Impact of WW1 on the Royal Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf

Alison Smith has been taking a look at the impact of war on one of Birmingham’s institutions catering for children with a disability. 

Birmingham’s Royal School for Deaf Children was established as a result of a lecture given to the Birmingham Philosophical Society in 1812 by Dr Jean Gabriel Marie De Lys, a physician who practised at the Birmingham General Hospital. The General Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb began as a day school with 15 pupils in Birmingham in 1814.  A residential school opened in 1815 on Church Road, Edgbaston, part of the Calthorpe Estate.  It was renamed the Royal Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb in 1887 and in 1929 as the Royal Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf.  It became known as the Royal School for Deaf Children in 1935.  A nursery and infants department opened at Laughern House, Martley near Worcester in 1942.  The school closed in 1984. 

"Deaf and Dumb Helpers"
“Deaf and Dumb Helpers” – Birmingham Gazette March 1915

The annual report of this residential school for 1914 records that ‘the special needs of our sailors and soldiers during the winter campaign were recognised by the children in the Institution.  Boys and girls alike showed great skill and enthusiasm in knitting a large number of woollen comforters, which were duly despatched and appreciated by the recipients’.  Cap Comforters appear to have been made from a double layer of knitting, in a cylinder shape, which looks like a short scarf but which could then be pulled into the shape of a warm cap.  See this link for an illustration and better explanation!

Boy Scouts

This report also mentions that a second patrol of Boy Scouts had been formed and that ‘they show great interest in the training and useful duties allotted to them’.  A group of Scouts can be seen in the photograph, along with their Scoutmaster, Mr Moor, an assistant teacher at the school.  Interestingly, the annual report produced in 1920 records the establishment of a company of Brownies followed by a troop of Girl Guides in the following year.

Along with many other organisations, this institution records a significant loss of teaching and support staff to the war effort and the first annual report post-war describes the great difficulty and expense of maintaining any regular building maintenance during the war years.

Alison Smith


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