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Archive for the 'People' Category

The early NID Technical Department, Dennis B. Fry and Péter B. Dénes of UCL

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 23 December 2016

UCL has had an association with the RNID/Action on Hearing Loss Library since the early 1990s when the library moved into the Royal National Throat Nose and Ear Hospital alongside the then Institute of Laryngology Library.  However there is a much older association between UCL and what was then the NID.

Giant hearing Aid War time developments in electronics ushered in an era when mass hearing aids would be small enough to be convenient to carry around, and cheap enough for the state to introduce the Medresco hearing aid supplied by the new NHS from 1948.  The previous year the transistor had been unveiled by Bell labs in the US, an invention that would change the world.

For many years the NID had been concerned over the quality of hearing aids and they way they were marketed to the public.  They worked with manufacturers and suppliers to create an agreement whereby the supplier made no claims about curing deafness, as had often been the case with quack sellers, and broadly to not bully clients into buying unwanted devices.  They also created an approved list of suppliers who signed up to the agreement.  This was a slightly tortuous process, and for those interested a visit to the library to read NID minutes would be essential.  The list is attached here: NID approved list

Anechoic ChamberIn 1947 The NID set up a technical department, at the behest of the Medical Committee (Annual Report, 1947 p.9).  At the time they were in 105 Gower Street, and did not have facilities, so initially UCL helped out, and Dennis Butler Fry (1907-84) led the efforts to establish testing to show the ‘technical characteristics and qualities of the various hearing aids’ which were available, and then publish this scientific information to the public (Denes & Fry p.304).

Fry was born on the 3rd of November, 1907, in Stockbridge, Hampshire, son of Fred Cornelius Fry and Jane Ann Butler.

After five years of teaching French, first at Tewkesbury Grammar School and then at Kilburn Grammar School, in 1934 he was appointed Assistant Lecturer in Phonetics at University College London, where he also became Superintendent of the Phonetics Laboratory in 1937.  In 1938 he was promoted to Lecturer in Experimental Phonetics. In 1948, the year after the award of his Ph.D. degree, he became Reader in Experimental Phonetics.  From 1958 until his retirement in 1975, he was Professor of Experimental Phonetics, the first one to hold the title in Britain. (Obituary for Dennis Butler Fry, Arthur S. Abramson

The 1947 annual report records that with the co-operation of Sir David Pye, UCL provost and mechanical engineer who worked on jet engines during the war, they were setting up a special sound-proof room, and that technical staff would be trained at the college, all under the supervision of Fry.  Fry had served in the RAF during the war, at the Acoustics Research Laboratory, Central Medical Establishment, at Kelvin House, 24-32 Cleveland Street, London.  Together with his colleague Péter B. Dénes (1920-96), a Hungarian phonetician who became a British citizen, but spent much of his later working life in the USA.  The books of Fry and Dénes (usually written Denes) on phonetics are still in use today.  Fry founded the journal Speech and Language in 1958. He wrote two books with Edith Whetnall (they are pictured together below), The Deaf Child, and Learning to Hear.

Denes had left Hungary in the 1930s and studied first at Manchester, before moving to UCL where he worked with Fry.  In 1961 he went to the USA on the Queen Mary to work at the Bell Labs (1996 obituary, see link below).  In his obituary, Michael Noll says,

Although Hungarian by birth, Peter was very much British by citizenship and personality. His knowledge of European history and views on events in America led to many lively discussions with his many friends and colleagues. Peter chose to remain a subject of the Queen of England, but he also chose to live in the United States.

The room in the basement of 105 was eventually fitted out for technical testing, along with the anechoic chamber.  In those days the road traffic would not have been as bad as now, and I suspect it would not have been possible to use it today, because of vibrations.  The first technician seems to have been Mr W.J. Markwick, who is mentioned in the 1950 annual report (p.33).  The Technical department became one of the most important areas for the NID in the following decade.

I am sure this would be an interesting area for research.  Denes and Fry were both interesting people who made significant contributions to speech and language research.

