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The Reverend William Stainer, teacher of the Deaf

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 9 March 2012

STAINER, William (1828-98)

William Stainer was an elder brother of the famous composer, Sir John Stainer, who wrote the music to Good King Wenceslas among other more notable compositions. Their father William Stainer (1802–1867) was a schoolmaster at the parish school of St Thomas’s, Southwark, and his wife, Ann Collier (1803–1884), the descendant of an old Huguenot family which had settled in Spitalfields (see Dibble).  William helped his father in the school, teaching boys only a little younger than himself. He also attended lectures of Dr. Leeson at St. Thomas’ Hospital, before becoming a student at the Church of England’s ‘National Society for Promoting Religious Education’. In 1842 aged only 14, he began teaching deaf children at the Old Kent Road School (the London Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, Old Kent Road).

Having gained experience teaching all age groups, in 1854 he left to became the Superintendent of the Adult Deaf and Dumb Society, Manchester. According to his biographical entry in the Deaf and Dumb Times,

he had not been long at work before he became aware that besides the exclusion of young children from the school caused everywhere by the minimum age for admission being fixed too high, the evil was especially magnified in the manufacturing populations of the north, where young mothers were so commonly called to leave there children and work all day long in the various processes of the cotton manufacture. The evil had struck other observers before him, but no one had grappled with it. He did so. He took council with influential persons; stirred up general interest in the subject; travelled over and canvassed the county; got up a great bazaar held at the Free Trade Hall in 1859, at which £7,000 were realised in five days, and this sum being augmented to £12,000 by numerous donations, the Manchester Infant School was started, built, and opened, and for the first seven years was conducted by Mr. Stainer himself.

Wishing to extend his work to the adult deaf, Stainer made representations to the first Bishop of Manchester, James Prince Lee for specially ordained priests to perform this ministry, but Lee refused. “Lee was stubborn, domineering and opinionated, and was greatly disliked for his personal dictatorial style” (see here). Not to be put off, Stainer went to study at St.Mary’s Hall, Oxford, then Salisbury Diocesan College, finally being ordained in 1872 by the Bishop of London, becoming the second chaplain to the Royal Association in aid of the Deaf and Dumb, at St Saviour’s, Oxford Street after the Re. Samuel Smith. He did not return to minister in Manchester, but was sent to the East End, something that coincided with the Elementary Education Act of 1870 and the realization that many uneducated children were deaf (Deaf and Dumb Times). Meeting with the School Board’s chairman Sir Charles Reed, Stainer undertook to start teaching them, holding the first class of five pupils on 14th of September 1874. The numbers increased to 400 pupils under the Metropolitan School Board by 1889, and 600 by 1898. They then established what became known as Stainer Homes to accommodate the children who lived some distance from the schools. A small fee was charged for board but other care was free.

In 1880 Stainer was blinded in one eye when closing some shutters and an iron bar fell on him.

Stainer gave generously, often from his own resources. He finally retired in 1896 after 22 years. He was a fluent signer and originally used sign language to teach, but “became more and more interested in the oral methodology” (Woodford).  He attended the (infamous) Milan Conference in some capacity, perhaps as an observer. The Stainer Homes were not to survive him and were sometimes poorly managed, finally being condemned by a Schools Board report in May 1898. [We may write about them in a future post].  Stainer died in 1898 and was buried in Highgate Cemerery.

Among other achievements we are told that he was one of the original promoters of the Conference of Headmasters, a promoter of The Quarterly Review of Deaf Mute Education, and “with Dr.Elliott, he was, in July 1885, founder of the College of Teachers, of which his brother, Sir John Stainer, then organist of St.Paul’s, was the first President.” Visiting the U.S.A. in 1887 he received an L.H.D. from Columbia College, Washington, an he was an Associate of the Training College, Ealing, and a Fellow of the Association for Oral Instruction, Fitzroy Square.

The Rev. Dr. Wm. Stainer. Deaf and Dumb Times, 1889, 1, 4-5. (photo)

Jeremy Dibble, ‘Stainer, Sir John (1840–1901)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/36234, accessed 24 Feb 2012]

Obituary. British Deaf Monthly, 1898, 7, 140-141. (photo)

Obituary. Quarterly Review of Deaf-Mute Education, 1898, 6, 75-79.

Obituary. The Silent Messenger, 1898, No.5 Vol 1 (New Series) May, p.69-7-

WOODFORD, D.E. The rise and fall of the Stainer’s Homes. Deaf History Journal, 1999, 3(2), 27-38.

Summery, The Deaf and Dumb Magazine, 1880, Vol.8 No. 87 p.46.

[Page updated 6/2/2015]