St Saviour’s in Britain from Above

You can see a blurred shot of St Saviour’s in a 1921 photo in the Britain From Above collection. The collection is a digitisation of the unique Aerofilms collection of aerial photographs from 1919-1953. The project finished last year, and offers some 95,000 images of Britain in the first half of the 20th century. 

St Saviour’s is to the bottom left, opposite the large white Selfridges façade. I’ve put a flag on it so if you click on the flags in that area, you’ll find it.

You can see the image without creating a profile and logging in… but where’s the fun in that. I’m off now to have a look and see if I can see pictures of my house!


‘Sounds have been banished’

There’s recently been some discussion, internal to our team, about whether the services at St Saviour’s were spoken and translated, or signed. How much was the church set up to be a hearing-controlled space, and how much was it set up to be a Deaf space.

We’re only just chipping away at this, but for those steeped in a more traditional Deaf church history, where the standard story is that St Saviour’s was very much a hearing-controlled and hearing-dominated environment, some of the evidence is pretty surprising.

Look at this, for example, from 1874:

Twelve months ago St Saviour’s Church, Oxford street, for the use exclusively of the deaf and dumb, held its opening ceremony in presence of some members of the Royal family, and yesterday, after a year’s interval, during which sounds have been banished from its walls, prayer being led and instruction conveyed by the agency alone of the sign-language, the doors were again opened to a mixed congregation.

(Magazine Chiefly Intended for the Deaf and Dumb, No 19, Vol II. July 1874,  page 102)

From what we know, the reported exclusivity of the church comes as something of a surprise; the church was supposed to be shared with the poor of the parish. But it’s the claim of ‘a year’s interval, during which sounds have been banished from its walls’ which is most striking.

If we are to believe this (and there’s no reason not to, it was published in the Times and would have drawn public critique if it had been false) then this is good evidence that even though the person at the front (Samuel Smith) might have been hearing, the services were not interpreted, but were conducted in all their integrity, in sign language first (only!).

Draper’s defence of Deaf association

It’s the early 1890s, and the Royal Association in Aid of the Deaf and Dumb in London are responding to the findings of the Royal Commission on the Blind, Deaf and Dumb who tell them that they should be wary of allowing Deaf people to assemble. The risk, the Royal Commission state, is that Deaf people will end up separating themselves from hearing society entirely.

The RAD’s response is “We don’t encourage Deaf people to separate themselves from society… but we do allow for their natural inclination to come together. If we didn’t, then Deaf people would do it anyway…”

And then they quote this in support of their stance, from Amos Draper, an American Deaf man.

The tendency of the deaf to associate is marked, is almost universal. Not merely the manually-taught, but likewise the pupils of every pure oral school in America seek one another and, if near enough, form societies as soon as they leave their schools.

From a theoretical and scientific point of view this tendency must be deprecated. From that point it would be infinitely better if the deaf could, upon leaving school, be sundered and scattered among the hearing, and live out their lives in contact with the hearing alone.

On the other hand we are bound to view the matter from the warm regions of humanity, religion and love, as well as from the airy heights of idealism and the cool pinnacles of science. We have got to remember that, comparatively speaking, the deaf man is always and forever a unit in society.

Circumstances may mitigate, but they can never cancel the pitiless fact… The deaf man is a man still. He hath still hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; he is hurt, healed, warmed and cooled as a hearing man is; if you prick him he will bleed, and if you tickle him he will laugh like a hearing man. These susceptibilities are what make a human creature, and they are fully gratified only in a society where there is ease, equality, freedom, and that sympathy which grows out of a common experience.

It follows that the deaf in general do not find with the hearing alone that incredible happiness, that fruition of the soul, and of all the faculties which springs from true human intercourse; and when they incline to cheer the dull round of daily toil by meeting one another in leisure hours they only obey impulses which are at once the sweetest and most dominant in human life.

For these reasons societies arise among them almost by a law of nature, and it can be safely assumed that no arguments, no system of education, and no power whatever short of despotism will ever greatly check the existence and development of such societies.

Draper’s speech is taken from the 1893 Chicago International Deaf Congress (page 245).

How history smells and feels…

After an (over) long break imposed by conferences and Easter, I’m picking up this blog again. Within the project team, we are now beginning to draft outlines for the book that we’re going to write, and that involves trawling through thousands of historical manuscripts… so it seems good to make some of them available to you again.

