The Oldham Deaf and Dumb Society
By H Dominic W Stiles, on 13 November 2015
The OLDHAM DEAF AND DUMB SOCIETY had its roots in 1851, when a Mr. William Bolton gathered all the local deaf people he could for a meeting in St. Peter’s Schoolroom, not far from Union Street where the society later found a home. The only William Bolton I found in the 1851 census for Bolton, is not shown as ‘deaf’ on the census, but that does not mean he was not. At any rate this did not get going as a regular service or mission at that time, we are told, until a Mr. John Street (hearing) became involved. He got Andrew Patterson of Old Trafford involved (M’Cormick p.32, & Abraham p.163). A free tea was then held for the ‘mutes’ (Abraham), at ‘the Bent’, a place on the junction of West Street and Middleton Road, patterson being supported by two teachers, Hogg and Goodwin. After this they announced that there would be a regular service at the Town Hall, conducted by the Manchester teachers. Abraham says it was at some time in 1852 or 1853 that this commenced. I suspect a search of local records might narrow this down.
Those who have followed this blog for a while may recall we have discussed Oldham and Ralph Clegg before. The mission joined with that of Manchester in 1868/9, under the Rev. George A.W. Downing (ca. 1828-1880), but this did not please everyone and there was a break away group before the Oldham mission finally ‘officially’ split off in 1888. Irish born Downing had worked as a teacher at the Claremont Institution for five years, then the Diocesan Institution for the Deaf and Dumb in Strabane where he remained for twelve years. From there he went to work in north east London in an area that included Holloway and Whitechapel (M’Cormick p.33). He only left there, we are told, when the Rev. Stainer resigned his position. Downing married Catherine Siddon, eleven years his senior, and they had a son George. George senior died in 1880.
A long standing member of the Institute was Richard Heseltine (ca. 1828-1907). He was a machine joiner, ‘deaf from birth’ (1881 census), born at Masham in Yorkshire and married to a hearing lady. In 1903 M’Cormick described him as ‘fairly robust, silver-haired, genial and reminiscent’ (p.34).
The articles I quote from have much more detail than I can put into a short post here, but after the various difficulties with the years when the mission was divided , it was taken on by Archibald Welsh (ca. 1859-1940?) of the Old Trafford School, “a man of strong nerve, and endowed with great powers of endurance” (ibid p.41). He sorted out the split, and M’Cormick says,
There is a touch of grim humour in the following concise paragraph dealing with this period, which will appeal to all who follow the trend of this little sketch, viz. :- “Overtures made by the leader of the rival association for amalgamation are declined by the Committee, and shortly after it ceased to exist.” (ibid p.39)
Under Welsh they acquired new premises for £1,500 in 1890 (ibid p.40). He stayed until 1899 when he moved to Dundee.
His successor, William John M’Cormick (or McCormick) (ca. 1862-1919), who lost his hearing as an adult, while preparing for a musical degree. He later told his missionary friend Bodvan Anwyl, that when he moved from Cork to Oldham, he had to abandon one set of signs for another (Anwyl, p.42). M’Cormick was still able to play the organ, despite having also lost a finger. He was succeeded as missioner to the deaf by his wife, Bessie.
In 1906 Gilby tells us that Mrs. (Bessie) M’Cormick took a party to London-
It was a hectic time, the very next morning I had to meet Mrs. McCormick a Missionary’s wife, with a party of deaf from Oldham. After breakfast they had to be taken to see the Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral, plus some of the sights in Westminster. A Committee in the afternoon over a concert to be held at Lord Meath’s house on behalf of the National Physical Society. Then the Oldhamites had to be seen off. (Gilby memoirs p.192-3)
M’Cormick, Brief sketch of the history of our society, Annual Report 1903, p.32-46
Historical summary showing the progress of the Oldham Deaf and Dumb Society, Report (1910), p.34-40
Abraham, Ernest J.D., History. British Deaf-Mute and Deaf Chronicle, 1894, 3(35), 163-64.
Anwyl, Bodvan, The late Mr. W.J. McCormick, The British Deaf Times, 1919 p.42-3
1891 Census – Richard Heseltine, Class: RG12; Piece: 3312; Folio: 51; Page: 17; GSU roll: 6098422
Trip to London, Oldham Deaf Mute Gazette, June-July 1906, p.16-19