Blue plaque commemorates groundbreaking deaf school

Posted On 12 May 2010 at 11:27 am

A blue plaque is being unveiled in Brighton marking the location of a pioneering Victorian school for deaf children.

The ceremony on Saturday May 15 will form part of the city’s celebrations for Deaf Culture Day.

The Brighton Institution for the Deaf stood on a spot now occupied by Danny Sheldon House, a block of retirement flats in Eastern Road.

The school, which was built in 1848, accommodated up to 100 children, teaching sign language, finger spelling and lipreading.

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At the outbreak of world war two in 1939, the school evacuated to Wivelsfield Green.

After hostilities, it moved to Ovingdean. Ovingdean Hall School remains today, teaching severely or profoundly deaf children.

The school was the first of its kind established in Sussex. It stood firm against the banning of sign language, advocated by an international conference of teachers in 1880 – a move which many deaf people felt threatened a key part of their culture.

It was the first such school to introduce athletic sports into its curriculum.

The headmaster from the 1840s to 1907 was William Sleight. In 1880 he and his family were instrumental in setting up and then running the British Deaf and Dumb Association, today known as the British Deaf Association or BDA.

By 1913 the school had expanded to occupy the entire space between College Road and College Place. New and renovated buildings were erected in memory of former pupil Hugh Heal – a director of Heals, the London furniture store.

The original school building was demolished in 1971 to make way for road widening. Later came Danny Sheldon House, named after the former Mayor of Brighton.

The blue plaque will be unveiled at Danny Sheldon House at 11am on Saturday 15 May by former pupils, who left before 1939.

It is part of Deaf Culture Day, staged at nearby Hamilton Lodge School, Walpole Road. Doors open at 10am and attractions include shows and workshops by deaf poets, actors and musicians, exhibitions by painters photographers and textiles experts plus talks and chats with historians and researchers.

Council heritage champion Averil Older said: “Our plaques always aim to unearth some unknown aspect of our history.

“This is another example of the pioneering spirit of the city, which has led the way in things ranging from film-making in Victorian times to new media today.”

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