‘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!).

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