Site of deaf and dumb school, Swansea

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Wales’ first school for deaf children once stood just below the eastern end of The Promenade. The photo, courtesy of West Glamorgan Archive Service, shows the scale of the school building.

The Cambrian Institution for the Deaf and Dumb began to teach children in Aberystwyth in 1847. In 1850 the residential school moved to Picton Place, Swansea. It was funded by well-wishers and philanthropists from across Wales.

Photo of Royal Cambrian Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, Swansea“Royal” was added to the institution’s title in 1851, after the Prince of Wales agreed to be patron. Queen Victoria offered £250 in return for her having “a scholar on the foundation”.

In February 1851 there were 14 applicants for six additional places so the institution held an election, won by Hannah Richards, 13, of Rhymney. Boys aged 10 to 12 from Holyhead, Newport, Cadoxton and Chepstow took the next four places, and in sixth was a nine-year-old girl from Holyhead. None of the three applicants from Swansea was elected – the others were deemed more deserving.

In 1851 some of Swansea’s women bought clothes for a pupil to prevent him being expelled, under the school’s rules, because his parents couldn’t afford to clothe him.

In 1854 the institution appealed for funds for a new building. The chairman remarked that deaf children who got no medical treatment and education “continue in a state of misery and utter helplessness” and “their condition was little better than that of idiots”. With education, they could earn a living, worship God and form guiding moral principles.

The institution’s annual meeting was a chance to show funders how the children were benefitting. In 1914 the press reported that some of the pupils performed a poem in “signs – the natural language of the deaf and dumb” (a forerunner of British Sign Language).

In 1916 there were 85 pupils at the school, which had taught 539 children since its formation. The girls were taught sewing and made many of their own clothes, as well as patching the boys’ shirts and nightshirts! They’d dispatched mittens and scarves to soldiers serving in the Great War. Some were learning to use sewing and knitting machines.

After Swansea was bombed in the Second World War, institution principal Louis Bayliss reported that his pupils had returned home – safe “but gradually losing their speech and language”. His efforts to reopen the school where there was no bombing threat had failed, because all suitable buildings in Wales were “occupied by military or evacuees from England”.

In 1950 a replacement school for the deaf was opened in Llandrindod.

Postcode: SA1 6EW    View Location Map

With thanks to West Glamorgan Archive Service