A Century of Progress was written by a lady named June Corner in the 1970’s, to celebrate 100 years of Bolton Deaf Society, our origins and history. We have included excerpts and photographs from the book, which we hope will give you an idea of how we came to be.
“The problems of Deafness are deeper and more complex, if not more important than those of blindness. Deafness is much worse misfortune. For it means the loss of the most vital stimulus- the sound of the voice- that brings language, sets thoughts astir and keeps us in the intellectual company of man”.
These words are Helen Keller’s and as she was such an exceptionally gifted and sensitive woman who was blind as well as deaf, they are especially significant.
“The Manchester Adult Deaf and Dumb Institute, which for some years embraced the deaf of Bolton and district, was established by Andrew Patterson, headmaster of the schools for the deaf and dumb at Old Trafford, founded in 1823.
It was not until 100 years ago that the Bolton branch of the Society was founded. Late in 1868 a deputation from the deaf and dumb of this district went to see the Rev. G.A.W. Downing, Superintendent of the Manchester adult Deaf and Dumb Society, to tell him how much they regretted being left destitute of those religious services which had been provided similarly afflicted in other towns and asking if some arrangement could be made for them to meet together for the worship of God, by means of the finger and sign language. Shortly afterwards the use of the Holy Trinity Infant School was permitted for a monthly service but in September of the following year, the Society acquired a room of its own in Bolton.
The room was a comfortable one, secured at a nominal rent of £5 a year and regular services were conducted there every Sunday evening by Superintendent of the Manchester Society or one of his lay helpers. The average attendance of “deaf-mutes” at these Bolton Branch meetings was 22.
According to the November 1896 issue of “The Bolton Review”- (a high class illustrated monthly for Boltonian’s) published by deaf journalists, the best friend the Society had in the district was Mrs Lucy Mary Shepherd-Cross, wife of M.P for Bolton. She was known for her zeal in visiting the deaf in their houses as a sympathising friend, assembling tem around her for religious instruction on Saturday evenings and inviting them to her own home.
When superintendent, Mr J.D. Abraham, was first appointed in 1887, Mrs Shepherd-Cross went to the service and behaved just as a deaf person would, conversing in the deaf and dumb language for some time, until she was unable to restrain herself any longer, burst into merry laughter and confessed she could hear and speak.
It was in 1888 that the Bolton Bury and Rochdale branches formed a Society independent of Manchester. The design of the Society was set out thus- “to provide religious services, lectures, classes and recreation conducted in the finger and sign language. To help the needy and destitute, find work for the unemployed and minister to the sick. To help the deaf and dumb in every possible way, to encourage them to raise the standard of right among them.”
New Institute Opened
The event of those early years in the Bolton district was the opening of the New Institute at 15 Fold Street in 1895. Until then services had been held at the church institute and lectures at the Parish Church Schools. An institute where the Deaf and Dumb could meet nightly had long been felt a pressing need. The Fold Street premises were used for services and also for educational pursuits. It was also used, according to a report of that time “for lectures on instructive and amusing subjects, drawing, sign and ordinary improvement classes…Nor was recreation forgotten, It is so important to provide this- interesting popular and innocent” The office in Fold Street was open daily and to it the deaf and dumb in distress or in search of work went. Thus began the welfare work of the Society, today probably its greatest service to those who cannot hear.
Mr Abraham became interpreter, arbiter, employment agent, lecturer and teacher, guide, philosopher and friend, running the Bolton organisation and the Bury and Rochdale societies from Fold Street. But the temporary institute there acquired wider reputation as “The General Telegraph Office of the Deaf of the World” or as the “Deaf Mute Government House”.
The three committees of Bolton, Bury and Rochdale were centred in Bolton, but Rochdale and Bury left Bolton to become self - contained. It was in 1901 that the Bolton group acquired a building of its own as opposed to rented rooms. The new building was Brunswick House in Davenport Street, bought for £1,200 from Ald. Nicholson, J.P. a well- known Bolton Draper, five times Mayor of the town, who was vice president of the Society.
Knocking Up Method
Some insight into the difficulties of the deaf appeared in a paragraph in the Bolton Journal of August 16th, 1909.
