Childhood home of deaf pioneer Dorothy Miles, 27 Westbourne Avenue, Rhyl

button-theme-womenThis house, close to Marine Lake, was the home of Dorothy Miles when she contracted the illness which left her deaf. Please respect the currant occupants’ privacy as you view the house’s frontage.

Dorothy became a pioneer of British Sign Language (BSL) poetry and a playwright. She compiled the first teaching manual for BSL tutors and helped establish the first university course for deaf people to become BSL tutors.

Dorothy was born on 19 August 1931 in Cadole, Flintshire, in a four-roomed property called ‘The Hut’ (possibly a holiday chalet on Cefn Mawr Farm). She was the youngest of the five children of James and Amy Squire. James, from Bersham, Wrexham, was a hairdresser before joining the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in the First World War. He and his young family emigrated to Canada in 1920 but returned later that decade.

By 1939 the family lived here while James and Amy worked as Post Office cleaners. Dorothy later wrote about “the stretch of ‘golden sands’ at the seaside resort of Rhyl, my first remembered home.”

Her family nurtured her creativity. Her father sang soldiers’ songs, her mother recited poetry and her sister wrote and read aloud poems. Later Dorothy recalled 27 Westbourne Avenue as a very happy home.

In March 1940, Dorothy contracted cerebrospinal meningitis, which left her deaf and initially unable to walk. She attended the Royal School for the Deaf, Manchester, and the Mary Hare School in Sussex (the first grammar school for the deaf).

Working as a welfare officer at the Liverpool Adult Deaf and Dumb Benevolent Society, Dorothy began acting in sign language plays. She won a scholarship to Gallaudet University in Washington DC, where her literary talents flourished and she won prizes for her prose, poetry and acting. In 1958 she married fellow student Robert Miles, but they separated in 1959.

After graduating, she joined the National Theatre of the Deaf and began composing sign language poetry, aiming to bridge the gap between the worlds of hearing and deaf people. Her book Gestures: Poetry in Sign Language was published in 1976. In 1977 Dorothy returned to Britain. She contributed to the National Union of the Deaf’s Open Door BBC TV programme and helped initiate the See Hear TV series. She wrote British Sign Language: A Beginners Guide in 1989, published by the BBC to accompany the series.

She was prescribed medication after a severe bipolar episode in 1977. On the night of 29 January 1993, she tried to contact the Samaritans using a special communicator but the line was too busy. At about 2am on 30 January she jumped from the window of her London flat. The coroner’s court concluded that “she took her own life while depressed”.

The Dorothy Miles Cultural Centre (DMCC) was established in her memory. From it grew Dot Sign Language, a not-for-profit organisation aiming to improve communication and understanding between deaf and hearing people.

With thanks to Dr Hazel Pierce, of The History House. Sources include the DMCC, Dot Sign Language, British Deaf Association, Staffordshire University. Also ‘Unmasking Dorothy Miles, The Deaf Bard of Wales, England and America’ by Steve C Baldwin, and ‘Discover Gwernaffield & Pantymwyn’ by Lorna Jenner.

Postcode: LL18 1EG  View Location Map

Further information on Dorothy Miles:
The Dorothy Miles Cultural Centre 

Dot Sign Language

British Deaf Association