Brighton Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb (Est. 1841)

Photo:The institution in 1973

The institution in 1973

James Gray Collection / The Regency Society

The first school for the Deaf in Brighton

By John Walker

The Brighton Institute for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb in Hampshire, Sussex and Kent, or otherwise known as the Brighton Institution, was established in 1841.

It's first Head Master was William Sleight, who moved for Knaresborough, Yorkshire, to Brighton to accept the post in 1842.

The school was originally located in 12 Egremont Place in Kemp Town. The Cheesman Family Builders developed properties on Eastern Road and a school was created for the Brighton Institution. The institution moved to 127-132 Eastern Road in 1848. In the same year, William Sleight wrote a memoir of the late John William Lashford, a student at the institution, which was also presented as an annual report.

The school grew to include 4 more houses on Eastern Road, in 1910, making room for 109 children. The photograph below is how the school looked in 1973; if you disregard the bridge, you can see the structure of the school. 

William Sleight remained Head Master of the school until 1907 (Eagling), which then catered for some 101 pupils; he died in 1912.

His son, Arthur Mortlock Sleight, returned from Edinburgh to be his father's assistant until he retired. He assumed the role of a Head Master from 1911 to 1922. Arthur's views on education was that there was room for oral education but insisted that if it was not successful before the age of 11, the children must be introduced to the combined system, or sign language (Silent Worker).

William Sleight's daugther, Katherine (Katie) Emily Sleight, lived and worked in the Institution all her life and, on her retirement, a trust was set up to buy a house at 2 College Place. Her position was the Lady Superintendent (East Sussex Record Office).

At some point between 1922 and 1930 [1], the method of education changed from the combined (sign language, fingerspelling, lipreading) changed to the pure oral method (using residual hearing, lipreading). The change may have been dramatic, where children left a signing school one day and arrived at an oral school the next. The German method of pure oral education derived from Heinicke and adopted in the 1889 Royal Commission; the Sleight family supported the combined method and could sign.

In 1939 [2], the school was moved to Coldharbour Farm in Wivlesfield Green,  Sussex, for fear of being bombed in the war. When the war was over, Ovingdean Hall was purchased as an alternative site for the school.

In 1947, Ovingdean Hall School opened as a new school for deaf children.

Ovingdean Hall School renamed itself as a school for 'Partially Hearing Children' in 1962. In July 2010, Ovingdean Hall School, and the legacy of the Brighton Institution, closed and its students are moved to other schools: Hamilton Lodge and Oak Lodge schools, and several mainstream schools.

The history of the Brighton Institution is currently being researched by Geoffrey Eagling, it is expected that his booked will soon be published. On 15th May 2010, a commemorative plate will be revealed on the site of the Brighton Institution. 

Expressed thanks are given to the James Gray Collection for allowing us to reproduce this photo on this website.

A Voice from the Dumb: A Memoir
A Voice from the Dumb: A Memoir (2330k)
by William Sleight, Head Master

This page was added on 26/03/2010.
Comments about this page

[1] My mother, Marjorie Amelia Beeson (nee Arnold), attended the Eastern Road School from circa 1922-1930. Her older deaf siblings, Stanley and Gertrude Rose (Rosie), went there too. My mother described the education as being poor. It started with teachers using a combination of speech and sign, which she liked. But at some point, it became oral only. Then my mother had to rely on those pupils with more hearing, or the better lipreaders, to know what the teachers were saying. She said it was frustrating and boring, with lots of copying and very little progress. She said she learned far more from her children than she had at school! 

She lived in Southampton, but only went home 2 or 3 times a year. Younger children were assigned an older pupil to be their "mother". As she got older she became a "mother" in turn. She described her brother, Stan, as being a tough boy. Once she saw him fighting with a teacher. Some things never change! 

Another time, a young teacher was supervising at meal-time, swinging on gym equipment. The head teacher came in, shouted at him, and the teacher was never seen again. 

She left at 16, joining her sister Rosie, ironing shirts on (illegal) piece-work at the Una Star Laundry in Southampton.

By Roger Beeson
On 26/03/2010

[2] I was able to confirm with my Father, John Russell that he attended Eastern Road school for the age of 5 years old to 8 years old, which is when he was then moved to Wivelsfield Green school due to Eastern Road school closing down. My father was born in 1931, so I can confirm the dates he would have attended Eastern Road school would have been from 1936 to 1939.

By Mary Wilson
On 01/04/2010

I heard from my distant cousin who lives in England. She informed me that my 4x great uncle's great granddaughter, Mary Anne Chappelow, was deaf and attended the Brighton School. By the time she was 15 years old, it was 1830 but est said 1840. At 16, she met Cecil Bedwell who was attending Brighton too. Later on, she became teacher at that school so I wonder if there is record of her attendance as a student and/or teacher.

