The Rev. Canon Vernon Jones, “Godfather of the Deaf and Dumb”
By Hugh Dominic W Stiles, on 22 March 2019
Vernon Herbert Jones was born in Islington on the 20th of October, 1882, son of a principal clerk with Thames Conservancy, Herbert Jones, and his wife Hellen Jones. In 1891 the family was living in Highbury Road, and in 1901 in Baalbec Road, which is by Highbury Fields. He went to Highbury College in London, then on to University College, Durham, where he became interested in work with the deaf community, under the influence of Canon Adamson, who had founded the Northumberland and Durham Deaf Mission. perhaps he was also influenced by his own increasing hearing loss. There were other churchmen in his family, the two brothers, Canon Rich Jones who ‘discovered’ the Saxon church at Bradford-on-Avon, and the Rev. Flood Jones, Precentor at Westminster Abbey.
Finishing his degree in 1907, he went to train at the Margate School, was ordained, and in 1910 appointed as Chaplain with the Royal Association in aid of the Deaf and Dumb, a position he held for the next 27 years, at St. Bede’s Clapham and then St. John of Beverley, Finsbury Park. It was his work there getting the building work done that earnt him the name “Godfather of the Deaf and Dumb.” He also edited the Deaf Church periodical, Ephphatha. He was made a Canon of Salisbury in 1945. He was involved in the work of both the B.D.D.A. and the N.I.D., and was a Freemason from 1912.
In 1920 he married Violet Watson (1893-1964) a deaf lady from Stoke Newington, who was according to the 1911 Census, ‘Deaf from birth.’ I do not know where she went to school or if she was privately educated. Vernon Jones collapsed and died in Highgate High Road on Saturday, June the 21st, 1947.
He wrote many articles over the years, including this pamphlet, The Challenge of the Sentry, which highlighted the additional risks that Deaf people were under during wartime, for example in the blackout being unable to hear traffic, and the risk of being shot by a sentry – something that did happen.
A friend of his told a newspaper reporter, “He was one of the country’s greatest experts on the sign language of the deaf. To see him ‘sign’ the Lord’s prayer was a wonderful experience – both for deaf people and for others.” Selwyn Oxley wrote his obituary in The British Deaf Times,
as a preacher we yield to none that he was one of the very best in the Anglican Church, whether in the spoken word or in Deaf Manual signs. he was simple, thoughtful, original, practical, suggestive, and always effective and one never heard him without learning something new and practical.
1891 Census – Class: RG12; Piece: 177; Folio: 142; Page: 41
1901 Census – Class: RG13; Piece: 201; Folio: 12; Page: 15
1911 Census – Class: RG14; Piece: 2243
Violet Watson – 1911 Census – Class: RG14; Piece: 1045
Obituary – The British Deaf Times, 1947, p.82-3
Obituary – Deaf Quarterly News, 1947, p.7