Today, I’ve been working through the RAD’s Annual Reports, looking for the changes in ‘feel’ that occurred in the organisation in the late 19th century. There’s a definite shift, through the 1890s, from an organisation that feels more like a club, warm, healthy, thriving, boisterous, active… to one that is mired in bills and maintenance, and good-for-you callisthenics, and doilies.

It’s hard to put my finger on the change, except to compare it to my own boyhood experiences of sensing within the village that I grew up in.

The RAD pre-1880 comes over like an old pub snug; smelling of warm leather and pipe smoke… or like the village shop where you could taste the fizz in the sweets before you bit into them… or my grandparents’, where the fire smelled of coal, the parquet smelled of polish, where there was always a worn cardigan on the back of the bedroom door to hug, and where it was OK that the water was cold because it always seemed to taste of the smell of toothpaste.

The RAD post-1892/3, on the other hand, is beginning to feel like the village hall – smelling of stale baked potatoes, Calor gas heaters, dusty pianos, the wet of abandoned umbrellas dripping onto a cement floor in the entrance, water from the tap so cold that it makes your hands ache, and the eternal worry that your bike is being stolen from the railings outside.

Your senses won’t be attuned to the same things that mine are, and you might not be able to share my experiences unless you also grew up in a small village in East Anglia, but I hope this gives you more of a ‘feel’ for the RAD in its evolution in the late 1800s.

I’ll try and provide more as I get into the 1900s.

Sorry for the pause…

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you’ll have noticed a pause over the Easter break while the university shut down, some of us went on leave, and others prepared for conferences.

The main author of posts on the blog (me – Mike) is back in the office now, but only for a day. I’ll be away in the States from tomorrow for 2 weeks, where I’ll be sharing some of the information that we have about the project with academics, students and Deaf community over there.

I’ll try to write from there about how it’s going. But it’s possible that the delay will continue for a couple of weeks until I get back.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in some of the more theological thinking coming out of the project, please keep checking on the Mark 7 blog.

See you soon!

A ghost story, part 2 – by FAED


Greatly to my surprise, instead of doing as I had suggested, the ghost raised its right hand, and placed the tips of the fingers on its ear, then on its mouth, and finally pointed to where its stomach had been. To an ordinary spectator, I suppose this action would have suggested that the ghost meant to say that it was hungry, but being well versed in the sign language of the deaf and dumb, I at once recognised that the ghost, meant to signify that it could not speak or hear. So I rapidly spelt on my fingers to it the same question I had previously asked, when the spectre replied by spelling somewhat stiffly on its fingers the story of its woes. I had some little difficulty in following what was said, owing to several of the ghost finger-bones being absent, occasioning a slight difficulty in forming the vowels of the alphabet with the readiness which is produced by the full complement of digits, but on the whole I gained a pretty clear idea of what the thread of the story was. Briefly, it seemed that the ghost was the shade of a deaf and dumb person, who departed this life some sixty years ago, through having unduly exerted himself in riding his hobby-horse from “Brighthelmstone to Hands Crosse” in the unparalleled time of ten hours. “precious mugs you must have been in those days” I remarked at this point. The ghost gave me a spectral clout, and proceeded to add that having become disembodied in the very house in which I was then, he had been doomed to haunt it ever since, until he should meet with some mortal possessing the requisite knowledge to understand his dactylology, and by enabling him to tell his story, free him to go to rest and moulder comfortably away.

“Well,” I said on my fingers, when he had finished, “I must say that you might have had the consideration to come at a time when I wasn’t so beastly tired, and not interrupt my legitimate rest with your trumpery history.”

“Look!” replied the ghost, “you shall be rewarded,” and he beckoned me with his hand towards the door. I gave him to understanding that if my reward was dependent upon getting out of bed I would much rather waive all claim; but he was imperative, so I slipped on my shoes and followed him down the stairs – how cold it was! – down, down to the deepest dungeon – I should say cellar – where were ranged row upon row of jars of jam, which I remembered that Mors Cutitt and Tilly had been potting the previous day. “Does the old humbug mean to reward me with some of Mrs. Cutitt’s jam?” I thought to myself. But no, it seemed not, for the spectre stopped and pointed into a dark corner, where he directed me to lift up a piece of loose flooring, and I saw an old bag such as plumbers use to carry their odds and ends in, lying beneath the boards. Stooping down, I opened the bag, and could scarcely believe my own eyes, but yes, there they were, glittering, shining, chinking gold pieces; the bag crammed full of them! when I had quite satisfied myself that they were genuine, I asked the ghost of that was to be my reward? He assented, and signalled me that I should find them there in the morning, and that the only thing that was required to lay his shade was that I should shake hands with him. “Shake hands with you, and will you then vamoose?” I asked. “For ever” replied the spirit. “Then tip us your fin,” I replied, and we exchanged an impalpable shake, when the apparition immediately vanished, and I was in darkness…

(From the “Deaf and Dumb Magazine” No 201, June 1881, Vol IX: 87-88.)