Fry Whetnall

Denes, P. and Fry, D.B. An Introduction to the NID Technical Research Laboratory

NID Annual Reports

Abramson, Arthur S. Obituary for Dennis Butler Fry. Speech Communication Volume 3, Issue 2, August 1984, Pages 167-168


Noll, Michael, Acoust. Soc. Am., Vol. 100, No. 4, Pt. 1, October 1996, p.1916 http://asa.scitation.org/doi/pdf/10.1121/1.417840

Ralph Duncombe Jackson of the British Deaf and Dumb Association

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 31 October 2016

Ralph Duncombe Jackson was born in South Shields in 1848, eldest son of Robert Jackson and his wife Charlotte.  We are told that he was deafened at the age of four from an attack of scarlet fever (Ephphatha, from which this is broadly taken).  That would have been in 1852/3.  He was educated at the Newcastle ‘Northern Counties School for the Deaf‘, which would have meant that he was taught by William Neil.

Ralph married a deaf lady Jane Walker in 1871.  She is described in the 1891 census as deaf from childhood, and Jane’s sister Isabella, living next door in Normanby St, Monkwearmouth, is also described as deaf.  Isabella’s husband, William Morrison, a millsawyer aged 42, was like his brother-in-law Ralph, deaf from scarlet fever.

Ralph had a varied career, unfortunately interrupted by ill-health, though his obituary does not tell us what form that took.  He began as a compositor, working on the Daily Post – I have no idea about the Daily Post, as it does not appear on the British Newspaper Archive.  If you know, please leave a note.  At any rate, his health forced him from that job and he became a grocer in Normanby Street, Monkwearmouth.  He became a missioner to the local deaf community in the urban north-east, and in 1898 became a ‘Scripture Reader’ for the Northumberland and Durham Mission, eventually becoming a  full time missioner.  Unfortunately we have no local mission reports before 1920, though the Northumberland and Durham Mission dates from 1876.  He was long a member of the British Deaf and Dumb Association, ‘almost from its formation’, acting as a local secretary when he lived in Sunderland.

Ralph and Jane had three daughters, and a son Ralph who emigrated to New Zealand.  He died in 1910 after having a major operation and then developing pneumonia.Duncombe Jackson  His funeral was so well attended by friends that there was insufficient room in the chapel for all to be seated.

Death of Mr. R. Duncombe Jackson, Ephphatha, 1910, no.29 p.107 (picture)

Letter, Deaf and Dumb Times (June 1890) p10-11

Wills and Probate

1891 Census Class: RG12; Piece: 4150; Folio: 116; Page: 10; GSU roll: 6099260

jackson letter

The Bolton Deaf F.C. Team in 1905

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 23 September 2016

The Bolton Deaf Football Club in 1905, pictures fourteen members.  I thought it might be interesting to try and trace as many of them as we can.  I immediately recognized Ernest Ayliffe in the back row, so I will leave him out as he has already featured in these web pages.  He took over as Bolton missioner after Ernest Abraham left for Australia, assisted by John Shannon.  Shannon left for Chester in 1911, and Ayliffe for Liverpool in 1914 (Ephphatha p.630).

James Hayhurst:  He was born in France, circa 1882, a British subject, and in 1905 he would have been 23/4.   In the 1901 census he was living at 8 Latham Street, and is described as an apprentice clog maker, ‘Deaf and Dumb from childhood’.

Bolton DFC 19051901 – James Hayhurst Class: RG13; Piece: 3627; Folio: 33; Page: 24

Ernest John Yarnall was born in 1883, son of George, a mill furnace man at an ironworks, and his wife Ann, both of whom were originally from Staffordshire.  He was apprenticed as a carpenter in 1901, and was living in Bridgman St. with his parents and sister Edith.  The 1911 census tells us he was now a joiner, and had been deaf aged 10 or 11 months.  In 1909 he married Annie Haslam, born 1880 who was deaf when aged three.  I think Ernest died in 1954, but that needs checking.

1901 census Class: RG13; Piece: 3625; Folio: 136; Page: 7

1911 census Class: RG14; Piece: 23413

Samuel Haslam was a younger brother of Annie.  They were born in Bradshaw where their mother Mary was a farmer.  In 1901 Samuel was a wheelwright.  Curiously he is not marked as deaf on the 1911 census, but the census information is not always complete and there can be degrees of deafness of course.

