Ancestry UK

Northern Counties' Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland

What was originally known as the Northern Asylum for the Blind, and Deaf and Dumb was founded in 1838, not long after the town's Royal Victoria Asylum for the Blind. The duplication of facilities for the blind was caused by the dim view taken by the promoters of the former establishment to latter's arrangements for the conduct of religious services. Unlike the Royal Victoria, the Northern Asylum was to be avowedly Anglican in its provision. Despite the Royal Victoria tweaking the wording of its rules in relation to religious provision, the two institutions went their separate ways.

The aim of the Northern Asylum was stated in 1838 as 'For promoting the Employment and general Instruction of the Indigent Blind, and Deaf and Dumb, for the Four Northern Counties, including the Boroughs of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Berwick-upon-Tweed,' the four counties being Northumberland, Durham, Cumberland and Westmorland. The Duke of Northumberland became the charity's Patron and the Bishop of Durham its President.

By January 1839, premises had been obtained at Wellington Place, 67 Pilgrim Street. Mr A. Patterson was appointed as teacher.

At the charity's annual meeting of donors and subscribers, it was customary for pupils form the institution to subjected to public examination. Below is a report of the proceedings in June 1841:

In the Northern Asylum the deaf and dumb children are instructed in the different branches of education, and domestic duties suitable to their condition: those who evince a talent for drawing or mechanics are encouraged to cultivate it, and, with a view to this, they are furnished with the necessary materials; and a turning lathe has been procured, of which one of the boys, at least, makes profitable use. The blind children, being instructed in reading, arithmetic, basket making, sewing, &c. commit to memory large portions of the Sacred Scriptures, hymns, and other poetry; and the committee consider it a desideratum to have them taught music and singing, especially psalmody, and this they propose to effect as soon as circumstances permit such an application of a portion the funds. At the meeting the whole of the pupils in the institution, forty-five in number, were present; three of whom were all of one family.

Mr. Patterson, the Master of the Institution, delivered a lecture on the occasion, of peculiar interest, interspersed with many remarkable anecdotes and statistics, some of them of a very melancholy and others of a very pleasing character.

In the examination which succeeded, the audience was deeply interested. After displaying their comparative proficiency in Grammar, logical induction, Christian knowledge, penmanship, and articulation, the pupils showed their progress in arithmetic, by working questions in the two first rules — they then exhibited some knowledge in geography, by pointing out counties and rivers on a large English school-map, the teacher informing them of the place required by signs. These they pointed out with rapidity and accuracy.

The most amusing part of the examination was the next — the manner in which the deaf and dumb converse by rational signs. Examples were shown by high, heavy, hard, bright, smooth; reaping, swimming, flying, shooting, skipping; shoemaker, tailor, barber; fear, love, anger, attention; birds, beasts, fishes; the sun, rain, &c. By these signs, the deaf and dumb were enabled to hold intercourse not only with those of their own kind in this country, but the deaf and dumb of other countries.

The examination closed showing the manner in which the deaf and dumb and the blind conversed together. The following passage from the last annual report of the institution explains the mode better than any language of our own:—

“It is done in this way — the deaf and dumb child spells the words from a book placed before him, upon the fingers of a child who is blind, and he repeats them audibly. Thus, without the aid of any other instructor, may one whose visual organs are impervious to the glorious light of day, have his soul illuminated by the still more glorious light of Divine Revelation, and his mental faculties improved by the infusion of useful knowledge, imparted by the fingers of his silent monitor.

In 1848, after the charity's committee were challenged as to why, given its name, there were no blind pupils then resident in the institution. After the establishment moved to larger premises at Charlotte Square at the end of that year, it was renamed the Northern Counties' Institution for the Deaf and Dumb.

The Charlotte Square site is shown on the 1860 map below.

Northern Counties Deaf and Dumb Institution site, Newcastle upon Tyne, c.1860.

