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James William Arthur Sturdee, R.A.D.D. Chaplain to the Deaf, Deptford – “As an interpreter he was valuable”

Hugh Dominic WStiles10 May 2019

Born in Deptford, Kent, in 1846, and son of James Sturdee, a tailor, and his wife Maria, James William Arthur Sturdee (1846-1910) was educated at Dartford Grammar School (which Gilby has, probably erroneously, as Deptford Grammar School). “By some means he came into contact with the Rev. S. Smith, and on his advice went to the Institution at Newcastle-on-Tyne, where he learned to teach the deaf for a space, and returned to London later, where he became a student missionary to the deaf, attending lectures at King’s College, and was ordained Deacon by the Bishop of Rochester in 1876.” (Gilby, 1910)

In 1875, the Kentish Mercury for Saturday 5th of June, 1875, relates a Royal Association in Aid of the Deaf and Dumb meeting, in which a lecture was interpreted by Sturdee.  The lecture was by Mr. T. Brain on “The Manners and Customs of the East.”

Mr. STURDEE said after such an admirable lecture, it was not necessary for him to say much to them, but he was in duty bound to thank the assembly for the interest they were taking in his work amongst the poor afflicted people in their midst. Had it not been for the sign language, many present would have gone any perfectly ignorant of the nature of the lecture, but now they were perfectly acquainted with all that had been said by the lecturer, and in consequence would be able to read their Bibles with greater attention (applause). There were over 50 deaf and dumb persons in that neighbourhood, and he was afraid when be went to Woolwich and other places he would find many more who had not been brought under the influence of the Association.

It seems however, that the congregation found Sturdee unsatisfactory because he was, at least early on, rather poor at signing.  He was then at some point dismissed by the Royal Association in Aid of the Deaf and Dumb, then later re-employed.  Gilby does not say that, and gives Sturdee some credit at least in the Ephphatha obituary:

The erection of the little Church of St. Barnabas was due to his energies, and as a Freemason he found his connections of-much use in raising the funds. The foundation-stone of St. Bamabas’ was laid by W. J. Evelyn, Esq., the donor of the site, on May 13th, 1882 and the church was opened on St. Barnabas’ Day, June, 1883

Gilby only mentions the Rev. Sturdee four times in his incomplete memoir, and then only in passing.  He says in 1888,

I left London on April 30th for my third and last term at Durham, breaking the journey this time at Birmingham in order to see the Edgbaston Institution for deaf children.  Mr. Edward Townsend, the Head Master, was already known to me.  Our friendship was to last many years.  I lunched with Canon Owen Vicar of St. George’s, Edgbaston.  (He is now Dean of Ripon).  Very soon after this he became Chairman of our Committee in London.  He told me he was doing all he could to get me licensed to St. Saviour’s the following Christmas.  I was surprised, knowing there was another Chaplain, the Rev. J.W.A. Sturdee, of Deptford, much older than myself. (p.80)

In 1892 Sturdee was offered the living of Compton Dundon, in Somerset.  The Silent World, says he left London for health reasons, but perhaps he felt he had been passed over.  Later, in 1898, he moved on to the large parish of St. David’s Church, Edgbaston, Birmingham.  He died in Edgbaston in February 1910.

The Silent World says, “As an interpreter he was valuable, and was always a welcome preacher at the Birmingham Adult Deaf Mission Hall.”

John Lyons of Bristol University kindly sent me the following, which I reproduce in full.  Many thanks to him.

Sturdee is a very interesting, if rather peripheral, figure. He tried to become Chaplain at St Saviour’s in 1888 as Charles Rhind’s replacement. He was asked to demonstrate his signing ability in front of around 50 deaf people—“a good proportion from Deptford”, where he was chaplain—along with another candidate, a Mr Hill.

Sturdee’s signing abilities had long been questioned, had led to him being let go by the Association after the appointment of William Stainer in the early 1870s, before returning, first as a shared missionary between East End and South East and then as full-time missionary for the Greenwich and Deptford Auxiliary.  So even though this was taking place after some dozen or so years working in South East London, Sturdee still had to prove his skills.