1901 census Class: RG13; Piece: 3615; Folio: 11; Page: 11

Samuel Irlam: He was Bolton born in 1889, and his mother, brother James and sister-in-law Sarah Ann were all deaf.  He would have been about 16 when the photograph was taken.  On the 1911 census form his mother wrote under infirmity,  ‘Born from birth,’ ‘B from birth’, and ‘Deaf from birth,’ which is what she really meant.  For her grand daughter she wrote ‘alright’.  Samuel attended the Royal School in Manchester when William Nelson was headmaster, as did J.T. Hamer, Herbert Penn(e)y (try both spellings) and Joseph Griffin.

1911 census Class: RG14; Piece: 23321

A shortage of time restricted what I could research here – I hope to come back and add some more of the players, but if anyone has some information they can contribute, please put it in the comments space below.

Update: Our friend, historian Norma McGilp, has added this information she gleaned from the Manchester School records –

Manchester Deaf Institution records

James Hayhurst born 1880 – admitted 6 Aug 1890 – Bolton – father Warper.  His brother, Allan Hayhurst (not in school record) (born 1875) m Clara Brindle – son Allan Brindle Hayhurst (1913-1981) of the BDA (Sec/Treas).

Joseph Taylor Hamer – born 26 April 1887, adm 22 Jan 1895, Turton, father dead.

Herbert Penney born 15 Sept 1885, adm 13 Aug 1894, Bolton, father tailor.

Ernest John Yarnall [Yarnell] born 3 Jan 1883, adm 12 Feb 1890, Bolton, father Furnace-man.

Samuel Haslam born 28 Feb 1881 – admitted 7 Aug 1889, Bolton, father farmer (siblings – Robert Haslam b 6 Nov 1877 adm 2 Aug 1887, Annie Haslam born 16 Apr 1880, admitted 2 Aug 1887).

Samuel Hamer born 16 Dec 1882, adm 4 March 1890 Ramsbottom, father labourer.

James Smethhurst b June 25 1880, adm April 1889 Macclesfield, father tailor.

Joseph Smethurst b 11 July 1883, adt 4 Aug 1891 Bolton, father labourer.

Joseph Griffin born April 18 1885, adm 13 Aug 1894, Broughton, father Musical Instrument maker.

Samuel Irlam born 11 May 1887, adm 7 Aug 1894, Bolton, father ‘Beetler at a croft’ (brother David Thos Irlam born Aug 7 1878 adm 1 Apr 1891, Hallwell, father a crofter).



Historical sketch. British Deaf Monthly, 1896, 6, 31-36. (photos of missioners)

History and work. Ephphatha, 1922, 52, 630-631.

The Messenger, vol.7 1904 p. 150 (photo)


“The work of the Royal Association,” said he, “will be going on long after exclusive methods have been dropped.” Samuel Bright Lucas, & a Bristolian digression

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 27 May 2016

Samuel Bright Lucas (1840-1919) was born in London into a notable family of Quakers.  An uncle of his was the radical M.P. John Bright, famous for his opposition to the Corn Laws.  His mother, Margaret Bright Lucas, was a temperance league worker.

He lost his hearing as a child (Ephphatha, 1899).  He was tutored privately, and also taught by a ‘Dr. Webster’ of Bristol.  Thomas Webster was born in Ireland, around 1818 – I say around, as the census returns vary with both the place of birth and his age.   The place seems to be Gorey in Wexford, but one census says Cork.  Trained at the Claremont School, he was a male assistant teacher in 1834 when he was earning £20 (Pollard, 2006 p.67).  The Claremont 20th annual report says (p.33) he was appointed on the 29th of July, 1835 because of the increase in the number of pupils.  The Claremont school had major problems, and in 1842 Orpen resigned for health reasons and the superintendent the Rev. Charles Stuart Stanford also resigned.  Stanford must have been influential enough on Webster for him to later name his son Charles Stanford Webster (b.1861).  Webster took responsibility for the junior teachers at that time, but the place was in a state of chaos.  We do not have Claremont reports for that period unfortunately – you can read more about this in Rachel Pollard’s book.  Webster left around this time – perhaps he was partly responsible for the dismal state of affairs there at the time.  At any rate he got a place at the new Bristol Institution, and was there by 1844 (Quarterly Review p.67).  He replaced Matthew Robert Burns, and was head when they moved to Park Row, Bristol.  He was head there in the 1851 census.  He left the school in 1852.  There is a Bristol website here which calls him Robert Webster and says he was booted out by the governors when they discovered he had plans for a private school in Redland.  The same website points to Webster’s private school in Malvern House, Redland.  However the Quarterly Review article says that he left to pursue medical studies, and was still practicing in Bristol in 1892.  I was initially suspicious to see he described himself in censuses as a doctor, but this seems to explain it, though the Bristol website pages above suggest that he was something of a quack doctor.  He died, in Bristol, in 1910.  Quite when Lucas was his pupil I cannot say, but if it was at the school it would be before 1851, if as a private pupil perhaps between 1852 and 1856.