In 1860, the charity acquired a 4½-acre site for a new building on a 99-year lease on the estate of the Mary Magdalene Hospital, near the Town Moor, on the Great North Road. A detailed description of the the building appeared in a local newspaper in September 1861. A slightly abridged version is included below:

Its internal arrangements [have been] devised by the head-master, Mr. Neill. The acting architect has been Mr. Johnson Hogg, and for the elevation and external decorations the committee are indebted to Mr. T. W. Goodman, London. The work of erection has been going for a considerable period; and it is now so far completed that in a few days the pupils of the institution, who are at present enjoying their annual vacation at their various homes, will take possession of the building, under the superintendence of Mr. and Mrs. Neill.

Erected in the Gothic style of the 14th century, the appearance of the edifice, when viewed from a distance, is exceedingly striking and beautiful. It stands facing the North Road, and looking over the wide moor to the west, whilst St. Andrew's Cemetery adjoins it to the north. It thus preserved from all fear of being built up for many years to come; and its open, airy, and pleasant situation will add greatly to the health and comfort of those who are to inhabit it. The exterior the building is very handsome and striking. In the centre there is a lofty tower, from which wings extend on three sides. At the base of this tower is the principal entrance, a fine door-way intended for the use of visitors; above which the armorial bearings of Newcastle are carved in incised work. Facing the door-way, we see to the left a large wing, containing the principal apartments ; whilst to the right is another, considerably smaller, which is chiefly appropriated to the use of the master and matron, and for other private purposes. Behind it again an extensive wing runs out at right angles to the rest of the edifice. The stone employed, the decorations introduced, and the great number of large windows, as well as the whole style of the building, cause its exterior to present a highly attractive appearance, and make it an erection which, architecturally, will vie successfully with any other of the public institutions of the town. When the grounds by which it is surrounded are laid out, the aspect of the whole will be still further improved.

Entering by the private door of the master, at the end of the south wing, the visitor finds himself in long and lofty corridor. On either side are the doors of the private apartments. The first to the right is that leading into a large and handsome dining room, and immediately opposite to it is the private apartment of the master. Adjoining that again is the library; and, on the other side of the passage, next to the dining room, the sitting room the matron. All these rooms are light and cheerful in appearance; and, so far as comfort is concerned, seem to be everything that, can be desired. A private staircase leads from this portion of the building to the sleeping apartments of the master and his private pupils. For the latter, superior accommodation has been provided, it being the intention of the committee to make provision for a limited number of the children of the wealthier classes, who, whilst they will share the instruction imparted to their humbler companions in misfortune, and benefit by the system under which they are treated, will be entirely separated from them when not at their studies; and, being treated by the master as members of his own family, they will enjoy all the comforts of home, combined with the attention paid to their condition which can be obtained nowhere save in a public school.

The staircase, leading from the ground floor of the master's apartments to the bed rooms, is lighted by a very fine stained glass window, which has been presented to the institution by Mr. Wailes, of this town, who has from the first been one its warmest supporters. The window contains the armorial bearings of the town of Newcastle, and of the four northern counties of Durham, Northumberland, Cumberland, and Westmoreland, and ingeniously worked into the design are the monograms of Mr. and Mrs. Neill.

Next to these private apartments is a waiting room, and, adjoining it again, a commodious store room and a housemaid's closet. Opposite to these is the entrance hall, in the base of the tower, from which there is a door leading into the committee room. This principal entrance is intended solely for the use of visitors; there being, in addition to the master's entrance, private doors for the boys, girls, and servants. A handsome staircase leads up to the tower, and affords access to the various public apartments of the institution. In the north wing is the refectory, a noble apartment 40 feet by 30, in which the inmates, both male and female, will take their meals. It is well lit by four large windows, and is heated by means of hot water pipes running round it. A side window has been introduced, which, on being pushed back, affords an immediate connection with the kitchen; and the food can thus be handed direct from the fire at which it has been cooked to the table. The kitchen, which is the first room in the back or east wing, is a good sized apartment, with spacious cooking apparatus; and has, adjoining it, a large and convenient scullery. A door in the refectory leads to a small work room, a wardrobe, and sitting room for the boys, and an assistant's room: and from these we enter the the boys' lavatory and bath room — a well ventilated apartment, fitted up with a large number Macfarlane's patent washing ranges, and two very large slate baths, which can at any time be supplied with hot or cold water.

