‘Blind School’ digital trail at the Museum of Liverpool

24 November 2016 by Liz

Steve Binns at Mapping Monday (c) Jack Morgan DaDaFest

Steve Binns at Mapping Monday (c) Jack Morgan DaDaFest

Today we have a guest blog from Kerry Massheder-Rigby, History of Place Project Coordinator:

“For Disability History Month 2016 the History of Place project partnered with the Museum of Liverpool to launch a ‘Blind School’ trail on the Merseyside Map in History Detectives.  This trail, about the history of the Royal School for the Blind, Liverpool, has been researched by volunteers as part of the History of Place Project, delivered by Accentuate.  History of Place is a nationally significant social history programme which will chart disabled people’s lives from the middle ages until the late 20th century in relation to built heritage. In Liverpool the project is investigating the Royal School for the Blind, established in 1791. 

The brand new ‘Blind School’ trail on the Merseyside Map was launched on Monday as part of the DaDaFest Skin:Deep festival. The trail focuses on the relatively unknown history of the Royal School for the Blind, Liverpool. To launch the trail History of Place volunteers were joined by Jeff Speakman of the Museum of Liverpool, and City Historian, and former pupil, Steve Binns at ‘Mapping Monday’ where Steve shared his memories of attending the school.

Drawing of the Royal School for he Blind at the Wavertree site

Some of the most fascinating stories on the trail relate to the founders of the school, particularly that of Edward Rushton. Edward Rushton (1756-1814) was an author, poet, vehement liberal and a passionate revolutionary. He spoke out tirelessly against the transatlantic slave trade, of which he had personal experience. At the age of 11 Rushton became an apprentice with Messrs Watt and Gregson, a shipping firm who traded in the West Indies. In 1773, aged 17, Rushton whilst serving as second mate on a slave ship sailing to Guinea, befriended an enslaved African named Quamina and taught him to read. Both men were part of the crew of a small boat despatched to the shore which capsized. Quamina saved Rushton at the expense of his own life.

Framed painting of Edward Rushton

Portrait of Edward Rushton

On another voyage Rushton was so sickened by the brutality meted out on the enslaved Africans by the captain, that he was charged with mutiny and threatened to be put in irons. Almost all of the enslaved Africans had fallen victim to contagious ‘malignant ophthalmia’, which causes blindness. Rushton took pity on them, and whilst trying to bring what relief he could, he too caught the disease. He lost his left eye, and the right so badly damaged that he became blind.

For a number of years after he became blind Edward Rushton was shunned by his father although he later established Edward and his sister in a tavern at 19 Crooked Lane. It was whilst he lived here that Rushton developed the idea for an institution caring for the blind poor in Liverpool. Rushton produced two letters in support of his idea to establish an institution. The first ‘bemoaned the plight of the blind person’ and the second, ‘contained an outline of an institution. The School of Instruction for the Indigent Blind was established in two houses on Commutation Row in 1791.

The story of Rushton and the Royal School for the Blind can be explored through the Merseyside Map at the Museum of Liverpool and there is still time to catch some of the Museum of Liverpool’s DaDaFest events.”

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