Heraldic Artist, Robert Ockleston (1845-1937) and his wife, Sarah Ann Brentnall (1849-1922) ‘she was related to the authoress “George Elliott”‘
By H Dominic W Stiles, on 23 June 2017
Robert Ockleston (1846-1938) was born in Tabley Brook, Cheshire, in 1846. His family could, we are told in his obituary (from which much of what follows is taken), be traced back to the reign of John. He had an uncle of the same name who was a successful doctor in Cheadle, giving out little white pills, which he even took himself when he had a nasty fall from his horse. Robert was one of fourteen children, which seems a large family even for that age. He lost his hearing after an attack of ‘brain fever’ when he was four years old, circa 1850. He was admitted to the Manchester School for the Deaf and Dumb at Old Trafford, on August the 1st, 1853, as a paying pupil. He left aged 16, in 1862 – as we see here below, he was one of the oldest pupils by that time.
He moved to London and became an apprentice heraldic artist in London, eventually setting up at Hatton Gardens with a Mr. Rogers. Rogers predeceased him, and he carried on the business until he retired at 65, and he continued to work at home drawing up pedigrees and documents until his eyesight failed him aged seventy-eight.
He was Regular at St. Saviour’s church. He had previously attended the services that were held by the Rev. Samuel Smith at the Regent Street Polytechnic. At St. Saviour’s he met Sarah Ann Brentnall (1849-1922), a Deaf teacher of the deaf at a Stainer L.C.C. school, at Winchester Street, Pentonville, according to the Ephphtha articles (Ephphatha 1923, and Ephphatha 1938). They were married by Sam Smith at St. Matthew’s, Oakley Square, on the 29th of July, 1776. In 1882 they moved to Hornsey, then in 1905 went to Stroud Green.
Sarah was born in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, on the 25th of March, 1849, and as the 1881 census says she was ‘deaf only’ as opposed to Robert being ‘deaf and dumb,’ we might suppose that she lost her hearing after she had acquired spoken language. Indeed, this is confirmed by her obituary which tells us that she lost her hearing aged six after scarlet fever (Ephphatha, 1923 p. 701). The 1871 census does not mention deafness after her name, but the 1881 does. Her obituary tells us about her education;
She was not sent to school, but was taught at home, and the love of reading was particularly cultivated, reading aloud being especially encouraged so that she might not forget how to speak.
Her parents and sisters communicated with her by means of the finger alphabet, but she did not associate with other deaf people till she was about 17. She was then living in Liverpool and heard for the first time of the Mission for the Deaf there. This opened up to her a new world of friends. (ibid)
Sarah moved to London, becoming a teacher, and began attending St. Saviour’s. It seems she also wrote poems that were published in A Magazine for the Deaf the Sam Smith St. Saviour’s church publication (ibid). As with other teachers of the deaf who were themselves deaf, Sarah lost her job in 1881 when the school became ‘Oral’ in its main form of education (Ephphatha 1923, p. 702). ‘At language, whether spoken or written, she was extremely gifted, partly due, perhaps, to the fact that she was related to the authoress “George Elliott”‘ (ibid). It would be interesting to know what her actual relationship with George Elliott was.
Sarah remained involved in the various mothers’ meetings as well as being Vice-President of the Ladies section of the National Deaf Club (ibid).
Robert worked closely with the church, becoming a ‘lay reader’ in 1911 after he had retired. He was a churchwarden at the church of St. John of Beverley in North London until 1937, when he stood down at the advanced age of 91. He died in December 1937 and was buried in Highgate Cemetery.
UPDATED 26/6/2017: Thanks, as ever, to Norma McGilp of @DeafHeritageUK for the additional references to Sarah Ann, and for telling me where to find pictures of them.
If you are aware of any of his work surviving somewhere, please comment.
The Passing of Mr. Robert Ockleston, Ephphatha, No.116, p. 1991, Jan-Mar 1938
Sarah Ann Ockleston (née Brentnall), Ephphatha, No. 56, p. 701, Winter, 1923
Picture of Robert in Ephphatha, Christmas 1915, p. 411
1911 Census – Class: RG14; Piece: 7210; Schedule Number: 230
1881 Census – Class: RG11; Piece: 275; Folio: 67; Page: 11; GSU roll: 1341059