A ghost story, part 1 – by FAED

I suppose I had been melodiously snoring for about an hour, when I was awaken by a touch which seemed to be a cross between the dab of a jelly-fish, the tickle of a feather, and a strong draught from a window.

Sleepily opening my eyes, I beheld an object standing by the bed side which I at once recognised as a Ghost of the first water. Growling to myself something about “dashing those mutton chops which I had had for tea”, I turned over and endeavoured to resume the slumber which had been so unwelcomely disturbed. but it seemed that my nocturnal visitant was determined not to be put off, for again the spectral touch was drawn across my face, and at last I saw that I was in for a regular interview with the departed spirit, so, putting a good face on the matter, I sat up in bed carefully propped the pillows up behind me with a view of obtaining as great a degree of comfort as was compatible with the existing circumstances, and settling myself as cosily as I could, took a good look at the ghost.

A rather out-of-condition ghost it was, I thought, looking decidedly the worse for worse for wear; its spectral garments, through which the furniture of the room was clearly discernible, were in a high state of ventilation, whilst its bones were not at all perfect, several ribs being missing on one side, and others here and there being only prevented from falling asunder by sundry buts of string with which they were tied to the larger bones. But what made this an unique specimen amongst the tribe was, that it was seated on a spectral machine, whose peculiar shape I at once recognised as the ghost of an old hobby-horse.

Having taken stock of the spectre, I addressed it somewhat sharply, “Now then, what the blank do you want here? look sharp, ‘cos I’m jolly sleepy.” Then it suddenly occurred to me that I should be unable to hear any oral reply, so I added “But look here, old son, I’m stone deaf, so you must write what you want to say. Just put your hand in my left hand coat pocket there, and you’ll find a lead-pencil and piece of paper.


(From the “Deaf and Dumb Magazine” No 201, June 1881, Vol IX: 86.)


This week, I started creating content for the book that will eventually come out of this project.

Right away, I hit a huge problem.

One of the central ideas of the book is ‘Deaf space’, so one of the first things that the book needs to do is explain what Deaf space is, and then establish a way to talk about it throughout.

… and that’s tricky when I use the term ‘Deaf’ but I’m talking about a time well over 150 years ago, where a ‘community of more or less signing deaf people’ existed just as it does today, but where it was constituted quite differently, and where the signed, spoken and finger-spelled conventions of language and culture were quite different from ours.

St Saviour’s didn’t only cater to sign language users. It catered to all those who were audiologically deaf or wanted a visual service in some way. Sure, most of them signed, but some don’t appear to have done. Some learned sign there. Some probably didn’t.

I could talk about ‘visual spaces’ – but that seems very mechanical. ‘Visual’ doesn’t carry the same weight of culture and long-term knowledge. Nor do they have the idea of ‘identity’ or ‘belonging’.

And I can’t really talk about ‘deaf’ spaces – that would be wrong for too many reasons, particularly since it was a language issue and not audiology that brought about the church anyway.

And I can’t talk about ‘sign language spaces’ – because there is more than just language at play. Many deaf non-signers came to St Saviour’s, and had more in common with the signing deaf people there than they did with the hearing. And many hearing people there signed, and it’s clear that St Saviour’s wasn’t a place aimed at them.

I got around this in my PhD by referring to people who were ‘DEAF’ – in other words, I used Deaf people’s own sign for DEAF, as a way to refer to ‘other people who are the same = DEAF’. It was a word from inside the Deaf community.

That works OK in an academic thesis, but in a book for public consumption… it’s much more difficult.


“To visitors to Paris.”

The first magazine about (or for) Deaf people to really gain national traction in the UK was the ‘Magazine intended chiefly for the deaf and dumb’. Edited by Samuel Smith, it ran from 1873 until 1878.

