Deaf Chess Player, Missioner, & Teacher, Leigh Hossell (1867-1907) -“to get the best out of, and make the most of, life notwithstanding affliction”
By Hugh Dominic W Stiles, on 30 November 2018
Leigh Hossell (1867-1907) was one of at least ten children born to John Hossell and his wife Ann. His father was a fellmonger, a dealer in hides, particularly sheepskin. This illustration of a Fellmonger is from T. J. Watson’s 1857 book, An Illustrated Vocabulary for the use of the Deaf and Dumb, published by the S.P.C.K.
He told friends that while his parents thought he had lost his hearing at the age of four by an ‘attack of sunstroke,’ he thought that he was born deaf (BDM, 1894). He did “not remember ever having been able to hear and speak, and his friends appear to have no recollection of having heard him speak at any time” (ibid). However, in his obituary it was said that later “he recovered the power of speech to some extent” (BDT, 1907). We may well wonder if his parents were correct, but perhaps this speech was as a result of his education. When he was seven (around 1874) Leigh became a private pupil of Mr. Hopper, at the Edgbaston School, Birmingham.
Up to the age of fifteen he received his education by the silent system. It was whilst at the Birmingham school that Mr. Hossell first took a liking to the fascinating game of chess, to which he has devoted much time and attention ever since. (BDM)
When Hopper died, his parents placed him as a private pupil with Mr. Bessant at Manchester, who taught him using the oral system.
On the completion of his education he was appointed pupil teacher at the Old Trafford Schools for the Deaf, Manchester, and is at the present time a teacher at these schools.
As Mr. Hossell owes his education to both systems, we thought his opinion as to which he considered the best would prove of interest to our readers. In answer to our questions, Mr. Hossell said :— “Until I obtained a knowledge of the oral system I naturally thought the silent one the best possible means of instructing the deaf, but since then I have come to feel that all the deaf who can be taught to speak and lip-read should have that great advantage. At home I am able to make myself entirely intelligible by speech, and can follow very well all that is said to me by my friends and relations by lip-reading. When travelling and shopping, too, I find my speech of real assistance. I should indeed be sorry not to be able to speak and lip-read now. At the same time I feel that the silent system must be retained for some of the deaf, but I should like to see them use spelling more freely than they do, in place of signs.” (BDM)
Hossell represented the Droitwich Workman’s Club at chess, and was good enough to play Joseph Blackburne, “the Black Death”, and English champion, “whom he won a game from, about two years ago” which would mean around 1904/5 (BDM). He was a keen sportsman, particularly with lawn tennis and croquet (BDT).
Hossell was a lay helper at the Grosvenor Street Institute for the Deaf, Manchester, and for a while was Missioner to the Deaf in Oxford, before he left to go into business (BDT). Quite what the business was his obituary fails to tell us, but one brother was a solicitor so the family was not poor.
His funeral was held on October the 29th, 1907 at Handsworth Parish Church, in the town where he was born, by the Rev. R. R. Needham.
His obituary says, he “was in some respects a remarkable young man, considering his limitations.” I suppose he means his deafness, but who can say. He was
widely known and unversally esteemed, he endeared himself to all who knew him by his gracious manner and amiable disposition. His private character was exemplary, and his personality was a most inyteresting one; in fact his career was a notable example of what can be done by the Deaf and Dumb in order to get the best out of, and make the most of, life notwithstanding affliction. […] He could ill be spared and will be sadly missed.
Obituary: Mr. Leigh Hossell, British Deaf Times, 1907, vol. 4 p.280
Montgomery County Times and Shropshire and Mid-Wales Advertiser – Saturday 12 December 1896 – (chess problem set by Leigh Hossell)
1871 Census – Class: RG10; Piece: 2972; Folio: 27; Page: 47; GSU roll: 838862
1881 Census – Class: RG11; Piece: 2835; Folio: 125; Page: 16; GSU roll: 1341679
1891 Census – Class: RG12; Piece: 3160; Folio: 168; Page: 4
1901 Census – Class: RG13; Piece: 2796; Folio: 24; Page: 40