Henry Roxby: a pioneer in the welfare of the Deaf Community

Amongst the many individuals who have given much to the town and city of Hull, over the years, Henry Roxby is one of perhaps one of Hull’s most unsung heroes.

In the early nineteenth century there was a growing interest in the spiritual and social needs of Deaf people. This resulted in the development of institutions to minister to these needs. The antecedents to the first such institution in Hull can perhaps be found in the work of a Hull Deaf man called Henry Roxby. The son of Jane and Henry, a local grocer, the younger Henry was born in January 1810 in the Sculcoates parish area. It is not known if he was born Deaf or if he became Deaf later. However, he attended the London Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb on the Old Kent Road, Bermondsey for four years from 1821, leaving in 1825 at the age of 15. He became a "compounder of medicine" (pharmacist) and eventually married Elizabeth Hellawell of Huddersfield, a dress maker, who was also Deaf, in 1853 in Kirkheaton.

But what would perhaps drive Henry the most was his concern for the moral, religious and social welfare of the Deaf community in the area. To this end, he became a preacher as well as a missionary, working across the whole of Yorkshire, which by 1842, was coming to the attention of the media. Such was his fame that his work as a religious teacher was reported in the local press in Hull and Leeds, as well as newspapers in Manchester, London, Carlisle and North Wales.

In 1846 he published a pamphlet called "Instructions and Exhortations to the Deaf and Dumb on the Truths of Religion". What was particularly significant was that he preached through sign language, something that was remarked upon quite frequently.

Eventually Roxby moved to the Longwood area of Huddersfield which he established as a regular base, holding weekly meetings. Henry died in 1874 in Huddersfield, aged 63, having contributed much to the life and well-being of the Deaf community.