Celebrating 125 Years of Breaking Down Barriers

125 years ago saw the beginning of Cumbria Deaf Association. Have you ever wondered where our story began. Stewart Simpson has kindly written the article below detailing the birth of what is now Cumbria Deaf Association.

The isolation of the Deaf and Dumb*, in what is now mainly Cumbria, was first raised at the Carlisle Diocesan Conference held at Barrow in September, 1893. At that meeting, members of the clergy drew attention to the number of deaf mutes in the Diocese and their ‘solitary lives and unfortunate condition’. They also reminded delegates of the effect on profoundly deaf children who, from a very young age, were placed in distant special residential schools. On their return home at week-ends or end of term there was no one to stimulate or communicate with them and, as such they failed to keep pace with hearing children. It was concluded that they could only be helped by some special agency.

Much of the concern was the need to make provision for the spiritual care of the Deaf and Dumb. Indeed, it was observed that “If uninstructed, the deaf mute is practically a heathen”.

Members recognised the need for special provision within the Diocese and a committee was formed headed by the Bishop of Barrow. At a subsequent meeting in November, 1893 there was unanimous agreement to form a Church Mission to the Deaf and Dumb within the Diocese of Carlisle. Its aims were, in essence to:-

  1. Provide spiritual instruction for the Deaf and Dumb.
  2. Seek out and keep a register of their conditions and circumstances.
  3. Visit the sick and others, and help in a practical way.
  4. Assist in getting children into suitable schools.
  5. Educate, where possible, adult parents of children in special schools.
  6. Assist in the Deaf and Dumb in obtaining employment.
  7. Provide suitable recreation.

To achieve these aims a Missioner was appointed at an estimated cost of £150 a year with funds being donated from the general public and the Church. The missioner began work on the 1st June, 1894.

In outlining its aims the Carlisle Diocese Mission was guided by other Diocese Missions established during the second half of the nineteenth century. The committee were well satisfied with the choice of Missionary – a Mr Foster – who is described as a deaf mute. Apart from being an expert “in the sign and finger language” he had “the advantage of oral training, and experienced no difficulty in making himself understood by hearing persons”. In a report on his first seven months work his industry and devotion clearly impressed the committee. He had made a complete tour of the diocese once a month with Sundays being spent in the principal towns of Carlisle, Barrow, Kendal and Workington/Whitehaven. During the seven months he had identified 202 profoundly deaf people of whom 141 are adults and 61 are children. 43 of whom are being educated at various schools. During the seven months Mr Foster had held 74 religious services, given 14 lectures, paid 407 pastoral visits, made 241 visits on behalf of the Deaf and Dumb and made 30 sick visits. His achievements during that short period of time are unbelievable – given the sparsely populated diocese and the limitations of public transport.

* the word “dumb” is now not used as it is considered insulting