According to Gilby’s obituary of him, Samuel also trained at the Royal Academy School of Art (Ephphatha, 1919).  That should be possible to find out more about his time there, but as Gilby says , ‘he never followed it up as a profession in life’ (ibid).  At one time he seems to have been involved in a photographic business, at least that is what this website suggests.  Otherwise it seems he was able to live on his inherited wealth.  He was a friend of Gilby’s father, and knew Matthew Robert Burns and Samuel Smith, the chaplain to the Royal Association in aid of the Deaf and Dumb, on whose committee Samuel served for many years.  He was President of the National Deaf and Dumb Teetotal Society, and Hon. Sec. of the Charitable Provident Society for granting Pensions to the Aged and Infirm Deaf and Dumb (Ephphatha, 1919).   Gilby says of him, “Very quick in his sympathies, he would blaze out against what he imagined to be any injustice or wrong of any sort” (ibid).

His first wife was Welsh, Jessie Oliver, daughter of a farmer from Merionethshire.  She was born in Dolgelly (Dolgellau).  They married in 1868, but she died on the 1st of January 1900, and he married again, to a Mrs. Parker of Passage West, Ireland.

His daughter, Margaret, married Wellesley Edward Rudston Read (1852-1934), who was deaf from aged 5, according to the 1911 census.  Rudston Read was on the committee for the Royal Association of the Deaf and Dumb.   Like Bright Lucas, he was of independent means.  Samuel’s son Charles, a journalist, predeceased him.

The 1899 Ephphatha article takes the form of an interview.

“Some people allege,” said I, “that the work of the Royal Association will soon be rendered unnecessary by the general adoption of the Oral Method of teaching deaf children.”
Mr. Lucas smiled.  “The work of the Royal Association will,” said he, “will be going on long after exclusive methods have been dropped.”
[…] “I believe in teaching the deaf to speak and lip-read wherever the probable results seem to justify the labour and expense involved, but to put them all through the same mill, regardless of their capacity or inclination, is utter foolishness.”
“Have you ever met with , or heard of, a deaf person who could follow an ordinary sermon or address by watching the lips of the speaker?”
“No, never – I do not think it is possible.  By the way, I was myself taught speech when young, and can make use of it to intimate friends; but with strangers I much prefer writing or the manual alphabet.  It is so much more certain either way.” (Ephphatha, 1899)

Bright LucasBorn in London, 4th of July 1840, died in Cork, 6th of November, 1919.

F.W.G.G[ilby] ,Samuel Bright Lucas, Ephphatha 1920, no. 44 p.568

Historical Notes of our Institutions, xv. xiii The Bristol Institution for the Deaf and Dumb.  The Quarterley Review of Deaf Mute Education vol.3 July 1892 p.65-78

Pollard, Rachel.  The Avenue – a History of the Claremont Institution, 2006.

Samuel Bright Lucas, Ephphatha 1899, Vol. 4, p.24-5

20th report of the Claremont Institution, 1835-6

1851 census Class: HO107; Piece: 1503; Folio: 44; Page: 36; GSU roll: 87837

1851 census Thomas Webster – Class: HO107; Piece: 1951; Folio: 134; Page: 42; GSU roll: 87351

1891 census Class: RG12; Piece: 209; Folio: 32; Page: 16; GSU roll: 6095319

1911 census Rudston Read – Class: RG14; Piece: 12106; Schedule Number: 237



Charles Ebenezer Harle, Hon. Secretary for the Association in Aid of the Deaf and Dumb

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 6 May 2016

Charles Ebenezer Harle (1807-92) was sometime Hon. Secretary of the Association in Aid of the Deaf and Dumb.  I was curious about his background so tried to see why he might have got involved in the organisation which became the modern Royal Association for Deaf people – the R.A.D.  It seems to me that the more we can discover about all the people involved in these early organisations, the better picture we can get of them and their histories.  Dots start to join up and bits of the puzzle begin to fall into place.