By Donna
On 03/05/2010

The 1861 census survey places Bedwell and Chappelow at the Brighton Institution. Their ages were 17 and 16 years old respectively, which places their birth in 1844/45. I can also see that in 1891, they were both married and Cecil was working as a Solicitor's Clerk; there is no mention of Mary Anne as a teacher. I can not see Bedwell/Chappelow in the 1848 annual report, which might imply that they arrived at the Institution a short while after.

By John Walker
On 04/05/2010

Yes, you are correct. I checked email from my distant cousin again, it was during 1861.

By John
On 09/05/2010

MARY ANN NEVES born 1854 in Brighton, was a pupil in the Deaf & Dumb Institution, Eastern Road, Brighton in 1871 census, age 16. Her future husband FREDERICK BURTON born 1856 in Brighton, was also a pupil there in 1871 age 13. Both were 'deaf and dumb' from birth according to census information. MARY ANN was the second of nine children born to her father JESSE, a sawyer from Withyham, Sussex, and PHILADELPHIA NEVES, a needlewoman, living at Lime St., near New Dorset St. and St. Nicholas Church in Brighton. Her younger brother DAVID NEVES (b. 1861) was my great-great-grandfather. How Mary Ann managed to communicate with her family is not known but it must have been more difficult for her to communicate with people outside of her immediate family. Her schooling at the Deaf and Dumb Institution in both oral and sign language, developed by Headmaster William Sleight, would have given her a greater opportunity to communicate more effectively in everyday life. MARY ANN and FREDERICK BURTON married in Brighton in 1880. They were likely advised against it, as the general medical view then was that any children of theirs could inherit their parent's condition. They worked as dressmaker/laundress and house painter all their lives, raising a family of four hearing sons, FREDERICK (b.1881), WILLIAM (b.1883), ARTHUR (b.1886), CHARLES (b.1889). The family lived in Southover, Hendon, and Franklin Streets in Brighton and East Street Place, Portslade. One can only imagine how difficult it would have been in the 1880’s through to 1911 and more for Mary Ann and Frederick to make a life and home together, working to support themselves and their family through the years. If anyone has any further information about MARY ANN and FREDERICK BURTON, particularly their descendants; please contact me by email:

By Gwen O'Sullivan
On 10/05/2010

Although Mary Ann and Frederick Burton would have more challenging lives compared to hearing people, they would have support from a Deaf community, as many of the students from the school would have kept in contact. I notice that in the 1911 census survey that the family were still together in Portslade despite the oldest son being in his 30s. The sons would have helped the parents to communicate with hearing people. In 1912, the Chichester Church Mission for the Deaf and Dumb was formed, they would have received support from the Missioner.

By John Walker
On 10/05/2010

MARY ANN NEVES and FREDERICK BURTON - Further information has been obtained from the original Institution register (Log Book), which is currently held at Ovingdean Hall School, Ovingdean, near Brighton. No. 277: Frederick Burton, born 1856, of 11 Lennox St, Brighton. Father: Thomas Burton, Carpenter. Admitted Oct. 1865, annual fee of £8. 

No. 282: Mary Ann Neves, born 1854, of 4 Lime St, Brighton. The "guarantee" was provided by Miss Croft, 14 Clifton Place, Brighton. Admitted Aug. 1866, annual fee of £8. 

(Note: 8 pounds in 1865 equates to appromimately 4,500 pounds in 2008, based on average earnings)

By Gwen O'Sullivan
On 13/05/2010

Refer to Donna dated 03/05/2010. I would like to add some details regarding to your queries about Chappelow and Bedwell. The details below are from the Pupils’ Register of the Brighton Institution for the Deaf & Dumb:- Miss M. A. Chappelow was born in 1844 and entered Brighton Institution in December 1852 (pupil no. 79). Her address at the time was ‘King Street, London’ and that the Guarantee was E.Stevens, Esq. The annual school fee was £30 per annum. She left in June 1863. Cecil Bedwell was born in 1845 and entered Brighton Institution in August 1852 (pupil no.80). His address at the time was ‘Hyde Park, London’ and that the Guarantee was his uncle. The annual school fee was £40 per annum and was apprenticed to an Engraver after leaving the school in June 1861. I have a list of Deaf teaching and domestic staff at Brighton Institution in the 1860s but Miss Chappelow was not amongst the list. She was 19 years old when she left so, although if she was a member of the staff, I have no record of her duty. The location of the school at that time was at 124/138 Eastern Road, KempTown, Brighton, Sussex. Hope this helps.

