Ancestry UK

Deaf and Dumb Institution, Brighton, Sussex

The Brighton Institution for the Deaf and Dumb Institution was founded as a result on the efforts of two sisters, Jane and Louisa Mohun, who in 1841 lived at 12 Ship Street, Brighton. They became interested in the cases of two deaf mute children and with the support of the vicar of St James's Church, the Rev C.D. Maitland, and Sir Thomas Blomefield, funds were raised to open a school for such children.

The school began operation in one of the St James's School Rooms. Early on, some blind children were also admitted to the class, although this was subsequently deemed impracticable and discontinued. The growing size of the school led to a move to larger premises which were opened in August 1841 at 12 Egremont Place, Brighton, where up to twenty children could be accommodated. The establishment was now formally known as the Brighton and Sussex Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, subsequently amended to become the Brighton Institute for the Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Children of the Counties of Sussex, Hampshire and Kent. In June 1842, William Sleight, formerly at the Yorkshire Institution for the Deaf and Dumb was appointed as headmaster, with his wife Sarah as matron.

Each year, the pupils at the Institution gave a public exhibition of their attainments. Such displays often also featured as a part of fund-raising events. One such presentation was reported in a local newspaper:

Mr Sleight, the master of the institution, then commenced the examination by calling forward several of the youngest pupils, who said he would write the names of objects from signs, and would then “sign” what they had written, thus exhibiting the first steps taken in their education. Before these children came to school they had no language whatever; they could not express themselves in any way by language, but they had a few rude signs to express their natural wants. Some deaf and dumb children had not even these. Their parents treated them much like idiots, as was the case of old. When they brought their children to the institution, parents would say, “We cannot make them understand anything;” but a deaf and dumb child might be taught from infancy to express itself very well by signs, which could afterwards be taken hold of as channel of communication, by means of which it might acquire language, and with language it could communicate with society generally. The first step taken in the institution was to teach the child the names of tangible objects. The children were then shown several objects successively, and wrote, “chalk,” “hand,” “head,” “sponge,” “knife,” “fork.”

The CHAIRMAN— They are always very accurate.

Master —Yes; they have so much writing. Writing is the best mode of teaching spelling. These children know nothing except the names of objects at present.

The pupils also wrote the names of objects not before them, but of which the “signs” were made by the master.

A few children a little more advanced were then called forward, to compose sentences on adjectives, nouns, and articles. After looking at signs made by the master, the pupils chalked on the board, “strong horse,” “a little girl,” “a high house,” “a sharp knife,” “a large field,” “a deep well,” “a white bonnet,” &c. While this was going on, the master made signs, as he stated, for “a beautiful picture,” and one of the pupils wrote “pretty picture,” means of the manual alphabet, the master then spelled successively, “lady riding,” “horse galloping,” “ship sailing,” “boy walking,” “a bird flying,” “a dog barking,” “a girl washing” &c., and the pupils promptly showed their apprehension of his meaning by pantomime representation of the various actions denoted by the verbs. In this part of the examination was also shown the method of introducing questions to the deaf and dumb. It hardly admits of verbal description; but any person may see it daily in practice at the Institution in Egremont Place. By signs the master asked the question, “Who made my coat?” and a little girl immediately chalked, “The tailor.” The difficulty of instructing the deaf and dumb, the master observed, increased on proceeding from tangible objects to abstractions. Asking a question was an abstraction. “Are you boy?” was asked of a little girl. She shook her head, and wrote, “No.” “Who made the ship?” “The shipwright.” “Who made the sea?” “God." Other children still more advanced were then called on to compose sentences introducing prepositions. This was done correctly. “A handkerchief in a hat,” “a dog in a kennel,” &c., were chalked on the board. This class was also examined in their knowledge of scripture. “Where was Jesus born?” “at Bethlehem.” “Where is Bethlehem?” “in Judea."

CHAIRMAN — “Where was Jesus crucified?” “On Calvary.” “Where was Calvary?” “In Galilee,” replied one of the pupils. “Near the temple at Jerusalem” another. Who could prevent Jesus from dying?” “Caiaphas.” “Why did Jesus die?” “To save sinners.”

“This little child,” said the master, pointing to the girl who gave the last replies, “is one of seven all deaf and dumb. Two of the children are in the institution.”

The most advanced class were then examined, writing general sentences and introducing verbs in all their tenses. The verb “love” was given for practice; and the pupils wrote, “Jesus Christ loved little children,” “David loved Jonathan,” &c. From the verb “work,” they composed, “labourers work in fields,” “servants work in kitchens,” “Jesus Christ wrought miracles.” The Master pointed out that the pupil had had used the irregular form of the past tense. He had been in school four years. In France the deaf and dumb children were allowed to be under instruction seven years; and in less time they could not get properly educated.