He was born into a non-conformist family.  His father was Thomas William Harle.  From his census entries we can see that he was a medical practitioner, L.R.C.P. – a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians, and L.S.A. Lond. – Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries (London).  It should be possible to check their records to find out when he qualified and perhaps something of his career.  That is probably the sort of person we might expect to get involved in such an organisation.  Also, he was born in Shoreditch, so possibly came into contact with deaf people via his work and perhaps from early mission work in London.  He never married and he died in Enfield in 1892.

In 1841 Harle was living in Bloomsbury, in Orange Street, which now lies somewhere under the old St Martin’s College of Art buildings in Southampton Row.  Nearby was Red Lion Square where the Association had its premises from circa 1847 to at least 1851.  Perhaps that was how he became involved?  Two people are at the same address, I assume them to be his brothers – Samuel, also listed as a surgeon, and Thomas, a ‘shopman’.  In the same year he edited Three Discourses … The Church: the Offertory. Edited by C. E. Harle.   What might this ‘petition‘ of 1845 be?  Was it related to the Association?  In the 1861 census he was living with Esther, Mary and Matilda Jacobs as their lodger, at 9 Cross Street, Islington, a ‘medical ?doctor? at an hospital’.   In 1871 he was living with his widowed sister in Islington, but the census is very faded in the on line version so I cannot make out the address.  He was working as an apothecary, in which he qualified in 1862.  Between 1871 and 1881 he moved to Enfield, where he remained until his death on October 21st, 1892.  The brief notice of his death in The Lancet, says ‘late of the Bank of England’, and in the 1851 census he was a ‘clerk at the Bank of England’ which seems a strange career change – medical practitioner to bank clerk to apothecary*. 

What caught my initial interest in him was this letter, which is attached to a printed section of a report on the Association’s annual meeting (not dated but circa 1856).  It may be a real letter but it could be a reproduction.  I am not clear at what date it became possible to reproduce letters.  It reads as follows –

Association of the Deaf and Dumb
15 Bedford Row
July 15 1856

Sir, –
We have on our books nine uneducated and destitute Deaf and Dumb children too old for admission to the Old Kent Road Asylum.  We should be able to send all of them to a school in the country could we raise £80 per annum for this special purpose.

Permit me to commend their case to your Christian sympathy.

I have the honor to be
Your Obedient Servt.
Hon. Secy.

I wondered who the children were and what became of them, and it seems that some of them were sent to the Brighton Institution.*

Harle was on the committee as early as 1844 and was honorary secretary from 1856-57.  He then became the medical officer.*

Harle letter 11841 Census – Class: HO107; Piece: 672; Book: 6; Civil Parish: St George Bloomsbury; County: Middlesex; Enumeration District: 6; Folio: 4; Page: 1; Line: 8; GSU roll: 438787

*1851 Census – transcribed as Hurle – Class: HO107; Piece: 1706; Folio: 460; Page: 10; GSU roll: 193614

1861 Census – Class: RG 9; Piece: 138; Folio: 44; Page: 29; GSU roll: 542580

1871 Census – Class: RG10; Piece: 300; Folio: 34; Page: 6; GSU roll: 824928

1872 Medical Register

1881 Census – Class: RG11; Piece: 1392; Folio: 33; Page: 59; GSU roll: 1341339

1891 Census – Class: RG12; Piece: 1083; Folio: 109; Page: 48; GSU roll: 6096193

General Register Office: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857; Class Number: RG 4; Piece Number: 4675

*Updated 9th of May 2016 with many thanks to Norma McGilp from @DeafHeritageUK

“Breeders of the Deaf” – Percival Macleod Yearsley’s ‘self advertisement’

