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Alexander Melville and Llandaff School, 1862-1906)

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 26 February 2016

MelvilleLLANDAFF SCHOOL FOR THE DEAF AND DUMB (1862-1906) was founded by Alexander Melville (1820-1891), who had begun his teaching career under Charles Baker at Doncaster.  Melville, who was not deaf, was born in Carlisle, and Doreen Woodford says “extensive research has revealed nothing of his early life or family” (p.5).  He was certainly at Doncaster School in 1846, before moving to London in 1849, where we are told, “he was mainly instrumental in originating and organising a Sunday service for the deaf, which he carried on for some time” (BDM, 1897, p.77, Woodford ibid.).   Woodford gives a few details of his time in London where he worked for the ‘Red Lion Square Institution’, forerunner of the R.A.D.D. (now R.A.D.), helping people find work and holding signed services.  Financial problems of the new institution probably forced Melville to return to Doncaster, but his friend Samuel Smith left Doncaster for London in 1854 to work for the revitalised institution, and Melville left and after a hiatus of five years he started working in Swansea School (ibid).   Melville was the headmaster, but he clearly found it difficult to bend to the views of others, so he decided to found his own private school, which opened in 1862 near the cathedral (Woodford, p.6).  After about three years, larger premises were required.  “In passing in and out of Cardiff, Mr. Melville often cast a longing eye on a neglected little public-house on the borders of the Llandaff parish, which had been a flourishing hostelry in the days when telegraphs and railways were unknown” (BDM).  The new premises, in Romilly Crescent, remained the home for the school until it closed.

In 1865 Melville married Hannah Louisa Chappell (died 1885), a Deaf lady he had known for many years, who had attended the Old Kent Road Asylum.  Woodford suggests that her money enabled to move to new premises (p.7).

Pupils were taught with a combined method, and annual reports show that they hammered home the religious education, as can be seen in the Report of the School for the Deaf and Dumb for 1883.  John Clyne of the Bristol School interrogated pupils.

“What happened lately at Sunderland?” “A serious calamity. Nearly 200 children were killed from suffocation, and were crushed to death.” […]
“Where was there war lately?” was asked of H.L. [Harry Lowe] He wrote, “In Zululand and Egypt.” This led to the question, “Was Christ ever in Egypt?” The answer was, “Yes, Joseph and Mary took him there while Herod wanted to kill Him.” “How did Herod know about Christ?” “Wise men told him.” “How did wise men know?” “God told them.” […]
Altogether I was not prepared to find the pupils so well up as I found them. The removal of so many who were superior pupils last year induced the fear that the difference would be more marked than has proved the case. […] the only reason for regret is, that the support of the establishment is still nort on a scale permitting an adequate number of the necessitous Deaf and Dumb of South Wales to enjoy the benefits of the education which would so well meet their need” (p.15 & 18)

When Melville’s wife died he soon remarried, his second wife Elizabeth controlling Melville, then running the school after his death, but it did last for long after her death in 1904.  Agar Russell was a teacher at the school from 1881-6, and he did not take to her, nor was he taken with the educational methods (Woodford p.20).  From Russell we get a different view of her than appears in the article below, though it seems hinted.

LLANDAFF DEAF AND DUMB I SCHOOL. On Friday evening, in consequence of the death of Mrs. Melville, the hon. secretary, superintendent, and treasurer of the Llandaff Deaf and Dumb School, a meeting of the patrons, trustees, and subscribers of the institution was held, under the presidency of the Rector of Canton (the Rev. David Davies), for the purpose of considering the present position of the institution. In the course of a discussion it was stated that hitherto the institution had been entirely controlled and managed by Mrs. Melville and her late husband. It was reported that at present there were fifteen pupils in the school from various parts of the country, and, having regard to the very excellent work carried on in the institution in the past, the meeting felt that some definite scheme of administration and management should be formulated without delay. It was decided to appoint a sub-committee, consisting of the Rector of Canton, Mr. C. E. Dovey, Mr. J. Radley, Dr. Athol S. J. Pearse, Mr. P. J. Harries, and the Rev. A. G Russell, to take the matter in hand pending the summoning of a larger meeting, at which will be more fully gone into. Miss Barton, who had been staying with the late Mrs. Melville for some years, decided, with the assistance of Miss Simmons, to keep up the school until some definite arrangement was come to. At the close of the proceedings the Chairman proposed a resolution of sympathy at the death of Mrs. Melville, whom he described as a remarkable lady, with one of the strongest personalities that ever a lady possessed in Cardiff. The success of the Deaf and Dumb Institution was, undoubtedly, due to her wonderful personality. The proposition, seconded by the Rev. A. G. Russell, was supported by Mr. C. E. Dovey and Mr. J. Radley, and passed in silence. (Evening Express, 17th September, 1904)

Doreen Woodford, whose grandparents were at the school, gives a much fuller picture than I can offer here. Russell’s unpublished memoir is held in the library.

Llandaff 1

Welsh Newspapers Online

Appreciation.  Deaf and Dumb Times, 1891, 3, 26-27 (illus)

Llandaff School for the Deaf and Dumb.  British Deaf Monthly, 1897, 6, 77-78

Deaf and Dumb Magazine (Glasgow), 1879, 7, 155-56

Obituary.  Quarterly Review of Deaf-Mute Education, 1891, 2, 347-48, 378

School reports, 1867-72, 1883, 1892-4, 1897

WOODFORD, D. A man and his school: the story of the Llandaff School for the Deaf and Dumb. Llandaff Society, 1996




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