Several of the pupils then performed operations in arithmetic, in which the master stated that they had advanced as far as the Rule of Three and Fractions.

The latter part of the examination was amusing, and some the pupils could not refrain from joining in the laugh which their “signs” of different words produced in the room. A “whale” was expressed by the extended arms expressive of magnitude combined with the generic term for fish of the forefinger curved against the mouth like a hook.” Shrimp” is expressed by the addition to the hook of a motion of the fingers representing the unshelllng of the animal. “A Frenchman” is expressed by “bowing” and other indications of politeness; “a Turk” by mimic representation of smoking; “a sailor” by a motion of the hands to indicate running up a rope.

The Chairman, at the close the examination, stated that the examination had been entirely unprepared; in no one particular were the pupils at all aware of what was going to done. Other children might be more proficient; but it must be evident to all that the poor children before them had been much benefited by the instruction which they had received.

By 1847, sufficient funds had been accumulated for the construction of a permanent institution. On 27 June 1848, new purpose-built premises, at the corner of Eastern Road and College Place, Brighton, were opened by the Bishop of Winchester. Six years later, an extension of similar proportions was added at its west side. After further additions n 1863, the buildings occupied 128-136 Eastern Road. The Institution site is shown on the 1876 map below.

Deaf and Dumb Institution site, Brighton, c.1876.

In 1890, the admission procedure for the institution was given as being:

By recommendation of member and priority of application. Annual subscribers of £1, or donors of £10, may recommend children. At time of admission children must be between 7 and 12 years of age, not deficient in intellect, subject to fits, or suffering from an infectious complaint, and have been vaccinated, or had smallpox. An engagement must be made by a housekeeper, or the parish officers, for payment, proper provision of clothes, and removal when required, or at death. Payment, not less than £12. 10s. per annum, quarterly in advance. Certain specified clothing must be provided. Children must be sent with hair closely cut. Children of 11 years of age and under should remain at least five years. Inmates must go home at Midsummer. Children of a higher class are received as parlour boarders. Terms on application to head master,

A government inspection in 190 recorded:

Of the 76 scholars now residing in the institution (44 boys and 32 girls), twelve were fresh cases admitted at different periods of the past year. There are still two vacancies to be filled up, as two children who were brought from Eastbourne were found to be deficient in intellect, and consequently had to be removed from the institution. Besides their ordinary education, the junior class have had kindergarten lessons, and the older girls were taught laundry work, dressmaking and cookery, the last-named subject under Miss Ross-Smellie's supervision, whom services were again kindly given gratuitously. The manual training for the boys included instruction in drawing, carpentry, brass repoussé work (for the first time), tailoring, and shoemaking. All the pupils have drilling exercises, and get daily walks. The older boys continue to compete with lads of other schools, both at cricket and at football.

William Sleight remained head of the institution until 1911, serving almost seventy years in the post. He died in April 1912. He was succeeded as head of the Institution by his son Arthur, who had previously been his deputy. Arthur continued until his retirement in 1922 and was succeeded by Mr J.B.G. Usher. After Mr Usher's sudden death in 1926,

In 1939, 46 children from the Jewish School for the Deaf in London were evacuated to Brighton and were taught at the Institution. After a year, they were transferred to a school at Marlborough, Wiltshire. In 1941, 70 pupils from the Institute were themselves evacuated to Coldharbour, Wivelsfield Green, where they remained until about 1945. After the war, the Institution followed Ministry of Education guidelines advocating the separate teaching of deaf and partially deaf pupils and entered into discussions with the Royal School of Deaf and Dumb Children at Margate. It was resolved that the Margate school would teach deaf children and the Brighton school partially deaf children.

In 1947, the Eastern Road premises were sold to Brighton College and the Deaf and Dumb Institution moved to Ovingdean Hall, at Ovingdean, near Brighton. After the buildings were enlarged in 1952, up to 123 pupils could be accommodated. At around this time, the Institution was renamed Ovingdean Hall School for Deaf Children.

With an increasing trend by education authorities to teach pupils with special needs in mainstream schools, numbers at Ovingdean fell from about 100 in 2003 to 27 in 2010. In February 2010, after a proposed merger with Brighton's Hamilton Lodge School for the Deaf fell through, the school closed in July 2010.

An English Language College subsequently operated at the site until 2015 but the buildings are understood to currently be unoccupied.


  • 1842-1911 — William Sleight
  • 1911-1922 — Arthur Sleight
  • 1922-1926 — J.B.G. Usher
  • 1926-c.1960 — Frederick G Carter
  • c.1960- — D.H. Williams



Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.