History of Place

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

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Enjoy our participative digital storytelling, explore our themes and blogs which cover our hunt through the archives, and the life stories we found there. Read our stories, bringing alive people and places in photos and quotes. Use our toolkits to make better events and exhibitions with deaf and disabled people.

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.

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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.

Mural by Mick Jones shows a symbolic painting of Edward Rushton, one eye covered with a scarf to represent his blindness, and with his arm around four other figures, who are also blind.



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.

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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.

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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.

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