A special Trustees meeting on Feb 14th 1888 received a report drawn up by Mr Bather, Mr Davidson, Mr Bright Lucas, and Mr Salmond about the event which had taken place that afternoon. The materials selected were the general confession, the collect for Ash Wednesday and the Gospel for that day.  Sturdee went first.

“He spelled through the General Confession. He says it has been his practice always to do so because he expects the congregation to join in it. The other prayer and the gospel he signed, and he then gave a short address or sermon. His spelling is distinct enough but there is no fluency in it – every word and letter is spelt alike without variation of tone or emphasis. He succeeded best in his address.”

Hill followed but struggled to convince the audience he had the relevant skills.

When audience comments were solicited, “several said Mr Sturdee was a good hard working man but no one distinctly stood up for his signs or spelling.”

It was proposed at the event that a temporary appointment be made or that the Association wait for Gilby.  If pushed, the sub-committee recommendation would be for Sturdee.  But instead Stainer was appointed as a temporary chaplain under the direction of the local parish vicar, J W. Ayre.  Sturdee, pushed out by Stainer and later by Gilby and with his skills still deemed inadequate, eventually moved into a hearing ministry in Somerset.

His brother was a professional photographer, who worked for the Daily Mirror in his later career.

Kentish Mercury for Saturday 5th of June, 1875

Gilby, F.W.G., Death of J.W.A. Sturdee, Ephphatha, 1910, p. 78

The Late Rev. J.W.A. Sturdee, The Silent World, 1910, vol. 2, p.32

Thanks to Norma McGilp @DeafHeritageUK, and Sarah Crofts, for additional information.

The Rev. Canon Vernon Jones, “Godfather of the Deaf and Dumb”

Hugh Dominic WStiles22 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

Obituary – Silent World, 1947, August, p.78

The first ordained Deaf Church of England clergyman

Hugh Dominic WStiles17 February 2012

PEARCE, Rev. Richard Aslatt (1854-1928)

Richard Pearce was born in Hampshire, the son of solicitor and Southampton Town Clerk Richard S. Pearce. Three of his four children were deaf. He was educated entirely on the manual system at the Brighton Institution as a private pupil of William Sleight for twelve years. His father paid £50 a year for this personal tuition, which was a large sum at the time.  Having left school at 18, Richard Pearce met the Rev. C. Mansfield Owen, who had a Deaf cousin and knew sign language. Pearce became involved in mission work with Deaf people in the Hampshire diocese and with Owen’s support took Holy Orders in 1885, becoming “the first ordained deaf mute clergyman of the Church of England”. According to the Deaf and Dumb Times,

Her Majesty the Queen, who, as is so well known, is always interested in the deaf and dumb, having heard much of the good work done by both Mr. Pearce and Mr. Owen, expressed her wish to see both gentlemen, and accordingly they had the honour of being presented to the Queen and Her Royal Highness the Princess Beatrice, at Osborne House, on the 16th of January 1886.

In 1887 in St. Saviour’s Church in London, Pearce met Frances, the deaf daughter of the former Governor-General of Canada Charles Monck, (4th Viscount Monck). They married in April 1888. Frances was 43 at the time, and her father, reluctant to give his consent, said “they will be very poor” (Eagling). The couple settled in Southampton where Pearce was working for the Winchester Diocesan Mission to the Deaf and Dumb.

In 1891 the mission opened a new church in Southampton, the building of which was partly financed by Sir Arthur Fairbairn and his sister (Eagling). Richard Pearce spent his life in the area continuing his mission activities, ministering to the local Deaf community. He acted as interpreter at the funeral of his old teacher William Sleight in Brighton in 1912. He retired in  1924, dying at his home in Winchester in 1928. His wife Frances survived him by just two years.

Deaf missioner Rev. Richard Pearce

Deaf and Dumb Times, 1889, 1, 24-25. (picture)

Deaf history. British Deaf News, 1997, Nov, 7.

EAGLING, G.J., A deaf clergyman. Deaf History Journal, 2002, 6(1), 16-31.