Sir William Reid Dick at work on his famous sculpture of the Braille Reader, which has become an iconic symbol for RLSB and for many years was used as an emblem for the organisation.
What was it like to be a blind child in the 1800s and how have life conditions changed since? That’s what the Royal London Society for Blind People, will be exploring in a new online exhibition throughout 2013 as part of their 175th anniversary celebrations.
They are a leading charity for blind and partially sighted young people, dedicated to stopping childhood blindness becoming a lifelong disability. They don’t just help young people cope with being blind; they help young people live beyond blindness.
The story of the organisation began in January 1838 when Thomas Lucas, a merchant from Bristol, established the London Society for Teaching the Blind to Read on Fitzroy Street in the heart of the capital. It is here that he introduced his Lucas Type, a form of Braille-like embossed text that he invented to teach blind people to read.
Over the years the school slowly expanded, moving to locations across London including Swiss Cottage, before World War II evacuations made it necessary to move to Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, and then eventually Seal in Kent. A college and nursery were later established to allow RLSB to reach out to more young people in London and the South East.
As well as the school, they also ran a home workers scheme and industry workshops through the 1900s to allow vision-impaired people to learn trades and gain employment. The industries included engineering, basket weaving, boot making and piano tuning.
Since then RLSB has continued to evolve and expand to meet the needs of vision impaired young people. Now they deliver a blend of education, sport, creative and developmental services, to support blind and visually impaired young people to unleash their potential and live and learn for the life they want.
Since 1838, they’ve been attracting the support of many generous volunteers and donors, including the Royal family, playwright J. B. Priestley and even Charlie Chaplin. Their alumni include Paralympians, writers, musicians and successful business people. During this time we’ve amassed a fascinating collection of archives of 10,000 items that tell a story that is rarely shared with the world.
That’s why since the 1st of January and in celebration of World Braille Day today on the 4th, they are launching a digital exhibition of some of their archives. This exhibition will grow throughout the year as they publish a new item each day on the RLSB website, telling a unique story of blind young people over almost two centuries. The 365 items will include:
Beautiful photographs, poems and letters that capture special moments in the lives of blind young people.
A bible published in 1852, written in the Lucas type. This rare item is one few in existence.
Old newspaper articles, including a perfectly preserved copy of the Illustrated London News from 1842, which featured a spread on Thomas Lucas.
A programme signed by Charlie Chaplin for his film Limelight, which was premiered in 1952 to raise funds for RLSB.
It’s been no mean feat going through the fascinating collection of archives, which feature historical items dating back to the 1830s. A team of dedicated volunteers have spent months arranging and cataloguing material, while others have worked hard to research background information, scan and edit material.
They’ve also been busy contacting RLSB alumni, whose interviews will complement the exhibition and bring the archives to life. These interviews will include Paralympic swimmer Darren Leach and leading technology consultant Dr Julia Schofield MBE, both former students of RLSB’s Dorton School.
The digital exhibition can be found here.
I hope you enjoy it.