Credit - Mural by Mick Jones

History of Place

Eight places, 800 years in the lives of deaf and disabled people

Read our story

Scroll pointer image

From Bristol to Liverpool, London and the South East, we explore places which chart the lives of deaf and disabled people from the middle ages until the late 20th century.

Uncover moments in history…

13th centuryX

Maison Dieu or ‘House of God’ in Faversham, Kent is one of many medieval monasteries that also acted as a hospital for the sick. It was commissioned by Henry III in 1234 and was also on  the pilgrim road to Canterbury, followed by many seeking physical or spiritual healing. Records show that hospitals also housed disabled people either as monks and nuns or hospital residents.

Discover more

13th century


The dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII meant the end of this way of caring for the population: Elizabethan Poor Laws, which made those needing help the responsibility of the parish partly replaced the hospital system.

Illustration from manuscript depicting a queen and a monk

18th centuryX

The late 18th century was a period when, with growing urbanisation, institutions began to emerge for specific interest groups – first tied to a particular city, and then becoming national organisations.

18th century


Edward Rushton, himself blinded at sea as a young man, founds the Liverpool School for the Indigent Blind. Blind people without means were often beggars and badly treated: Rushton’s school allowed blind people to learn a trade and live dignified lives. It was the first such institution in Britain.

Edward-Rushton mural by mick jones



The Royal School for Deaf Children was founded in 1792, the first public institution to provide a free education for this group.  It opened a branch in Margate in 1876 and moved entirely from London to Margate in 1905, so pupils could benefit from the sea air.

painting of turreted red building


19th centuryX

Since the medieval period, public institutions for people with mental illness or learning disability were often frightening and brutal places, with little treatment – or punishment and public display as at London’s ‘Bedlam’. During the Victorian period, some owners of private asylums began to evolve a more humanitarian approach. Those who attended were a fortunate few, whose families could pay for private care, but these places pioneered an approach which eventually became mainstream.

19th century


Dr John Langdon Down opened Normansfield Hospital for the care of people with learning disabilities – Down’s Syndrome is named after him. He built an ornate theatre in the grounds of the hospital, as part of a plan to ‘provide the highest possible culture’ and ‘the best physical, moral and intellectual training’ to residents.

Panorama showing magnificent stately house



Chiswick House Asylum.  The Tuke brothers ran the 18th century Palladian mansion, Chiswick House, as a private asylum from 1892 – 1928 for those with mental illness. Some residents stayed for a few weeks, others for decades.

Discover more



The Guild of the Brave Poor Things was a social club which opened in Bristol for people with disabilities.  The Victorian sentimentality and aura of pity and tragedy in the name was disliked by the members themselves, who changed it in 1917 to the Guild of the Handicapped.  But for almost a century, the club offered a strong sense of community and survived in various forms until the late 1980s, by which time it had been increasingly replaced by other social structures.



St Saviour’s Deaf Church.  A church for deaf people had existed in London since the 1870s, and symbolised the equal place of deaf people in church and society.  With the building of St Saviour’s – the only purpose built deaf church – in Acton in 1925, the community both underlined its mature development, and created a space exactly architecturally tailored to deaf experience. It closed in 2014, but the congregation continue to meet at other sites.

Discover more



Grove Road Housing Scheme, Sutton in Ashfield.  Institutions often served deaf and disabled people well through the centuries and, at their best, allowed for fulfilling lives. But they could also be places of imprisonment and infantilisation away from the world.  Disabled activists Ken and Maggie Davies were the first to generate a model allowing disabled people to live in the community.  At Grove Road Housing Scheme non-disabled people received free housing in exchange for supporting the needs of  disabled residents. The creation of Grove Road marked the beginning of the Independent Living Movement.

Discover more

See the full timeline

About History of Place

The History of Place project explores eight locations across England which tell the story of deaf and disabled people from the medieval period to the present. We are working until 2018 with a team of volunteers who are developing skills as they search for material that has been buried in archives for hundreds of years.

Volunteer yourself, follow the journey on our blog or on social media, or see our exhibitions in 2018.

Subscribe to our mailing list

Sign up for our newsletter so you don't miss out on discoveries and events along the way. See a taster of what you might expect to receive.

Previous newsletters

* indicates required

What we've been tweeting

You've got to love a programme with 'mulitiple creative uses of shaving foam' in int:… h/t @TinctureOfMuse

A reminder of the events and exhibitions we have coming up #8places800years

test Twitter Media - A reminder of the events and exhibitions we have coming up #8places800years

There will be more about the Guild at our exhibition with @mshedbristol later this year.…

test Twitter Media - There will be more about the Guild at our exhibition with @mshedbristol later this year.

First person voices of Guild attendees can be elusive, but come through in reports + minute books…

test Twitter Media - First person voices of Guild attendees can be elusive, but come through in reports + minute books

Our new story is based on early 20th photo albums + quotes capturing lives of disabled people in Bristol.…

test Twitter Media - Our new story is based on early 20th photo albums + quotes capturing lives of disabled people in Bristol.

b. 1828 Langdon Down was among Victorian doctors who pioneered a more humane approach… #DownSyndromeDay

Scroll for more