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“By education he understood the development of all the best parts and powers of the creature” – Benjamin Hill Payne & the Cambrian School

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 9 October 2015

Cambrian SchoolBenjamin Hill Payne was born on the 23rd of January 1847.  He lost his hearing after an attack of scarlet fever aged 10 (Ephphatha 1896).  Payne attended the Ranelagh School in Athlone (since closed and sadly the buildings torn down as recently as 1991), then worked as a teacher at Dublin’s Claremont Institution for 16 years, before moving to Swansea.  At Swansea he became the principal after the resignation of Alexander Mollison in 1875 (ibid), or 1874 according to Raper’s obituary in BDT p.129.  He remained there for 40 years.  Benjamin Payne’s wife, Miss Passant (d.1921) was also Irish born, from Slane, and she worked at his side as a matron in these schools.

The 1896 article tells us that at the Cambrian school,

Good manners and the little amenities of life are well taught indeed, and there is a refreshing spirit of bon camaraderie apparent between the Principal, his staff, and the children – an air of genial homeliness that surely is of benefit to one and all. Mr. Payne is thoroughgoing. His word is law in the school and none can command more cheerful obedience. […]
That our friend is a past master in matters educational, goes without saying.  Both methods are used at his school.  He believes in adapting the method to the pupil rather than the pupil to the method. (ibid)

The Cambrian School was formed after a public meeting held by the Mayor in Aberystwyth on 1st of February 1847, and on July 24th the first class was held with two boys at a house in Pier Street under Charls Rhind (see Jones, 1985). The school took more pupils, between the ages of nine and thirteen, and in 1848 there were eight pupils. In 1850 the school moved to Swansea, firstly at Picton Place then later in a new building at Graig Field in 1857 (ibid).
In his memoir, F.W.G. Gilby calls the Paynes ‘dear old friends’, and comments on their value as educators:

The Sleights, father and sons, Edward Townsend of Birmingham, the Paynes of Swansea, Alexander Melville, with Samuel Smith of London, and his brother W.B. Smith of Bristol were the firm stalwarts for the finger alphabet plus signs, and it is not sufficiently known and appreciated how very many splendidly equipped deaf went forth into the world after having been educated by them. (p.145)

He told William Raper of the long hours he had spent with Blomefield Sleight and others drawing up the B.D.D.A. constitution (1926).  In retirement Payne helped out running the R.A.D.D. when the Rev. G.J. Chetwynd joined the Officer Corps.  Raper tells us, “He was an attractive and elegant signer, and liked plenty of space whenever addressing an audience.”

His sermons were well thought out and interesting, but of late were inclined to be somewhat too long. He would forget the time and apologize for this afterwards. (BDT obituary)

Raper says that Payne wrote,

“The B.D.D.A. is not a mission, nor is it concerned soley with after-care. Its concern is the whole class and all that concerns them. It promotes, and has founded, missions and helped them, and is especially interested in education. It did a good deal to enlighten the public years before the Bureau was founded, and its influence on the teachers and education, though unacknowledged, is apparent today … I have lived with and taught the Deaf in Institutions for 56 years. And I say there are evils – necessary evils at present, but evils – evils out of which it is possible good may come.” (ibid)

We can see Payne’s thinking as early as 1877, when he spoke at the 1877 Conference of Headmasters of Institutions at the Strand in London.  I will just quote a few lines, in his discussion of the new oralist versus traditional manualist schools:

By education he understood the development of all the best parts and powers of the creature; instruction was simply specific information.  Compare the title of the Association for the Oral Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb with that of the noble old Institution in which he qualified – the National Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb Poor.  In that they had all the difference. (ibid, p.106)

Payne died in 1926. His son, the Rev. Arnold Hill Payne, is worthy of his own post.
Payne family 1896Our Portrait Gallery 5. Mr. B.H. Payne, Ephphatha 1896, May p.78-9 (pic)

Mr & Mrs B.H. Payne, Ephphatha 1915, p.385-6 (pic)

Raper, William, Benjamin Hill Payne, Ephphatha 1926 Autumn, p.1025

Raper, William, Benjamin Hill Payne as I knew him, BDT 1926, vol. 22 p.129-30

Mr Benjamin Hill Payne, BDT 1926, vol 22 p.108

Gilby, Memoir

ROYAL CAMBRIAN RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL FOR THE DEAF, Swansea (1847-1950)

LLANDINDROD WELLS RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL FOR THE DEAF (1950-1971)

JONES, H. An outline of the historical development of the school for deaf children in Wales. Association Magazine (BATOD), 1985, May, 9-10.

Quarterly Review of Deaf-Mute Education, 1893, 3, 193-198.

Photo. Wales Hi, 1996, 3(3), back cover.

Royal Commission on the Blind, Deaf and Dumb, 1889. Vol. 2, Appendix 28, 289.

Llandindrod Wells School. Silent World, 1959, 14, 148-51.

Llandindrod Wells Residential School for the Deaf. Wales Hi, 1996, 3(2), 6.

3 Responses to ““By education he understood the development of all the best parts and powers of the creature” – Benjamin Hill Payne & the Cambrian School”

  • 1
    The Rev. Charles Rhind, chaplain and teacher, and his brother James | UCL UCL Ear Institute & Action on Hearing Loss Libraries wrote on 16 October 2015:

    […] Born on 5th of October 1813, and privately educated, from an early age Rhind was engaged in teaching Deaf children, being at the age of 16 appointed as a teacher under Dr Watson at the Old Kent Road School.  After 11 years he then moved to Belfast where he was Head of the Deaf School, the Ulster Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, and Blind until 1846, when the Institution moved into new premises. His next move was to Aberystwyth where he founded the first Welsh Deaf School and was its first Principal.  The school later moved to Swansea as the Cambrian Institution. […]

  • 2
    Dr Neil J Alderman wrote on 21 October 2015:

    You may be interested In my book “Joseph and Mary – A case study of deaf family history”.My paternal deaf grandfather Joseph attended the Royal Cambrian Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, Swansea. between 1906 and 1911. Appendix A of my book gives a brief history of the institution.
    My book is available from the bookshop of the British Deaf History Society.

  • 3
    Leesa Johnson wrote on 1 March 2016:

    It is such an inspirational story. I will share it with indigent. A life of deaf and dumb human can’t imagine but benjamin hill Payne showed an unbelievable courage heads off to him and thanks to you for sharing such and nice article

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