“several times the light flickered and went out” – John Thorpe and the Huddersfield Deaf Mission
By H Dominic W Stiles, on 3 November 2017
Unlike some of his comtemporaries in the Deaf community, John Thorpe (1843-99) does not appear to have led a particularly interesting or spectacular life, rather one of diligent work and cheerful friendliness, as we see in his brief obituary in the British Deaf Monthly. Having lost his hearing aged fifteen or sixteen, young John Thorpe soon became well known in the local deaf community, helping the Leeds missioner Mr. Foulstone when he visited Huddersfield, introducing him to local Deaf people. He lost his regular warehouseman job as a consequence of his hearing loss, but did manage to get work still with for example Schwann, Kell & Co., and later George Brook & Co. (Hudderfield Daily Chronicle).
He was also, we are told, in at the start of the local Huddersfield Mission. “The new mission had a fluctuating existence in the early days; several times the light flickered and went out.” Eventually a meeting in the Queen Street Assembly Rooms got the mission going on a regular basis, with a home taken in the Wellington Buildings, with fifteen to twenty regulars (British Deaf Monthly and Hudderfield Daily Chronicle). Thorpe was at the heart of this work, spending his own money “without thought of recompense” (British Deaf Monthly). He helped send local children to the Doncaster School, while others he educated himself locally. “[H]e has with the devoted help of one of the best of wives, entirely spent his time, heart and soul, night and day, to teaching and preaching and visiting” (Hudderfield Daily Chronicle).
At some point the mission separated from Leeds, I am not sure exactly when. When Thorpe lost his job as a warehouseman through a strike, he became a paid missionary in Huddersfield, until his death after a long illness in 1899. In his last years he was also beset by failing eyesight. His wife took over the mission work.
At his funeral in Huddersfield cemetery, the “sorrow of the deaf, for whom there was no interpreter of the Rev. A.W. Keely’s funeral discourse, was expressed for them by one of themselves, Mr. Crowther; and each, as a last tribute, dropped a bouquet of homely flowers on the coffin of their departed friend” (British Deaf Monthly).
1851 Census – Class: HO107; Piece: 2319; Folio: 38; Page: 27; GSU roll: 87542-87544 [Possibly him]
1871 Census – Class: RG10; Piece: 4369; Folio: 89; Page: 45; GSU roll: 848086
1881 Census – Class: RG11; Piece: 4382; Folio: 78; Page: 20; GSU roll: 1342046
1891 Census – Class: RG12; Piece: 3566; Folio: 62; Page: 7; GSU roll: 6098676
The Late Mr John Thorpe. British Deaf Monthly, 1899 vol. 9, p.7
Hudderfield Daily Chronicle 30/08/1899 p.3 – this seems to be the source for the BDM article.