Webpage created: March 31, 2016
Webpage updated: January 28, 2020
DEVONPORT AND WESTERN COUNTIES BLIND INSTITUTION
In about 1858 the Reverend J Adams, of Saint Paulís Church, Morice Square, started to raise subscriptions towards the establishment of an institution for the blind within Devonport. Despite his energetic endeavours, and those of several other gentlemen of the Town, they failed to gain sufficient financial support and had to abandon the project.
They were much encouraged, however, by the success of similar enterprises elsewhere and became more determined to raise enough money to furnish a house in the Town to make a start. They also decided to form themselves into an ďassociationĒ in order to remove the idea that the institution was a charity as they intended it to be viewed more as an industrial establishment. The pupils were, after all, going to earn money from their endeavours rather than rely on financial support from outside.
The Devonport and Western Counties Association for Promoting the General Welfare of the Blind was established in 1860 and occupied a large house in Fore Street. In 1863 they noticed that paying out for the rent of the premises was seriously reducing their financial resources and it was decided to raise enough money to purchase the property. Aided by a legacy of £200 from Mrs Adams of Stoke, a further £25 from the trustees of her Will, and a legacy of £100 from a Mr Danger, the committee raised £760 towards the purchase price of £900. By 1868 they had bought the property.
All male pupils who chose to live in the house, whether adult or juvenile, paid five shillings a week for their board and lodging. For that they were instructed in making baskets, both plain and ornamental, hampers, door mats and brushes. Females paid three shillings a week and were instructed in chair-caning, knitting and various kinds of domestic work. Both were also instructed in reading, writing, singing and music. The latter was taught to them by Mr W S Yeo, who was himself blind, assisted by his wife and Mrs W R Thomas and Miss L Granville.
To encourage them to improve their skills as quickly as possible, they were paid for their labours although they had to complete two years before they received anything. During their third year at the institution they received one third of the money they earned. In the fourth year this increased to a half. After that, if they can continue without the aid of a teacher and can find a sale for their products, they can remain as journeymen on full wages or can leave to set up business on their own. If they remained living on the premises, they had to continue to pay five shillings a week.
In June 1868 there were nine males and three females attending the Institution. Two of them were journeymen and earned on average ten shillings per week each. The matron, Mrs Pope, looked after the female pupils and the sale of goods in their own shop, while the blind master, Mr Beer, attended to the instruction of the male members. During the twelve months ended in February 1868, the sale of goods had realised £164.
Patrons of the Institution in 1868 were Major-General the Honourable Sir A Spencer, KCB., commander in chief of the western district; Lieutenant-General Viscount Templetown, CB; Sir Edward Saint Aubyn, Bart; Admiral Sir H Stewart, KCB; Admiral Drummond, superintendent of Devonport Dockyard; Major-General J H Gascoigne, RMLI; Lord Eliot, MP; Mr Montague Chambers, MP; and Mr J Jeffery. The Presidency of the Association was held by the current Mayor of Devonport. Mr E Saint Aubyn was the vice-president; the Reverend Edward Roberts, MA, was the honorary secretary; Mr W Peek, the honorary treasurer; Messrs J May and W C Wilson were the honorary medical officers; Messrs Little, Woollcombe and Venning were the honorary solicitors. Committee members were the Reverends H Everett, J G Jonas, O Manley, J Metcalfe and J Stock; Doctors Rolston and Wilson; and Messrs J Browne, C Croydon, W Davey, J G Dymond, J C Graves, A Moore, J C Radford, S B Rawling, C Row, J W W Ryder, R C Smith, J Trehane, R M Watson and J Weary. There was also a ladiesí committee responsible for organising the domestic arrangements of the establishment.
A legacy of £4,000 left by a Miss Berryman enabled the committee to build its own handsome premises at 56-57 Saint Aubyn Street, on the corner with Market Street, the cost of which was £3,600. As a result, by 1878 there were 20 inmates but ample room for 15 more. The income from subscriptions was about £120 a year and from the property in Fore Street a further rental of about £60 would be received. Unfortunately this £180 was completely absorbed in the expenses of the inmates and staff. Mr J May and Mr W C Wilson were the honorary medical officers; Mr William Peek, the honorary treasurer; and the Reverend R Mildren, the honorary secretary.
In 1922 new premises were acquired at Stoke. Manor Lodge was officially opened by Lord Saint Levan and could hold twenty-four inmates. Over the next year or so, the number admitted was increased to forty but this put a great deal of pressure on the sleeping accommodation. A new wing was therefore erected, which meant that 30 men and 30 women could now be looked after. The new wing was designed by local architect, Mr Charles Cheverton, and was officially opened by Lord Saint Levan in the presence of the Mayor of Plymouth, Mr Solomon Stephens, on Thursday April 10th 1924. The contractor of the new wing was Mr G H Smith and it had cost £3,200. Mr E E Nicholls was the Association's honorary secretary and treasurer at this time.
But the numbers of blind people continued to increase and after only a few years reached the maximum that could be accommodated, sixty-two. The search began for a new home. This was found at Torr Grove, otherwise Torr House, in the Ancient Parish of Pennycross and at that time just outside the Plymouth boundary. It had formerly the residence of Mr Robert Bayly (1839-1901), but had been unoccupied for a couple of years.
After receiving the attention of the architect Mr
Charles Cheverton, the new Torr Home for the Blind was officially opened on
Friday April 5th 1929 by Sir Ernest Beachcroft Beckwith Towse VC KCVO CBE
(1864-1948), who won his Victoria Cross during the Boer War, when both his
eyes were shattered. He was chairman of the National Institute for the
Blind. The Mayoress of Plymouth, Mrs Solomon Stephens, ceremonially
opened the door to the men's wing. Also present was
Mary Bayly (1870-1958), daughter of the late
Mr Robert Bayly