Retracing our steps to the back or east wing and passing the kitchen, we reach a staircase leading to the girls' rooms in the upper floors. There are no less than four staircases in various parts the building; and each of them constructed the strongest manner possible. Near the girls' staircase we find the larder, laundry, and washhouse. In the rear of these is a row of out-buildings of various kinds. The first is an oven, capable of baking almost enough bread to supply all the inhabitants of Newcastle and Gateshead. Next to it, but entirely separated from it by a wide passage, is the cow-house: and in proximity to this again are the piggeries, hen-houses, and all the other out-buildings usually found on a small farm; for the committee have very wisely determined to make good use of the large space of ground of which they are the possessors. Part of it will, therefore, be laid out as a vegetable garden for the use of the institution, and another portion will be reserved as a paddock for the cows. In addition to the pecuniary advantage to be derived from such an appropriation of the grounds, much good will be done to the pupils themselves by it, as they will thus have opportunities for healthy and inspiriting recreation which they could not otherwise have possessed.

This back wing and range of out-buildings divides the two large spaces which have been set apart as play-grounds for the boys and girls. That for the girls is to the south, while the boys' is to the north, and each has in it a large shed forty feet long, in which the children may carry on their silent, but not on that account less merry, sports during wet weather.

Ascending to the first floor by the central staircase, the first apartment which we enter is the splendid school-room of the institution. This magnificent place of instruction is, we understand, one of the first of its kind in England. It is 60 feet long by 30 wide, and 16 feet in height. It is divided into five bays, and is amply lighted and ventilated by six lofty three-light windows. It is thoroughly warmed by means of hot water pipes, but, in case of any failure in the working of these, a large open grate is also provided. Three sides of the room are lined to the height of about five feet with a hard cement, coloured like slate, to which it bears a great resemblance. This has been contrived by Mr. Neill; and intended as partial substitute for the numerous black boards necessary in an institution where so much has to be communicated to the pupils by writing. It is well adapted for its purpose; and we doubt not that many other institutions of a kindred nature will take advantage of Mr. Neill's ingenious device. This noble apartment occupies nearly the whole of the north, or principal wing of the building, there being only room for a small library and the boys' staircase, in addition to it. In the back wing is a classroom, opening in to the school-room, and next to it again is a large apartment for the use of the girls when sewing. Connected with this is a comfortable room for the assistant matron, and a large lavatory for the girls, fitted with a bath, washing ranges, &c.

The south wing on this floor is appropriated to seven bedchambers, of fine proportions, for the use of the master and matrons, and of the private pupils. All of these are both lofty and spacious, and are well lighted by large windows. Ascending the boys' staircase, at the north end of the building, to the third floor, the first rooms we enter are three good sized sleeping apartments, intended for the use of the assistants. Next to them, and just above the great schoolroom, is a dormitory for the boys, 48 feet long by 30 wide. The tower contains two large sleeping rooms, one above the other, and adjoining it are bed-rooms for the assistant matron, and girls, as well as a large linen room. The girls' dormitory, which occupies the southern end of the building, is a large apartment 38 feet by 25.

In the rear of the back wing is the hospital. Entirely separated from any part occupied by the children, it prevents any chance of contagion spreading from it in case of fever or any infectious disease. It consists of three large and airy bedrooms, and a bath-room; and contains, in addition to the ordinary bath, a hot and cold shower bath.

The building contains accommodation for 100 pupils, in addition to the staff of servants, &c, always necessary upon the premises. At present, there are only about sixty pupils in the institution, but, now that the accommodation is so much greater than it has been heretofore, the committee will increase the number the full extent if the state of their funds will admit of their doing so.

