Thomas Braidwood

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Thomas Braidwood (1715[1]–1806) was significant in the history of deaf education.

Born at Hillhead Farm, Covington, Lanarkshire, Scotland, he was the fourth child of Thomas Braidwood and Agnes Meek. Braidwood originally established himself as a writing teacher, instructing the children of the wealthy at his home in the Canongate in Edinburgh. In 1760 he changed his vocation from teaching hearing pupils to teaching the deaf, and renamed his building Braidwood's Academy for the Deaf and Dumb, the first school of its kind in Britain. His first pupil was Charles Shirreff (1749-1829), son of Alexander Shirreff, a wealthy wine merchant based at the Port of Leith. Among Braidwood's pupils were John Goodricke, astronomer; Francis Mackenzie, 1st Baron Seaforth, MP and governor of Barbados; John Philp Wood, author, genealogist, editor and Over Deputy of the Scottish Excise Office; Jane Poole; Sarah Dashwood; Ann Walcot; Thomas Arrowsmith, an artist; and John Creasy, who inspired the Rev. John Townsend to found the first public school for the Deaf in England in 1792.

Braidwood married a Margaret Pearson on 1 October 1752. The couple had three daughters, all born in Edinburgh: Margaret, born 4 September 1755; Elizabeth born 1757; and Isabella, born 27 January 1758. His daughters followed Thomas in becoming teachers of the deaf, but Elizabeth married early to a Durham surgeon and went to live in his city. Very little is known about his daughter Margaret; there is no mention or record of her having moved south of the border with her family in 1783.

In 1783 Thomas Braidwood moved with his family to Hackney on the eastern outskirt of London, and established the Braidwood Academy for the Deaf and Dumb in Grove House, off Mare Street. His early use of a form of sign language, the combined system, was the forerunner of British Sign Language, recognized as a language in its own right in 2003. Braidwood's combined system is known among British Deaf historians as the Braidwoodian Method. His kinsman Joseph Watson joined him in 1784. Watson went on to become the first head teacher of the London Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb which was established in Bermondsey in November 1792. Watson was the teacher of the first deaf barrister, John William Lowe. Thomas's grandson John Braidwood ran a school for the deaf in America at Cobbs, Virginia, in 1812 but this was short-lived.

Thomas died at Hackney; his daughter Isabella continuing the running of the school.

Thomas Braidwood was a distant cousin of Thomas Braidwood Wilson 1792–1843, after whom the Australian town of Braidwood, New South Wales is named.


  1. ^ Christened 28 April 1717.

Braidwood &c. by Raymond Lee. ISBN 978-1-902427-42-3. Published 17 July 2015 by the British Deaf History Society, Warrington, Cheshire.

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