In the edition for August of 1878, there is a small notice that–perhaps because my previous research focused on the French Deaf community–jumped out at me:


It reads:

TO VISITORS TO PARIS. The Committee of the Universal Society of Deaf mutes, founded in 1838, and reorganised in 1867, the meetings of which are held on the first Sunday of each month, at 2 p.m., commencing from the month of January, in the Hall of mairie of the first arrondissement of the city of Paris, Place du Louvre, believe it will be agreeable to those of their brethren, both French and foreigners, who intend to visit the Exhibition, to have it made known to them that the Café Restaurant Saint-Roch (Avenue de l’Opera) has been chosen as a central point for their friendly re-unions, on Wednesday and Saturday of each week, at 8 p.m., during this period. P.S.-You are requested to communicate this information to your deaf-mute friends.

The notice is wordy and the language shows traces of having been written by a French speaker… but what’s most interesting is the way that the dates and intent flow around each other to give a tiny glimpse of both a Parisian Deaf space and its connections into an international Deaf network.

Setting the scene a bit, the Parisian Deaf community were not in great shape in 1878. In fact, they were in a bit of a mess. Lots of internal divisions and rivalries meant that the community was far from united…

In the hearing world, however, things in deaf education were steaming ahead. 1878 saw the first International Congress on the Education of Deaf people… the precursor to the notorious Milan congress of 1880. The congress ran at the end of September and was organised to coincide with the World Fair. It was organised by the Pereire Society – a society established by two prominent brothers who were famous French industrialists (extremely wealthy) to celebrate the work of Jacob Pereire, the first oral teacher of the deaf in France.

Comparing the two worlds… you have a Deaf community in disarray, whose very existence is being energetically attacked by a large, powerful, rich hearing-led movement of modern educational ‘progress’.

And yet, the Deaf community in Paris still had time to think about and open up Deaf spaces.

The intent is clear – and the choice of the Café is also interesting… The St Roch church (which is just down from the Opéra) was the resting place of the remains of the Abbé de l’Epée who was, of course, famous within the French Deaf community for his support of sign language.

So, what we have here is an advert that says “Despite our differences, and despite the events going on around us, there is something that unites us… and even unites us internationally. If you are travelling to Paris – particularly if you are coming over for the congress on deaf education, don’t be a stranger. We want to celebrate the centrality of our language and our community… Deaf space will be there to welcome you. Come and find us”.


A new blog on Mark 7

Today, news of a new blog linked to the SDDS project.

Anyone familiar with the history of the Deaf community in the UK will know how influential the church has been in shaping attitudes towards the Deaf community. And anyone familiar with that church-influenced history will know that there’s one key passage in the bible that speaks about deafness and that comes up time after time. That passage is in the New Testament, in the book of Mark where, in chapter 7, there is a story of Jesus healing a deaf man.

In one version (the New International Readers Version), the story goes like this:

Jesus Heals a Man Who Could Not Hear or Speak

31 Then Jesus left the area of Tyre and went through Sidon. He went down to the Sea of Galilee and into the area known as the Ten Cities. 32 There some people brought a man to Jesus. The man was deaf and could hardly speak. They begged Jesus to place his hand on the man.

33 Jesus took the man to one side, away from the crowd. He put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 Jesus looked up to heaven. With a deep sigh, he said to the man, “Ephphatha!” That means “Be opened!” 35 The man’s ears were opened. His tongue was freed up, and he began to speak clearly.

36 Jesus ordered the people not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were really amazed. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes deaf people able to hear. And he makes those who can’t speak able to talk.”

The passage itself is important in Deaf history. But it can be read in a number of different ways – so what is probably more important than the passage itself, is its ‘reception’ by the church and the deaf community. i.e.: how people have read it, and what they have said that it means.

As part of our project, we’re discovering that Mark 7 is everywhere… in stories, in teaching, in artwork… you even find the word ‘ephphatha’ in the names of magazines and organisations that were aimed at the Deaf community*. We’re having to think about this passage a lot… so my colleague John Lyons, who is the project manager and an expert on the reception history of the bible, has set up a blog specifically to think about Mark 7, and about its impact on the lives of Deaf people in Victorian England.

The blog is at

* I’ve always found it funny that the word ‘ephphatha’ means ‘be opened’ – but produces the same kind of lip pattern… “fathafathafatha…” that Deaf people often use when imitating the impenetrable flapping of hearing people’s lips when they talk.