Charles Birtwistle, Deaf Missioner – “he approves of the Oral Method for those able to profit by it.”
By H Dominic W Stiles, on 19 October 2018
Charles Birtwistle was born in Rochdale in 1850. Being deaf from birth, he was sent to the Old Trafford school in Manchester, where he learnt with the ‘silent’ or manual method. His father was a warehouseman, according to the 1862 Manchester Annual Report, who paid £2 12s a year in fees. He joined the school on the 26th of July, 1858, so he would have left (p.12). The census shows that his older brother James (born 1847) was also ‘deaf and dumb’ and he had joined the school on the 31st of July, 1854, at which time their father was paying £5 4 s per year in fees. The headmaster at that time was Patterson, and F.G.C. Goodwin was one of the teachers.
In The British Deaf Monthly when they featured him in March 1900 (p.99) he says that although he was never taught to speak, “he approves of the Oral Method for those able to profit by it.” Note the qualification.
After leaving school he became a ‘clogger’ as did James. Sadly James Birtwistle died aged only 20 in 1867.
He was described as a ‘pioneer’ of the Rochdale and District Adult Deaf and Dumb Society (1931 Annual Report, p.3).* The mission was first established at Bolton, as a branch of the Manchester mission, in 1869, meetings initially being held at the Trinity Church Schools (Ephphatha p.630). The first missioner was F.G.C. Goodwin. The Rochdale branch was founded in September 1871, and services were conducted in the Co-operative Hall until 1895. Birtwistle rarely took services himself, but was a regular at the services and meetings – “where his presence does much to ensure an orderly and profitable gathering.”
He married wife Emily Derrick, who was hearing, in 1877, the service being conducted by the Rev George A.W. Downing (1828-80). The Irish born Downing was a Teacher of the Deaf first at Claremont, Strabane, and then took over from Rev.William Stainer at Manchester in 1866.
Birtwistle’s four children were all hearing. He died in February 1932.
It is interesting how so many people in the Deaf world of Northern England can be connected with a relatively obscure and humble man, and illustrates how many more ‘histores’ there are to be written.
* Pages are un-numbered.
1851 Census – Class: HO107; Piece: 2244; Folio: 9; Page: 11; GSU roll: 87261-87263
1861 Census – Class: RG 9; Piece: 3045; Folio: 31; Page: 4; GSU roll: 543069
BOLTON, BURY, ROCHDALE AND DISTRICT ADULT DEAF AND DUMB SOCIETY (1869-?)
Historical sketch. British Deaf Monthly, 1896, 6, 31-36. (photos of missioners)
History and work. Ephphatha, 1922, 52, 630-631.