“How can a deaf and dumb man be knocked up? The question is asked in its Lancashire meaning, not in a literal or physical sense of term. He cannot hear a rattle on the window-panes, an alarm clock is useless. A Bolton knocker-up says the process is easy and has been followed a long time by one of his fraternity. “By tying a piece of string to the toe of the deaf man when he is in bed and allowing the string to hang through the window, a few tugs suffice to remind the sleeper that another day has arrived.”
Appeal for Support
By 1929, Canon H.J. Elsee, M.A. chairman of the Society which still included Bury, was appealing for more public interest in the work done for the deaf in the area and was complaining that the deaf attracted neither the notice nor sympathy so readily given to the blind.
Four years later the society was caring for 300 members and the superintendent, Mr J. Shannon were urgently appealing for more support. Mr Shannon was at that time presiding over various activities at the Davenport Street Institute and taking regular services for the deaf in Bolton, Radcliffe, Farnworth and Leigh. Two hundred of the 300 members lived in Bolton and found much of their interest at the institute. Relief was given to the needy, help was given in the filling up of forms, provision made for sewing and other classes and there was a room in which the men played billiards and other games. At this time too, the society’s committee was pressing for a greater advance in specialised education for the deaf and dumb and for more vocational training. During 1918 when Mr A.W. Taylor was superintendent the society, a report had confidently stated that the deaf were all employed and in many cases earning good wages.
By contrast in the early 1930’s the position was grim. Many of the members were unemployed and prospects of securing work of any description was slight. Workshops for the deaf and dumb were considered unnecessary and care and education were reckoned something to be tackled on national lines. Deafness excludes many avenues of social enjoyment, even the cinema was rendered largely futile by the introduction of “talkies” and the social side of the Society’s work became more necessary than ever.
Mr John Chadwick and his wife Amy, came to Bolton on November 1st 1935, when Mr Chadwick succeeded Mr Shannon as Superintendent at the age of 28. Both he and his wife did much good work for the deaf in Bolton and after serving for many years as a lay reader, Mr Chadwick was ordained in 1945, in order for him to conduct monthly communion services. He became chaplain for the deaf in South Lancashire but dies in 1947 after a long illness at the early age of 41.
Mrs Chadwick carried on her husband’s work in Bolton and Leigh during her husband’s illness and after his death, she was appointed superintendent and became a leading person in the work for the deaf community throughout the country.
A Year of Change
An eventful year for the Bolton, Leigh and District Deaf and Dumb Society was in in 1965. I was a year of change, in which Mr Geoffrey Whitehead succeeded Mr Marcus E. Tillotson, as Chairman. Mr Tillotson had been chairman for 15 years. Mrs Amy Chadwick, now Mrs W.H Harrison tendered her resignation after 18 years as Superintendent and 30 years association with the Institute. She did not and still has not, severed her connexion with the Society, however, and was appointed welfare officer with special responsibilities to the Leigh, Tyldesley and Atherton area. Her son, Mr Michael Chadwick, who had been assistant Superintendent at Bolton, who now was Superintendent at Salford Association for the Deaf, returned to Bolton as Superintendent on May 1st.
Most satisfaction of this year, was the opening for the permanent home for the deaf in Leigh. The Leigh Institute was opened by Mr Tillotson and named after Reverend John Chadwick.
The Greatest Hope
When Mrs Chadwick partially retired in 1965, she said she wanted to spend more time with her husband, but would not contemplate a complete break from her life’s work. Her son followed in her footsteps until in 1967, Mr Leonard W.A. Scarff become the new Bolton Superintendent. Suffolk born, mr Scarff knows better than most of us what life is like for the 230 or so members, for he too is deaf and so is his wife Alice. Mr Scarff came to Lancashire, 8 years ago to work for the deaf as Superintendent in Wigan.
It will be left to the ever active voluntary committee and Mr Scarff along with his staff, to guide the work through its next changes.
It has been announced this year that the Davenport Street headquarters are to be demolished to make way for the town’s inner ring road. Bolton Corporation will allocate a plot land in compensation. It is hoped that centenary celebrations this winter will raise money to help build a modern headquarters for further worthy effort and happy association….
This abbreviated history takes us to 1973. We hope to add more history soon to cover the last 42 years.
Trustees & Staff