The Deaf Academy’s Heritage

Over the course of 2021-22 PaddleBoat Theatre Company and the Deaf Academy have been researching the rich heritage of the school, alongside the wider history of deaf education. Uncovering archives, testimony and historical artifacts, we have pieced together the history of this unique school.

As part of the project, we have created a film and a book that share the heritage of the school and its students. The Deaf Academy opened its doors in 1826 in Exeter, under the name of ‘The West of England Institution for the Deaf and Dumb’. Founded by Charlotte Hippesley Tuckfield, the school has undergone many changes since then.

Timeline of the Deaf Academy


British Sign Language (BSL) is finally given protection by UK law


Coronavirus hits and schools are shut

The Deaf Academy stays open for many students during lockdown.

Move to Exmouth

The Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education moves to Exmouth in September 2020 and is renamed ‘the Deaf Academy’.


International congress of the Deaf apologises

for banning sign language, announcing it is a ‘Discrimination and violation of human and constitutional rights’.


School changes its name

to ‘Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education’.


British Sign Language is recognised as an official language on 18 March


4,000 people march from Trafalgar Square

to petition Downing Street to recognise British Sign Language. 


A completely new building is completed on the existing site in Exeter


Mr Olding becomes headteacher until 1985
Technology develops

and is used in classrooms to try and help communication

1939 – 1945

World War II

Exeter is heavily bombed in 1942 Baedecker Raids.

The school swimming pool becomes a static water tank in the war effort. 

The school is damaged from a 1.30 am bombing on 4 May 1942. A bomb falls across the road and damages all the classrooms. Students are sent home for three months.

Name changes

to ‘Royal West of England Residential School for the Deaf’ in 1939.

1914 – 1918

World War I

Male teachers at the school leave for war, leaving only female staff.


King Edward VII grants ‘Royal’ to the school’s name


The school starts collaborating

with other colleges and girls are sent to Bicton to learn cookery.


The second International Congress of the Deaf in Milan bans sign language

with emphasis on oralism as an learning method. Out of 164 delegates at the conference only one was deaf.


Abraham Lincoln approves the first higher education Institution for deaf students in the world

Gallaudet University is founded in Washington DC.


Exeter St Davids Railway Station opens

Allowing students to return home in the holidays, rather than stay at school for up to six months at a time.


Cholera outbreak kills three students


The school grows with 50 students enroled


Topsham Road building

is finished with capacity for 70 students.


In February a building on Alphington Road is leased to allow the school to open

It is officially titled ‘The West of England Institution for the Deaf and Dumb’.

Mr Bingham is headteacher at the school with just six pupils.


Charlotte Hippesley Tuckfield hosts a meeting at Exeter’s Royal Clarence Hotel.

She successfully persuades funders to help her set up a deaf school.


Samuel Heinicke sets up the first deaf school in Germany

His methods focus on oralism – lip reading and speaking rather than using sign language. He’s considered the ‘father of oralism’.


The first school for the deaf opens in the UK

by Thomas Braidwood in Edinburgh with just one pupil.


Charles de L’ Epee opens the first free school for the deaf in Paris.