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 22 March 2016

In the 1920s eugenics was a very hot subject, an area of much concern to Percival Macleod Yearsley (1867-1951).  Percival was a cousin (twice removed) of James Yearsley the great aural surgeon.  Yearsley was formerly consulting aural surgeon to St. James’ Hospital, Balham, and to the London County Council.  He died at Gerrard’s Cross on May 4, 1951 at the age of 83.  He was educated at Merchant Taylors’ School and the Westminster and London Hospitals.  In 1893 he was appointed to the staff of the old Royal Ear Hospital in Soho, becoming senior surgeon, and

he was the first aural surgeon to the London County Council, for whom he carried out important investigations among school-children.  He also interested himself in the welfare of deaf-mutes.  A man of many interests, Macleod Yearsley wrote some delightful fairy tales, studied the story of the Bible, discussed the sanity of Hamlet and doctors in Elizabethan drama, took a scientific interest in the Zoological Society, translated Forel’s Sensations des insectes, and was an archaeologist of repute. In his own specialty he wrote a Textbook on Diseases of the Ear (1908) and another on Nursing in Diseases of the Throat, Nose and Ear.  Later he became greatly interested in the Zund-Burguet electrophonoid treatment of deafness, on which he wrote a monograph in 1933.  Energetic, open-minded, and many-faceted, he was looked upon as rather a stormy petrel by his contemporaries; but he mellowed with time, to be regarded with respect and admiration by otologists of today. (Obituary in the Lancet, 1951)

Percival McLeod Yearsley's signature in a copy of his cousin's The Artificial Tympanum

Percival MacLeod Yearsley’s signature in a copy of his cousin’s book The Artificial Tympanum

The letter, a follow up to a much longer letter signed by a number of notable people, appears in a scrap page from Ernest Ayliffe’s collection of various odd documents and letters, with associated cuttings, and the page is dated ‘Feb 22/29’.   The year was 1929, the newspaper the Daily Mail.

Breeders of the Deaf

Sir,- For the past twenty-one years I have been advocating the sterilisation of those who are responsible for the perpetuation of a considerable section of our “deaf-mutes.” But hitherto such advocacy has fallen upon deaf ears.

There are numerous examples in our deaf schools all over the country of born deaf children whose disability is due to what is known as “true hereditary deafness,” a condition which, in its propagation, follows the Mendelian theory.
Dr. Kerr Love, of Glasgow, and I have published for years past a considerable amount of work upon this question, and have shown that, while there are hearing carriers of deafness whom it be difficult to sterilise, owing to the practical impossibility of recognising them until they produce deaf children, those who are born hereditarily deaf breed true, and can be safely expected to do so.

These are the cases which require sterilisation, and I have a considerable number of family trees showing this sure method of perpetuation of deafness.

I need not expatiate upon the advantage to the race and to the State if this form of deafness could be eliminated, but I would point out that the education of a normal hearing child costs approximately £5 18s., while that of a deaf child is £69 18s. 10d.

This gives an additional reason for sterilisation of the unfit, and it is satisfactory to see that the letter published contains the names of bishops as well as of men of science.
81 Wimpole street, W.1.

As you see, Ayliffe added some comments –

Wish to call attention to this very damaging letter to the cause of the Deaf.

Whatever the merits of the system it is a brutal one.
May be justification for it in a few cases- but very few.
Why Deaf & Dumb! Why not blind. You get some cases to my certain knowledge – generations of them (in few cases likewise)
Why not M.Ds?
Why not the vicious?
Why not criminals?
[pencil] Difficulty of appeal [pencil]
Our appeal for the Deaf is very seriously jeopardised by such a letter.
Can anything be done by the committee to counteract it?
[pencil] Implications by quotation from Kerr Love
Ought we to repudiate the whole thing or let Yearsley get away with his self advertisement? [pencil]

B.D.D.A. – [pencil] Indignation – but –


Ayliffe’s comment there seems to expose Yearsley.  His understanding of the new science of genetics does not seem to be great.  Despite his other certain talents, in this letter he comes across as a shameless self-promotor, a mere shadow of his relative.Breeders of the deaf 001

Percival Macleod Yearsley Lancet. 1951 May 19;1(6664):1130.

Updated 23/12/2016 with photograph of Yearsley from Teacher of the Deaf



Project Riandu in Kenya – Secondary Education for Deaf Children

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 7 March 2016

Riandu 1In Kenya, the Mbeere Mother’s Union saw a need for secondary education among deaf teenagers.  They raised funds and then through the Peter Cowley Africa Trust they got volunteer from the U.K. to help with the project via Peter Macnaughton.  The aim is to get 200 students access to secondary education over three years.  2016 is the third year of the Project Riandu.

