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‘A typical Oldhamite’ and The Deaf & Dumb Herald and Public Intelligencer

By Hugh Dominic W Stiles, on 1 February 2013

CLEGG, Ralph (ca.1849-1918)

Ralph Clegg was the son of John Clegg a self-made industrialist from Rochdale.  Clegg senior had worked in a mill from childhood, at a time when the working day lasted from 5am to 8pm. He saved his pennies, learned to read and write, and became an apprentice in Heywood.  Marrying a daughter of one of his employers, John Clegg moved on to Samuel Lees and Sons as a manager. His inventions such as “Clegg’s Pick” (used for working the shuttle on a loom) founded his prosperity. His son Ralph would appear to have had a form of deafness from childhood illness as he is not described as ‘Deaf’ in the 1851 census when he was still under two years old. Ralph was the founder & editor of The Deaf & Dumb Herald and Public Intelligencer which lasted for only one year in 1876-7.

In 1881 Ralph was living in  Oldham with his wife and four young children, working as a draughtsman, able to employ a domestic servant. In 1897 he married Martha Ann Topping, also Deaf, in Hendon. One wonders if it was engineering work which took him there. By 1901 Ralph was a mechanical engineer living at Levenshulme in Manchester.  The 1911 census finds them in Warrington, and says that they had had no children together.  Ralph would appear to have died aged 71 in 1918 in Warrington. Unfortunately we do not have the Warrington records for that time and I have not found an obituary.

Mission work with Deaf people began  in Oldham in 1852.  In 1869 it became a branch of the Manchester mission, with the superintendant Rev. G.A.W. Downing.  However the records show that some of the Deaf in the mission in Oldham became discontented at being a junior branch and they broke away from the Manchester Adult Deaf and Dumb Society in 1875.  The British Deaf Mute  for 1894 and the Oldham Mission report for 1903 (Brief Sketch of the History of our Society by W.J. M’Cormick) gives some details of this struggle. Ralph Clegg was a leader of the malcontents and his Herald was perhaps an attempt to give his side some intellectual weight (though a superficial look does not seem to show that the paper highlights any division).  The Herald itself has articles by Deaf people (including Chester Malam, subject of a previous entry), about some related issues such as education, and the old favourite temperance, but Clegg used a good deal of padding as well in the form of stories about animals or anecdotes. He was progressive in some of his views, being greatly concerned about the fate of a young Deaf man, Samuel Todd, convicted for manslaughter in Birmingham and sentenced to 15 years (p.11-12, p.36-7).

The Herald folded after a year having left Clegg £80 out of pocket. His father’s death in 1877 cannot have helped matters.  M’Cormick says of Clegg (Oldham Deaf and Dumb Society Annual Report 1903 p.36-7),

Mr Clegg – long may he live – is a typical Oldhamite; pushing, resourceful, self-reliant, and enthusiastic. He played a large part in Oldham and Manchester Deaf circles. The wielder of a ready pen – virile and logical – in his hands it was and is a mighty weapon. He made things hum, with the result that from the departure of Mr. Woodbridge until the advent of Mr. A. Welsh, now missionary at Dundee, in 1884, Oldham saw no more resident missionaries.

Clegg seems to have been a confident, intelligent Deaf man who wanted to take control of his own affairs.  It is possible that more could be, or indeed already has been unearthed about Ralph Clegg, so please let us know if you can add anything to the story by commenting.

I have uploaded the two contents pages as a pdf file.  If you are however intrigued by the Sheep fond of Practical Jokes, you will have to visit the library!

Herald contents [pdf]

1881 Census RG 11 4074

1901 Census RG13 3692

 Various Oldham Annual Reports

History. British Deaf-Mute and Deaf Chronicle, 1894, 3(35), 163-64.

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