This post was written in collaboration with Emily Oldfield at Haunt Manchester. A link to the full blog post will be included at the end of this article. Haunt Manchester works in collaboration with Manchester Metropolitan University to delve into all things hidden, spooky and Gothic in Manchester’s past.

Historical Background

Although the current Deaf Institute building on Grosvenor Street dates from 1878, the Manchester Deaf and Dumb Institute was founded several decades earlier, in January 1824. The aim of this early Institute was the education of children who suffered from hearing loss and other learning difficulties. It must be remembered here that ‘Deaf and Dumb’ is no longer an acceptable phrase, where it is used in this article relates to its historical context.

A school founded by the Institute had around 14 pupils. Within just a year of its opening, the Manchester Mercury enthusiastically reported ‘several of the children can already articulate in a manner that could not have been anticipated, and are making rapid proficiency.’ The children were taught to read and write using an early form of sign language. This allowed them to play an active part in the wider world, giving them communication skills which had otherwise left them excluded. The original Institute was based on Stanley Street, near the River Irk and New Bailey Prison in Salford. By the late 1830s, the school had moved to new premises in Old Trafford, where it remained until the 1950s.

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The Deaf and Dumb School which opened in Old Trafford, depicted here around 1836. It was commonly known as Henshaw’s School for the Deaf and Dumb with Chapel and Blind Asylum. it was named after Thomas Henshaw, who left a bequest for the building of the school. The buildings were demolished in 1972. (Source: m53046, Manchester Local Image Collection, https://images.manchester.gov.uk/)

In 1850, the Manchester Adult Deaf and Dumb Institute was formed, a somewhat separate enterprise concerning the educational and spiritual welfare of adults, rather than children.Some accounts suggest the Adult Deaf and Dumb Institute was found in 1853. In 1876 it was estimated that there were around 170 deaf people living in and around Manchester itself, with another 350 persons living in the districts around the city. The Adult Institute was located on John Dalton Street but it was decided in the 1870s, that the adult community should have its own purpose-built place of worship, which would cater to their needs, alongside acting as a community venue. A site on Grosvenor Street was purchased for £2200.

The Adult Deaf and Dumb Institute

The building was constructed by R. Neild and Sons to plans designed by Mr John Lowe, at a cost of around £5,800. There was a gymnasium, a coffee room, a class room, a reading room, a lecture room and chapel. The building was only completed with charitable bequests and donations from members of the public. For example, a three-day bazaar was held at the Chorlton-upon-Medlock Town Hall in 1878, with the aim of raising £600 towards the building costs.

There was no charge to use the facilities at the building, instead the upkeep was met through annual subscriptions. However, this meant that the Institute often fell short of funding. As early as 1881 it was found the reading room was ‘improperly furnished’ due to lack of funds. In 1907 a fire broke out at the Institute, caused by faulty wiring. Fortunately, all 30 members inside the building were able to escape unharmed and one member, Mr Brierly was able to alter the fire brigade via a written message. Unfortunately, the fire raged for an hour before it was extinguished and it damaged the building.

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The Deaf Institute on Grosvenor Street, 1987. At the time of the photo, the 110 year old building was empty, with an uncertain future. (Source: MMU Visual Resources: photo by John Davies. https://www.flickr.com/photos/mmuvisualresources/24621316212/)

The Deaf Institute Community

Nonetheless, lack of funding did not prevent a strong community spirit from developing among the members of the Institute. Working alongside other local ‘Deaf and Dumb’ Institutions, the members formed their own sports clubs, including a draughts club, a swimming team, a water polo team and a cricket team. The Institute held annual soirees at the start of the twentieth century. In February 1900, members of the Manchester Institute performed Romeo and Juliet in sign language at Hulme Town Hall, to an audience of around 300 people from similar institutions around Manchester and Liverpool. During the Second World War, the Grosvenor Street building was opened up to the whole community in Chorlton-upon-Medlock. All Saints Church was destroyed during the December 1940 Blitz on the city and thereafter, church services took place in the Deaf Institute’s chapel.

The 21st Century

In 1987, planning permission was granted to convert the building into a wine bar and bistro. Later in 1999, the building changed use again and Manchester City Council allowed it to be converted into an electronic arts centre. After its period of disuse in the early years of the millennium, it is now the bar, kitchen and gig venue many people love today.

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Original Blog written and researched by Emily Oldfield and Thomas McGrath: https://www.visitmanchester.com/ideas-and-inspiration/blog/read/2019/12/delving-into-the-hidden-history-of-the-deaf-institute-manchester-b1051

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