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“we often took sweet counsel together” -Simeon Kutner, Headmaster of the Jewish Deaf School

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 16 October 2015

Simeon Kutner,  (1861-1916) was an oralist teacher of the deaf, who became Head Master of the Jews’ Deaf and Dumb Home, Wandsworth.  In 1894 he took over at the school from Mr. Simon Schöntheil of the Vienna Deaf School.  Schöntheil had replaced van Praagh in 1872.  There is a close link therefore between this school and the origins of the oral system in Germany.

Kutner was born in Poland, or rather Polish Russia.  When he was approximately six years old the family emigrated to Great Britain, settling in London, in Southwark (see census 1871).  His father was a hair dresser.  From 1867 to 1874 he was a pupil at Borough Jewish School in south-east London (BDM 1897).  He attended the Jews’ College, Finsbury Square intending to study theology, but after two years became instead a teacher of the deaf under Schöntheil.  He remained there until 1882, having quite a wide number of duties in addition to teaching.  He also studied drawing at Birkbeck, we are told by the BDM article (p.252).

The school was visited in June 1877 by a delegation from the first Conference of Headmasters (see extract in last blog), which included Andrew and Colville Patterson, Dr. Buxton, and the Rev. Stainer.  The visit convinced Andrew Patterson to try oralism at the Old Trafford Institute.  It seems that this was a way into Manchester for Kutner, as he was appointed to teach there with the oral method in 1882.  He remained at the school there until July 1894, taking on additional teaching duties and becoming head master of the Evening Continuation Schools for the Deaf and Dumb in 1891.  That same year he married Blema Wood and had four children (ibid).

He went on several holidays with his good friend Fred Gilby.

I had, however, one very understanding, close friend among the oralists in Simeon Kutner, the Principal of the Jews School for the deaf.  Even from his Notting Hill days he had been a dear friend of mine, and we often took sweet counsel together.  He attended more than one service or function at St. Saviour’s to see what we did – and approved.  We once spent a fortnight together, cycling from Hammersmith to Camberley, going by train that evening to Southampton, crossing to Havre and bicycling onwards together through Normandy, sleeping at such places as Caudebec, Lisieux, Avreux, St. Lo, Coutances, Granville, and Jersey.  At the last place he was with us at a little gathering of deaf people where I had been asked to preach.  The pathos of the little scene overcame him, and he wept. For this I loved him all the more.  His companionship was a privilege. Uplifting – educated – yes,it was even religious; he was full of sweet charity, good humour and refinement.  We were able to kneel down at the same time at night and we both used the Lord’s Prayer with some depth of sympathy, yet he was a Jew.  There are many Christians I know with whom I have not been able to converse as well as I could with him on matters spiritual. (Gilby Memoirs, p.148-9)

Kutner was also on the Executive of the College for Teachers of the Deaf and Dumb, Paddington Green.

He had at least one serious breakdown in health, and recovered, but died in 1916 having undergone an operation.
KutnersThe Jews’ Deaf and Dumb Home and its Head Master. British Deaf Monthly, 1897, 6, 252-54. (photo)

Death of Mr. Kutner, Ephphatha 1916 no.31 p.445

Gilby’s unpublished Memoirs

1871 Census: Class: RG10; Piece: 595; Folio: 92; Page: 15; GSU roll: 818904

The Jewish Deaf School in Balham

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 11 November 2011

JEWISH DEAF SCHOOL, Nightingale Lane, Balham, London (1865- 1965)

Henry A. Isaacs (1830-1909) later knighted after being Lord Mayor of London in 1889/90, had sent his two deaf daughters Louisa and Sarah to the Rotterdam deaf school where the Oral method was used.  He and two other members of the Jewish community decided to form a Jewish School for the deaf and managed to get the support of Baroness Mayer de Rothschild.  They bought a house for the school at 15 Mount St in Whitechapel in 1865.  The school was started with 3 or 4 pupils who were taken from the Old Kent Road school.  Initially they were taught by the Rev. C. Rhind using manualism, but the school committee was quickly persuaded by Isaacs that Oralism was better.  Shortly after, under the headship of the Rotterdam trained Jewish Teacher of the Deaf William van Praagh, the school became the first in the U.K. to introduced the Oral method of education.  Shortly after 1865 it seems Isaacs wrote a pamphlet on oral education, Sound versus Signs, which laid out his views on oral education, based on how his daughters were taught.  (We do not have a copy, and neuither does the British Library.  It would have been privately printed so if anyone has a copy, we would appreciate a scan of it.)

In its first few years the school moved several times.  In 1875 it went to Walmer House in Notting Hill the former episcopal palace of the Bishop of Norwich, before ending up in Nightingale Lane in 1899 (see Weinberg).

The school closed in 1965 due to a decline in the number of pupils.

Jewish School – view from the garden circa 1910-20

Annual Reports in the RNID Library – 1884, 1910-1912, 1914, 1915, 1921, 1928-1932, 1934, 1935, 1938, 1945, 1949/50, 1954/55, 1960/61

DENTON, E. The former Residential School for Jewish Deaf Children, Nightingale Lane, Balham, 1865-1965.  The author, 197-? (photos)

RNID Library location: B13977(REF)

RNID Library location: WTG BVF G(REF)

“Sir Henry Isaacs.” Times [London, England] 5 Aug. 1909: 9

The New “Jews Home”, British Deaf Monthly, 1899, Vol.8, no.93, p.174-8 (pictures)

WEINBERG, J. The history of the Residential School for Jewish Deaf Children, 1865-1965.