1838-1956 history timeline

the outside of rlsb's kilburn workshop

A timeline of RLSB’s history from 1838-1956 was published in the RLSB Review from 1959.

It marks the key dates in the organisation’s history, and how it grew and expanded after being established by Thomas Lucas in 1838.


1838 – Thomas Mark Lucas was a citizen of Bristol, who in the early days of the 19th century, invented an embossed type for the blind, and came to London to procure its more general use. He died on the 18th May 1838, but his work, though posthumous, flourished. In the same year there was founded The London Society for Teaching the Blind to Read. The meaning of this title was, of course, to read in Lucas type.

The society commenced as a Day School in Fitzroy Street, and was shortly after removed to 6 Gloucester Street, Queen Square, Bloomsbury, where resident pupils were admitted. Soon the curriculum expanded beyond the mere teaching of Lucas type and, within a couple of years, included such subjects as Basket-making, Knitting and Netting.

1842 – A special fund was started for the embossing of books and, from that time onwards, Scriptures and secular works in Lucas type were sent all over the country, as well as to India, China and the Colonies. In the same yea the school was removed to a larger premises in 38 Queen Square, but the number of applicants continued to increase and the need for more adequate accommodation was strongly felt.

1847 – The lease of the greater portion of the site at Swiss Cottage was obtained at a peppercorn rent for 96 years and building operations were begun. The original block was completed at a cost of £4,500 and on 23 March 1848 the pupils were transferred to their new home.

1861 – The Braille system was first introduced into the school by Professor Hippoylyte Van Landagen of the Belgian Institution, and Braille Music Notation was introduced in 1877.

1887 – A public road (Eton Avenue) was formed through the grounds of the Institution. The Committee took this opportunity of enlarging the Concert Room and Organ. In the same year the sanitary arrangements were entirely remodelled, outside iron staircases were erected and hydrants placed in all the corridors of the building.

1888 – Workshops were built in which to give technical instruction to pupils and adults, and to provide employment for them after training.

1892 – Rooms for teaching Piano tuning were erected in the boys’ playground.

1907 – The school became certified under the Elementary Education (Blind and Deaf Children) Act, 1893, and in 1908 Technical Classes were formed under the Board of Education’s regulations.

1910 – An After-Care Committee was formed to help pupils on leaving the Institution, and an annual re-union of old pupils instituted.

1915 – The Society became incorporated under the Companies Act with the title of The London Society for Teaching and Training the Blind.

1916 – the large organ was completely renovated and modernised, and Electric Lighting was installed throughout the building.

1919 – New Workshops for Basket-making and Boot repairing were opened on the North side of Eton Avenue at the cost of £4,000.

1921 – The Home Workers’ Scheme was added to the Society’s activities.

1922 – Amalgamation took place with the West London Workshops for the Blind.

1938 – By command of His Majesty King George VI, the Society’s Title received the prefix ‘Royal’.

The model factory, newly built by the Society at 105-9 Salusbury Road, Brondesbury, NW6 was opened. It was now possible to concentrate there many of the Society’s industrial and other activities which had expanded during the past 20 years and which had had to be housed in scattered accommodation.

1939 – Because it became evident that war was so probable the School was evacuated to Dorton House, a large manor in the heart of Buckinghamshire, some 12 miles south west of Aylesbury and 50 miles from London.

1942 – The lease of the Society’s old home t Swiss Cottage was terminated on the 31 March.

1946 – The freehold of the Dorton House estate was purchased.

1947 – No 32 The Avenue, Brondesbury, NW6 opened as a Residential Club for Blind Women.

Drayton Manor, near Tring, Hertfordshire, leased to accommodate 20 young pupils and so reduce the persistently long waiting-list.

1950 – The Council accepted with very great regret the resignation of the Society’s Honorary Superintendent and Secretary, Dr JM Ritchie OBE, MA. During the 35 years of Dr Ritchie’s brilliant leadership, the scope of the Society’s work developed to an extent unparalleled in its long history.

1952 – Her Majesty The Queen was graciously pleased to command that the Society be known as the Royal London Society for the Blind.

Halstead House, 63, Christchurch Avenue, Brondesbury, NW6 opened as a Residential Club for Blind Men.

1953 – Her Majesty The Queen was graciously pleased to grant her patronage to the society.

The Countess Mountbatten of Burma, CI GBE DCVO, became the Society’s president.

1954 – The freehold of the Windernesse, Seal, near Sevenoaks, Kent, was purchased to provide a permanent home for the Society’s Schools.

The lease of Drayton Manor was terminated, and the September the infants were transferred to Seal.

1955 – In October the main school and the technical training department moved from Dorton to Seal, where many adaptations had been made to provide good accommodation in splendid surroundings for 140 boys and girls and for resident staff. During the summer vacation, Dorton House was sold.

1956 – The new Dorton House School was formally opened by Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret.

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