Ancestry UK

Royal West of England Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, Exeter, Devon

What was to become the Royal West of England Institution for the Deaf and Dumb was founded by Mrs Hippisley Tuckfield, of Shobrooke Park, Crediton, and her friend, Miss Grace Fursdon, of Fursdon House, Cadbury. In 1824, having discovered that the son of a labourer at Fursdon was deaf and dumb, the two them became interested in how such children could be educated. Tuckfield visited the National Institution for the Deaf and Dumb in Paris, which was the first public and charitable school to be established for such a purpose. She was so impressed by what she saw that she sought out two more deaf children and arranged for their education. The children were initially housed at Shobrooke Park.

In April 1826, after doing much to raise local interest in the subject, she organised a meeting a Exeter's Royal Clarence Hotel to establish what she proposed to call the Devon and Cornwall Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb, and to form a committee to take the scheme forward. Later that year, the counties of Somerset and Dorset were added to the remit of the charity and it was renamed the West of England Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb. In February 1827, a property on Alphington Road, Exeter, was leased to house the establishment. Towards the end of that year, a 3.25-acre site was purchased for £ on Topsham Road, Exeter. A new building, capable of holding 70 pupils was completed at Christmas 1828.

Original Topsham Road building at the West of England Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, Exeter, c.1828.

All the pupils boarded at the Institution

The premises were frequently enlarged and improved as indicated in the list of additions below:

  • 1832 Additional accommodation for 20 pupils and a workshop.
  • 1833 Gardener's cottage (ground floor only)
  • 1835 New sick wards
  • 1847 New laundry
  • 1862 Large classrooms and dormitory
  • 1872 purchase of Parker's Well Cottage and garden
  • 1881 Purchase of site of toll house
  • 1888 New gymnasium
  • 1888 Gardener's cottage addition of first floor)
  • 1891 New workshop
  • 1892 New laundry
  • 1895-7 Extension and general enlargement of the institution
  • 1898 Workshop extension
  • 1899-1900 New wing with classrooms, bedrooms etc.
  • 1902 Additional bedrooms, bathrooms and offices
  • 1903-4 New boiler house, heating apparatus etc.
  • 1906-8 Additional storey providing dormitory accommodation, swimming bath and gymnasium. 1908 Fruit store, extension of workshops and covered-in way to swimming bath
  • 1908 Laying out boys' playground
  • 1912 Purchase and laying out of Mount Radford lawn
  • 1913 New wing comprising classrooms, sick wards and offices etc.
  • 1915 Electric light installed
  • 1921 Electrically driven laundry appliances
  • 1923 Fire escape from sick wards

The Institution site in 1904 is shown on the map below.

Royal West of England Institution for the Deaf and Dumb site, Exeter, c.1904.

Royal West of England Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, from the north-west,c.1907. © Peter Higginbotham

As well as learning communication skills, the pupils were given 'industrial training' to enable them to find employment in later life. For the boys, this included instruction in trades such as printing, tailoring, cabinet making, wood engraving and shoemaking, while the girls were taught sewing, dress-making and other domestic skills.

On 21 October 1863, The Institution was authorised to operate as a Certified School, allowing it to receive children boarded out from workhouses by the Poor Law authorities. It maintained this status until 27 September 1909.

The admission regulations in 1890 were stated as being:

By election of Governors and payment, or payment only. Candidates must as a rule at admission be between 7 and 12 years of age. One month before election they must send in certificate of age; recommendation signed by three governors (subscribers of £1 or donors of £10), residing in same county as candidate; certificate, signed by candidate's parish minister, and by parishioner, stating fully the circumstances of the family; medical certificate of deafness and dumbness, of intellect, of freedom from fits and infectious disorder, of vaccination or smallpox, and of any accidental deformity; and guarantee from parish officers or responsible housekeeper for payment, proper clothing, and expenses of burial or removal. Elections are held on the 3rd Monday in June. There is no arrangement for plurality of votes. Payment: 3s. a week, or more, payable quarterly in advance. Guardians of Unions pay £20 per annum, to include education, board, and clothing for patients. Children are admitted without election on payment of £20 a year. Private pupils are admitted at £50 a year. Inmates remain until about 16 (no rule), when they are taken charge of by their friends or guardians, and, in deserving cases, assistance is given from Apprentice Fund to provide a premium to be taught a trade.

In 1902, Edward VII consented to the Institution adding the prefix 'Royal' to its name.

In 1939, the Institution was renamed the Royal West of England Residential School for the Deaf.

In 1942, a wartime bomb exploded opposite the school damaging all the classrooms. As a result, all the pupils were sent home for three months.

A nursery was added at the south of the site in 1951. The School's main building was reconstructed in 1969-71.

In 2008, the school was renamed Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education.

In 2020, the school moved to new purpose-built premises on Douglas Avenue, Exmouth. The buildings were then demolished and replaced by modern housing.


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  • None identfied at present — any information welcome.