at the N.C.S.D. Deaf History Journal, 2000, (3), 8-20.

History. Annual report, 1979-80. p. 26. [just the timeline above]

Magazine intended chiefly for the Deaf and Dumb, 1878, 6, 155-58.

Quarterly Review of Deaf-Mute Education, 1891, 2, 321-326.

School for the deaf in Newcastle upon Tyne celebrates its 150th anniversary. British Deaf News, 1989, 20(3), p.6

Wagg, Henry,  A Chronological Survey of Work for the Blind from the Earliest Records up to the Year 1930

William Neill  (1818-90)

Deaf and Dumb Magazine (Glasgow), 1880, 8, 97-98 (illus between p. 105 and p. 105)

Obituary. Deaf and Dumb Times, 1890, 1 (12), 141-42. (illus)

Obituary. Quarterly Review of Deaf-Mute education, 1890, 2, 203-06

Quarterly Review of Deaf-Mute Education, 1890, 2, 161-62

Also Annual Reports for:

The Northern Asylum for the Blind and the Deaf and Dumb, 1845-1847

The Northern Counties Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb (and other names), 1851-5, 1884, 1886, 1910-11, 1913-15, 1919-20, 1923, 1925-48, 1949/50-70/71, 1974/75-77/78, 1979/80-82/83

OFSTED Reports

EDITED 3/10/2014 *This information is confirmed by other sources – see blog entry on Patterson.

EDITED 21/6/2016 Substantial quote from Wright added.

EDITED 27/2/2017 Added much more on the post-war years in response to a comment to bring the item up-to-date.



14 Responses to “The Northern Counties School for the Deaf in Newcastle”

  • 1
    ‘He was a “father” of the profession’ – Andrew Patterson (1803-83) of Manchester, Teacher of the Deaf | UCL UCL Ear Institute & Action on Hearing Loss Libraries wrote on 3 October 2014:

    […] a short period from 1839-41, Patterson ran the school at Newcastle but returned to Manchester as head when Bingham departed, encouraged to found a private school by […]

  • 2
    joseph redfearn wrote on 28 July 2016:

    i was a pupil at the school from 1947 to end of 1951 the headmaster was mr wearmouth some teachers i remember was mr lawson and mr smith

  • 3
    Ralph Duncombe Jackson of the British Deaf and Dumb Association | UCL UCL Ear Institute & Action on Hearing Loss Libraries wrote on 31 October 2016:

    […] this is broadly taken).  That would have been in 1852/3.  He was educated at the Newcastle ‘Northern Counties School for the Deaf‘, which would have meant that he was taught by William […]

  • 4
    John Russell wrote on 26 February 2017:

    I was a pupil until 1959. I remember Mr. Wearmouth as headmaster, Mr Boon as assistant headmaster, and the teachers Mr, Murray, Mr Lawson, Mr Smith, and Mr Purdy. I am interested in the history of the school and have not been able to find much at all.

  • 5
    Removed Account wrote on 27 February 2017:

    Thanks John – I have now added some more about the postwar history. Note the Tyne & Wear Archives seem to have material on the school. Also if you would like to email us on rnidlib@ucl.ac.uk we may be able to scan some annual reports for the period when you were at the school.

  • 6
    Scott H. Murray wrote on 20 January 2019:

    Mr Murray was my grandfather. I don’t know much about the history of the school, but my dad probably does.

  • 7
    Joan hogarth wrote on 30 March 2017:

    I am pupil 1948 to 1959 yes I remember headmaster mr wearmouth his sister even Mr boon mr Murray other teacher I was enjoy school even my sister deaf pupil 1931to 1936 transfer to Margate

  • 8
    John Russell wrote on 15 April 2018:

    1959? Joan, did you and me and Roy Coward go to a restaurant with Mr. Boon? before we left at Christmas?

  • 9
    “he used to interpret in court cases” – Edward Bates James (1863-1936) | UCL UCL Ear Institute & Action on Hearing Loss Libraries wrote on 2 June 2017:

    […] on he became a teacher of the deaf, training with William Neill at the Northern Counties School for the Deaf in Newcastle.  The Ephphatha article tells us he […]

  • 10
    chris corner wrote on 11 August 2017:

    HI wondering if you could help. looking for any documentation on my mother. my mum attended the northern counties school for the deaf. all I have is the date of her admission. which was 14/04/1931. Her name was Elizabeth Lilian McGuine born 24/11/1919 , she was living in annfield plain before she attended the school. I would appreciate it if you could give me any information at all on my mum.
    Kindest Regards Chris

  • 11
    John Russell wrote on 20 October 2017:

    When I was there is the 1950’s, there must have been something like 200 resident pupils. Admittance being bed availability. In the 1980’s the number of residents was about 50 or so. Mainstreaming took them out of the school. I have to say, at least for me, the old school was a really great school in many ways and much more beneficial than a regular school. Maybe in some far off day the pendulum will swing back again.

  • 12
    Leslie Bowater wrote on 17 June 2018:

    I was a pupil at the school from 1950 till 1954 Mr Boon was my teacher i would like to see the reports please
    Leslie Bowater

  • 13
    Removed Account wrote on 18 June 2018:

    You are welcome to come in & see the annual reports we have, though maybe you would find them in the Newcastle archives as well if you live in that area https://twarchives.org.uk/

  • 14
    John Russell wrote on 6 November 2019:

    Scott Murray: I knew your grandfather. He was great teacher. I used to see your father when he was a tall thin youth and lived at the school cottage. I can’t remember if I ever spoke to him. I think your grandfather moved to Chester Le Street when he retired. Your grandfather was real good. He signed and spoke slowly and clearly and was easy to understand.