The stairs, and the whole of the passages, are constructed of stone, and, where necessary, supported by metal girders, so as to provide for the safety of the inmates in case of fire. The fear of this calamity, where no audible communication could be made with the inmates, has especially engaged the attention of the committee, and they have adopted every means in their power to guard against it. For additional security, three fire plugs, connected with the Water Company's main pipe, are placed adjoining each wing.

The layout of the buildings in 1894 is shown on the map below.

Northern Counties Deaf and Dumb Institution site, Newcastle upon Tyne, c.1894.

On 6 October 1864, the premises were authorised for use as a Certified School, allowing the institution to receive children boarded out from workhouses by the Poor Law authorities. It maintained this status until 4 November 1909.

In 1890, the regulations for admission to the Institution were stated as being:

On the recommendation of an annual subscriber of £1. 1s., by payment of £13 per annum, payable quarterly, in advance. Exceptional cases may be admitted for less, and those able to pay more are expected to do so. Guardians subscribing £2. 2s. annually can recommend cases from their union. Private boarders are received by the head master by special arrangement. Candidates admitted between 7 and 12 years of age, except under special circumstances. They must have been successfully vaccinated, be capable of receiving instruction, and provided with a specified outfit. Pupils are expected to remain under instruction for 7 years, from the date of their admission. There are six weeks' holiday at midsummer, when all the pupils are required to go home.

In 1888, the number of children on the roll was 111, having increased from 60 in 1861. A new boys' wing was added in 1895. On 1 November 1905, the Duke of Northumberland opened major extensions to the buildings which took the institution's capacity to 172 places. The additions were described by a local newspaper:

The extensions and alterations not only give better and brighter accommodation to the children. but considerably improve the general arrangement of the establishment. The girls for example, are now housed in one wing and the boys in another, with the new premises forming a central and connecting block where meals are taken and the school training received. The central hall, well lighted and ventilated, is 82 feet long by 36 feet wide, and is surrounded by fifteen class rooms. The new dining hall, large enough to accommodate 170 children has connected with it a new scullery and cookery school, where tho girls are to receive instruction in cooking and domestic work. Forming part of the central block are two sitting-rooms for the women teachers, a servants' hall, a dairy, and storerooms, A large new steam laundry, where the girls are to be taught, is also included in the scheme; and on the north side of what is now the girls' wing have been built new lavatories, bathrooms. and wardrobes. The architect is Mr. Stephen Piper. The cost of these extensions will be fully £12,000, and towards defraying it the Committee are employing the munificent bequest of the late Mr. George Handyman, of £10,000.

The site layout in 1913 is shown on the map below.

Northern Counties Deaf and Dumb Institution site, Newcastle upon Tyne, c.1913.

In 1909, the charity's annual meeting of subscribers and friends heard that training of apprentices had been discontinued in many trades. In addition, the 1906 Workmen's Compensation Act had led to many employers being averse to taking deaf boys into there workshops. Consequently, it had been decided to begin the teaching of shoemaking and tailoring to the older boys at the Institution. For the girls, more time would be devoted to dressmaking and laundry work. Later that year, a twenty-bed isolation block, designed by Mr C.S. Errngton, was erected at the site.

The Institution subsequently adopted the name Northern School for the Deaf. A nursery department was added in 1955. Major alterations and extensions were made to the Junior and secondary teaching accommodation in 1966 and a new senior residence, swimming bath and gymnasium opened in 1967.

<[>The establishment is now named Hedley's Northern Counties School and forms part of the Percy Hedley Foundation. It provides all-age education for children who have a hearing or visual impairment, those with profound and multiple learning disabilities and autistic spectrum disorder.


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.

  • Tyne and Wear Archives, Discovery Museum, Blandford Square, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 4JA. Archives reference E.NC54 includes a variety of record for the period 1838-1944. More recent records, as well as older pupil records, plans, photographs and other items have been retained by the school and access is by arrangement with the head teacher.