Riandu 2

Last summer we had regular visits from one of the volunteers who was researching the background and needs of Deaf children, Peter’s sister Ali.  She sent me some pictures of the project – many thanks to her for sharing.

Good luck to all involved!

It is great that this project is locally led and motivated.

A Project Riandu documentary is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHMP6rokREk

If you would like to help them out, you can contribute on their web page – the also need volunteers!

www.project riandu.com/donate

riandu 3

Oliver Sacks and “Seeing Voices”

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 18 September 2015

This week’s post is by Edmund Lyonseeing voices

Oliver Sacks, who died recently, was perhaps most familiar to the public as the author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. However, among his other books was Seeing Voices: A Journey Into The World Of The Deaf, a fact which was only mentioned in one or two of the obituaries which have appeared. Seeing Voices is a fascinating triptych, its three parts combining to give insights not only into deaf history and deaf communication – including the Oralist / signing controversy – but also into deaf culture and deaf activism: the book culminates in a description and analysis of the deaf students’ uprising at Gallaudet University in March 1988 (details of this appear on the Gallaudet website).

Sacks’ exploration of deafness is sensitive and revealing, making Seeing Voices a good starting point for any exploration of the world of the deaf. Although it focuses on deaf people in the United States, the themes Sacks teases out are relevant to the United Kingdom too – and can be pursued through the books we hold in the Action on Hearing Loss Library.

Seeing Voices was published 26 years ago this month, in September 1989, and remains in print. sacks


Gerrit Van Asch, oral Teacher of the Deaf

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 11 October 2013

Gerrit van Asch (1837-1908) was born in Holland.  He was trained in the ‘German’ or ‘Oral’ method by David Hirsch, Principal of the Rotterdam Deaf School and was one of his first assistants.  Hirsch (1813-95), who had been inspired in his teaching by Friedrich Moritz Hill (1805-75), founded the Rotterdam School in 1853 (Stevens, 1921, p.42).

Moritz Hill’s guidelines can be summarised in the sentence: ‘Teaching of spoken language is in everything.’  He wanted deaf children to be introduced to language by the ‘natural method’ – that is in the same way as hearing children learn to speak, by constant daily use, associated with proper objects and actions.  Therefore, speech in his opinion had tp be taught before reading and writing aand had to be used from the very beginning as the basis for teaching and communication.  Natural gestures were not discouraged but needed to be replaced by speech as soon as possible. (Markides 1983)

Gerrit van Asch came to Manchester and opend a school there in 1858 or 1859, tutoring the child of a wealthy Jewish merchant.  This marked the revival of teaching speech to Deaf children in Britain, and can be regarded as the first oral school in Britain (Stevens, p.43).

In 1862 van Asch opened a private school for deaf children in London, and in 1880 he was taken to New Zealand by their government to open an oral school there, the Sumner School for the Deaf (see Markides p.17, Stevens p.43).  He remained there until he retired in 1906 (Stevens).

I am guessing these pictures are from circa 1900 though they are to be found in the 1921 book by Stevens.

van AschAndreas Markides, The speech of hearing-impaired children. 1983. RNID UTC BTT

Stevens, J.E., Course of Lessons for Deaf Children, Wellington, 1921.  RNID Historical Books, RNID WTH BVR L



[Page updated 1/12/2015]



Alexander Graham Bell – he invented the telephone, didn’t he?

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 30 November 2012

By Mina Krishnan

Alexander Graham Bell (3rd of March 1847–2nd of August 1922). Although there is still controversy over who really got there first and whether he did so independently, Alexander Graham Bell is certainly widely credited with having invented what we now recognise as the telephone, a device that turns sound into electricity then back into sound, for which he was granted a patent in 1876.

Although Bell was born in Edinburgh, his father moved the family to Canada when Bell was 23, following the death of his two brothers from tuberculosis.  Bell then moved to the U.S. shortly thereafter to start a teaching career.  His father and grandfather were both experts in elocution and his mother started to become deaf when he was 12, which had inspired him to study acoustics and the mechanics of speech.  In the 1870s he pioneered a system called visible speech, developed by his father, which was a system that indicated oral sounds by the use of written symbols; Bell used this to teach deaf-mute children to communicate with speech.