By Geoffrey Eagling
On 14/06/2010

[3] Refer to Mary Wilson dated 01/04/2010 regarding her father. John James Russell was admitted to Brighton Institution on 16 May 1935. Eventually the school was evacuated to Coldharbour Farm in Wivelsfield Green in 1941 and during that time the Institution was sold to Brighton College. Do you know the name of the house/building that the pupils were at Wivelsfield Green as I have trouble tying to obtain the name? Do you have, by any chances, any photos that were taken at either premise that I would like to see?

By Geoffrey Eagling
On 14/06/2010

Does anyone know of a similar school in Wiltshire at about the same time, as I have an ancestor who was born near Devizes in 1842 who was deaf and he was trained as a tailor.

By A Sherman
On 28/06/2010

My relative John Tilney Cross b 1902 was listed as a pupil on the 1911 census. Could anyone tell me where I could access details from the Pupil Registers as I believe it will have changed from the details in a previous reply from last year. I am particularly interested to know who his guarantee was and the fee. Thanks in hope

By Jacqueline Pilling
On 17/05/2011

All records and log books are now held at the East Sussex Record Office - I don't think there is a fee, just a case of making an appointment.

By John Walker
On 17/05/2011

Hi, I know that deaf people during the war were taught orally but can you tell me how did they have the headsets at this time? Thanks

By Emma Kershaw
On 23/05/2011

Children were taught orally or through the combined method (lipreading, sign language, fingerspelling), depending on which school the child went to. The low cost manufacture of amplifiers, or headphones, did not come about until after the second world war. In 1948, NID campaigned for amplifiers to be supplied by the newly formed NHS, which led to the distributions of hearing aids (delivered nationally in 1952). Therefore headphones in the classroom is a post-war educational resource.

By John Walker
On 23/05/2011

Refer to Jacqueline Piling regarding John Tilney Cross. I have a list of BIDD Pupils’ Roll up to 1961 and that John Tilney Cross was admitted to the Brighton Institution on 30th September 1908 as pupil no. 901. His address at the time was in Southampton and the school fee of £25-0s-0d per academy year was met by Southampton Education Committee. His parents provided the school clothing. There was no record of him when he left the school but it is most like that he left at the age of 16 years old. There were two Crosses on the list; one was Joan Olga Cross born 1915, BIDD from 1923 to 1931, and the other Ronald Cross, born 1916, BIDD from 1916 to 1932. Both hailed from Ryde, IOW. Good luck with your genealogy work!

By G.J.Eagling
On 08/06/2011

My great grandmother, Ellen Snell was a pupil at the school in 1871, she was deaf and dumb, when she was 15. I am curious as her family lived in Suffolk: how she came to be there and who paid the fees? Any help would be appreciated.

By Christine Bowyer
On 21/08/2011

Refer to Christine Bowyer regarding Ellen Snell. I could not find her name on the Pupils’ Register for Brighton Institution but it could be the same person probably due to the Registrar’s error. Ellen Sull, admission no.230, was born in 1856 and admitted to the Institution in 1863. The school fee of £8-0s-0d was paid by ‘The Overseers’ and her address at the time was in Preston, Suffolk. My great, grandmother also came from Woodbridge in Suffolk and, like you, I have no clue how my grandmother came to Brighton. There is only two that I can think of: travel by boat from Woodbridge to Brighton as her father was a Ship Captain, the other would be by trains, first to Liverpool Street Station, London, then onto omnibus or horse-drawn cab to London Bridge Station, and aboard another train for Brighton. The stagecoach is the other form of transport but it would take several days to arrive at the Institution. There were two Snells who hailed from Suffolk namely, James of Lavenham (b.1852) and Herbert of Ipswich (b.1884). Were they related to you? Geoffrey

By G.J.Eagling
On 12/10/2011

My great grandfather's brother was a pupil listed as J Keen aged 9 in the 1861 census. He was, in fact, James John Keene born 1852 in Richmond, Surrey. He became a signwriter and wood grainer, married and had at least four children and lived to be 95. It would appear that the Institution played a valuable role in his development and later success in life. However, at the time he attended the Institution, his father was in financial difficulties becoming bankrupt twice. I wonder if his father put his finances at risk to pay for James Keene to attend the Institution or if charitable contributions were donated.

By Roger
On 26/03/2012

To find an ex-pupil in the school, you will need to go to the East Sussex Record Office in Lewes to look at the log books. These books record details about each pupil as well as who their sponsors were.

By John Walker
On 26/03/2012

my late sister Irene Lee went to Eastern Road school for the deaf then to Wivesfield during the WW2 , then to Ovingdean Hall and stay there to 16 years old in 1950/1 O.Hall was took partly hearing children when Irene was 15, stay on same school for one more year, she did not transfer to other deaf school. And her late husband Roger Wadey went to Eastern Road from 7-16 years old he was born 1929. I would like to see if their names on register list.

By Janet Ayton
On 09/09/2015

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