Friday, November 27, 2009

From the Records: Deaf and Dumb

I thought I'd start a series of "from the records" posts to pass on any interesting snippets I find as I trawl through the archives. Before I start, I had better give my village a name - I don't want to use the real name as it is a little too close to home, so I think I'll call it "Bucksbury" to denote a random village in Buckinghamshire. Not very imaginative, but it will do.

The 19th century census records have space to indicate whether an individual is deaf and dumb, blind, an imbecile, or insane. Today I noticed a young family living in Bucksbury in 1871 - mother, father, and two boys aged three and one, both deaf and dumb from birth. I wondered about the prognosis for a child born deaf in those days. I guessed it wasn't good.

As it turned out, I was too pessimistic. When I searched later census records for the boys I found that they both did fine. In 1881 the older boy, Arthur, was being educated at an asylum for poor deaf and dumb children at Margate in Kent - a new branch of the London Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, the first English charitable institution for the deaf, dating back to 1792. It is still in existence as the Royal School for Deaf Children, Margate. By 1891 Arthur was back in Bucksbury with his family and working for his father, who at that time was combining the trades of baker and carpenter.  By 1901 Arthur was a carpenter and wheelwright in a town close to Bucksbury. He was married and had a two year old son, Bernard. Like Arthur, his wife Alice was deaf and dumb; Bernard was not.

I couldn't find the second brother, William, on the 1881 census. He wasn't living at home, so my guess he was also receiving special education for the deaf. In 1891 he was lodging with a middle aged widow and her children and working as a farm labourer. By 1901 he was married with three young children, living in the same town as his brother, and working for a coach painter. His wife and children were all able to hear.

Arthur and William's parents went on to have at least eight more children, all hearing apart from the youngest, Percy, born twenty-seven years after his eldest brother and like him deaf and dumb from birth. Presumably there was a genetic reason for the three boys' deafness, though whether it appeared in other generations of the family, I don't know. None of their father William's siblings were deaf, but I couldn't trace their mother's family.


Clare@ BattlementsOfRubies said...

Like you I would have been pessimistic. Rather nice to see that it didn't turn out badly for them.

Catherine said...

My best friend Carolyn is deaf. She has 3 older brothers, two of which are also deaf. Neither of their parents are deaf, nor are any of their children. They have no idea where it came from in those 3 siblings.

Theresa said...

Really interesting!!! More! More!