He worked with many people, for example on techniques for teaching speech to deaf people; his most famous student was Helen Keller, for whom he established a trust fund for her education at Radcliffe College.  An advocate of oralism, he set up a school to train teachers of the deaf.  Directly opposed to his view that communication by speech was what made humans truly human and that deaf people should communicate solely by speech and speech-reading/lip-reading, was Edward Gallaudet (son of Thomas, pioneering educator of deaf people).  A fervent proponent of manualism, Gallaudet embraced deafness, rather than seeking to eradicate it as Bell did.

Not only was Bell dead-set against the use of sign-language, especially in state-funded schools – seeing it as a foreign language that had no place in the U.S. education system – he was in fact one of the earliest modern supporters of the eugenics movement in the U.S, believing deaf people should be kept apart from each other so that they would not marry or produce children.

He published Upon the Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race in 1884, warning that deaf people were creating an insular, inbred ‘deaf race’ and claimed that ‘the production of a defective race of human beings would be a great calamity to the world’ and that it was necessary to ‘examine carefully the causes that lead to the intermarriage of the deaf with the object of applying a remedy’.

He attended the first International Congress on Eugenics, held in London and presided over by Leonard Darwin – son of Charles – regarding hereditary deafness and the compulsory sterilisation of deaf people for the betterment of the human race; and he was the honorary president of the Second International Congress of Eugenics, held in New York.

He also gave evidence – relating to his research on the topic of the causes of congenital deafness – at the Royal Commission on the Blind, the Deaf and Dumb, stating for example that ‘hereditary pre-disposition’ was clearly responsible as over 50% of those he studied had ‘other members of their family deaf and dumb’ and that they should therefore not inter-marry or have children.

The library has a copy of the House of Commons parliamentary paper, Report of the Royal Commission on the Blind, the Deaf and Dumb.  This is also available in full from the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers (although the library’s hard copy is far easier to browse!):


In 1877 he married Mabel Gardiner Hubbard, who had been profoundly deaf from the age of about five following a serious illness.  They had two daughters, Elsie and Marian; they also had two sons who, tragically, died neonatally.  Mabel is considered to have had an immense influence on Bell’s work, having been of great inspiration and encouragement with regard to his commercial success.

The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf developed in 1956 out of the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf, which Bell had helped to organise in 1890, serving as its first president.  Its aim is to help with aspects of living with hearing loss such as early diagnosis in children and the provision of resources to parents who wish their children to learn speech and speech-reading/lip-reading in order to ‘thrive in mainstream society’.

Bell had other interests besides – he was also, to give just one example, very interested in botany even as a child and later was a founding member of the National Geographic Society.

Click onto the image below for a larger size.

Some items held in the RNID library:

Mackay, James A.  Sounds out of silence: a life of Alexander Graham Bell (1997)

and other books about Bell, including biographies

Winefield,  Richard, Never the twain shall meet: Bell, Gallaudet, and the communications debate, (1987) 

Volta Voices (1994 – present )

Volta Review (1910 – present; also from 1899 under the title The Association Review)

– journals of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf

Government report:

House of Commons parliamentary paper, Report of the Royal Commission on the Blind, the Deaf and Dumb

Online resources available through the e-library:

Jamieson, James, Alexander Graham Bell: Eugenicist, Mankind Quarterly 2001.  42 (1), 65-76.

Greenwald , Brian H, The Real “Toll” of A. G. Bell: Lessons about Eugenics Sign Language Studies 2009.  9 (3).

Uncertainty over whether AGB was quite so anti-manualism:

The question of sign-language and the utility of signs in the instruction of the deaf: two papers by Alexander Graham Bell (1898). Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 2005 Spring;10(2):111-21.

(Freely available Via PubMed)

Freely available web resources:

There is plenty of controversy over who was the real inventor of the telephone:

Bell ‘did not invent telephone’ (German research scientist J. Philipp Reis did):


U.S. ruling that an Italian inventor (Meucci) did:


Or was it Elisha Gray?!


Just two of many biographies:



‘History through deaf eyes’ – Language & Identity, Gallaudet University: