8.3 – Hints of Deaf London

Yesterday, I posted something about the difference between the ‘upstairs’ and the ‘downstairs’ at St Saviour’s.

Today, I address the question of what happened outside of the St Saviour’s building.

According to one source, Deaf people referred to the church as their ‘Cathedral’ – in other words, a central headquarters which coordinated other services.

Again, in preparation for the presentation next week, I’ve pulled together data that shows where some of those services were. By 1909, the chaplains were running services and activities in Oxford Street, Ealing, Harrow Rd, Deptford, New Kent Road, Brixton, Denmark Place, Walworth, Islington, Tottenham, West Ham and Lavender Hill.

There was also a cricket field used at Neasdon, and picnics at Battersea.

Map of Association activity showing services at locations listed in the blog.

So far, all we know about these locations is that they were sites for religious meetings and other Association-organised activity. But the evidence suggests that these meetings were much more organic (ie, they arose from Deaf people’s own activities) than the ‘Cathedral’ of St Saviour’s.

What we’re discovering are the first glimpses of a wider 19th-century network of London-based Deaf spaces.

More on this, as we discover it.

8.2 – Inhouse

The University of Bristol has been fighting its electronic file-system for a few days. Something broke last week, and it’s taken them a little while to put the file store back up. In the meantime, I have no access to my working documents.

I’ve used the time to prepare a presentation that I’ll be giving next Monday in what remains of the Centre for Deaf Studies.

Preparing the presentation reminded me of how far we’ve come in only a few weeks, particularly with regards to our knowledge of the St Saviour’s building, and its use.

What’s been really interesting is to see the separation of spaces between the ‘upstairs’ which clearly fulfilled a public role, and remained under the control of the Anglican church establishment and the Association’s board of trustees… and the ‘downstairs’, which was clearly a much more Deaf controlled space.

Here’s the plan of the building. Imagine going in through the doors in Lumley street, and being faced with stairs up to the left, and down to the right.

Plan of st saviour's church showing entrance to Lumley street and outline of church building structure.

“… A descending flight of steps at the general entrance… brings us to the lecture-hall beneath the church. At its north end is a spacious platform, and on the walls on either hand are portraits in oil… principally executed by deaf artists. The room is well furnished with gymnastic apparatus. Here lectures, meetings, tea-parties, gymnastic displays, bazaars, and, usually, the Thursday evening service are held.”

This ‘downstairs’ space was effectively London’s first permanently sited Deaf club, and will be an enormous part of the story that we tell about the church.

7.4 – Patterns in the pavement

Take a look at this… it’s part of the map Oxford Street that features St Saviour’s in the 1890s. You can probably see it better in the banner for the blog.


See how the church provides a curved corner for Lumley Street? 

In pictures from the time, you can see that the church was sunk into a trench, with the downstairs floor being a good 6 feet below the pavement.

Now… here’s a photograph of the present-day Oxford Street site, where St Saviour’s used to stand.


That paving, with the glass bricks in, is the actual trench that used to follow the shape of the St Saviour’s site.

We’re going to ask the Adidas store if we can go into their basement and take a look!


7.1 – Rotating… rotating

In the old days (and still in some places where the resources are particularly fragile – or the archivist still enforces 20th century rules) you used to go into archives equipped with a pad, a pencil, and a mountain of boiled sweets… and spend the day scribbling until your wrist went dead, your eyes fell out, and your fingers fell off.

No more.

Most document collection now is done with a camera, which allows you to spend a lot less time in the archive, and a lot more time back home reading the material.

To make sure that you get the best possible photo of a document, you generally fit it to the camera screen shape – and since most photos that you take in an archive are of a single page, that means that most photos you come back with are on their side.

The first step is always to rotate them all so that you can read them. Which is easy if you are on your own, and you always hold the camera one way around.

Having returned from the archives with well over 700 photos of books, manuscripts, microfiche and other written material – I’m remembering how long it takes to rotate them all, and discovering that a shared camera means that I have to keep changing my rotation direction.

Almost done, then it’ll be time to folder them up and give them a structure.


5.5 – Back from the archives

Project week 5, day 5.

We spent the first three days of the week in a variety of archives in London, looking for information on St Saviour’s, and reading about what happened (particularly in the set up of the church).

Monday – we were at the UCL Action on Hearing Loss library, where (amongst other things) they have the chaplains’ newsletters from the church, the Deaf and Dumb Times (mouthpiece of the early BDDA), and some journals by one of the church vicars (Gilby) which detail his experiences of the church.

Tuesday – we visited the site of St Saviour’s in Oxford street. And then went on to another church (this time a Baptist one) that was built around the same time. Although St Saviour’s isn’t there any more, the pavement still shows the original shape of the plot.

Tuesday afternoon was spent in the London Metropolitan Archives looking at the annual reports of the Royal Association for the Deaf (RAD) which was the overarching organisation that administered St Saviour’s.

Wednesday – we went on to Acton, where the church that replaced the original St Saviour’s is built. St Saviour’s Acton is up for sale by the RAD, and it was good to see it, and to see what’s inside it, before it goes. I was honoured to be able to interview an elderly Deaf man there who was born in 1910 (yes, really – he’s 104) and had living memory of the original St Saviour’s even if it was only for a couple of years (1921/22).

We’ve come back with nearly 700 photos of archival data, which is quite enough to be working through for a bit. John and I were able to spend the evenings talking through our findings, and we’re already beginning to think about the structure of what we’ve seen.

I’ll post up information from those findings, and more info on the project and the project team next week.