In my post concerning the bequests made by my late Great-Aunt Emma Jane Wray on 29 November 2016 (What can you find out form a will?), I made mention of the Asylum for Deaf and Dumb Poor, where her niece Elsie Pearson was resident for a period. Aunt Emma had left an annuity for the care of her niece which, on the face of it, was rather unusual. It turned out Elsie was disabled and needed more care and attention than her other nieces and nephews.
I had found Elsie on the 1911 England census, along with 414 co-residents of the institution located in Margate, Kent. Its size alone was impressive and made me think its importance would be worth a blog post of its own.
There are several websites that describe the history of the asylum. Some of the recent articles can be found at: The London Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, John Townsend and the London Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb and The Asylum that changed the lives of young ‘unfortunates’. For many old photos of the institution see this website.
Reverend John Townsend (1757-1826) established the original school on Grange Road, in Bermondsey, London – the Asylum for the Support and Education of Deaf and Dumb Children of the Poor, looking after 55 children. By 1792 the school had become the London Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb. In 1807 it had been able to move to larger premises on Old Kent Road where they had space for 200 children.
There were some private institutions where people of means could send their children but this was to be the first public school where deaf children could receive a free basic education. Townsend received initial support from: Henry Cox Mason, rector of Bermondsey; Henry Thornton, banker and philanthropist; and the Duke of Gloucester.
Joseph Watson, one of the early headmasters was an inspirational and dedicated teacher, developed many techniques for instructing afflicted children and believed they were due an education as good as any other person. He wrote that, “Persons born deaf are, in fact, neither depressed below, nor raised above, the general scale of human nature, as regards their dispositions and powers, either of body or mind.”
On the 1911 England Census, where I found my little cousin Elsie, the asylum was referred to as the Royal Deaf & Dumb Asylum. In later years it became known formally as The Royal School for Deaf Children, Margate.
The school was closed abruptly in December 2015, throwing 240 staff out of work, after the John Townsend Trust was put into administration (receivership).
On lists such as that found on the 1911 census, as well as other schools and institutions, one may get a better appreciation of the lives of ancestors. Such summaries are well worth looking for, as are the histories of those organizations.
Wayne Shepheard is a retired geologist and active genealogist. He volunteers with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne has also served as an editor of two such publications. He provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.