Credit - Mural by Mick Jones

History of Place

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

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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.

Maison Dieu

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13th century

1536X

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
1536

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

1791X

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

1791

1792X

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

1792

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

1868X

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

1868

1892X

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.

Chiswick House

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1892

1894X

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.

The former building of the Guild of the Brave Poor Things

1894

1925X

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.

Interior of St Saviours church

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1925

1976X

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.

Grove Road housing project

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1976
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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.

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What we've been tweeting

#folklorethursday Not sure we completely believe all the stories of pilgrim cures at medieval shrines...… twitter.com/i/web/status/8…

We enjoyed taking part in the @DaDaFest creative writing workshop in Liverpool delivered by @Tam_Rey exploring disability and the everyday

You can sign up to our newsletter for events, games, volunteer (+ this month paid) opps + new discoveries historyof.place/about-2/sign-u…

Workshop Facilitators - Games Development - opportunity to join our team Deadline 5th Dec accentuateuk.org/news?item=1284

Join us: Games Developer wanted accentuateuk.org/news?item=1283 Deadline 5th December!

Click through images + stories abt pilgrims + residents at medieval Maison Dieu (plus a posh potential pharmacist!)… twitter.com/i/web/status/8…

Here's our 800 year timeline: when and where would you prefer to live? historyof.place/timeline_page/

We've done fancy things to our website - do check out our stories and timelines - from 1236-1970. More coming soon!… twitter.com/i/web/status/8…

On the first day of #disabilityhistorymonth we remember Edward Ruston, founder of @rsb_liverpool , who died on this day in 1814

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