Project volunteers have been going through the minute books of Worthing Society for the Blind held at the Rowlands Road office. All the minute books survive, from the establishing of the Society in 1910, right up to the present day. This affords a remarkable continuity and is the core research resource for this project.
It is wonderful that all the minute books survive, as they give us such a comprehensive insight into those far-off days. For example, Frederick Algar, the first man that the society was able to help had been blinded as a result of an accident at work. The society was able to give him a weekly allowance of 5s. Later they were able to set him up with a small shop. Algar was also paid for chopping up fire wood to sell – not something that we might think today was the most appropriate work for a blind man!
To date, research on the minute books has focused on the various premises that the Society has had over the years; the personalities that have led the work of the Society; the difficult circumstances brought about during the war years; the type of help and financial support that the Society gave members; and the social events organised by the Society.
Most of the research has concentrated on the years 1910 – 1945, as these, being the oldest, most emphasise the contrast between those years and today. However, we do anticipate looking at the more recent minute books in the months ahead.
Archives held at WSRO
We have been taking notes from the minute books of West Sussex Association for the Blind and from the minute books of the Milton House Management Committee. These are stored at West Sussex Record Office (WSRO) at Chichester.
Much can be gleaned from these minutes about the lives of blind and partially sighted people in Worthing and West Sussex in the 1930s and 40s. Although huge strides had been taken in overcoming prejudice against blind people, attitudes from those years appear anachronistic and condescending to the modern mind.
Chris, of History People UK, has been looking at the material at West Sussex Record Office, including the Milton House records. He found that shortly after it opened, in 1938, the matron protested to the trustees about the conduct of one of the residents –
The exact nature of the complaints is not recorded in the minutes, but we are told that eventually the resident was asked to leave and a resolution was passed that from henceforth no residents could entertain other residents of the opposite sex in their bedrooms – the implication being that some form of hanky-panky had been taking place!
The idea of a ‘home for the blind,’ with all the inevitable dangers of being institutionalised and cut off from mainstream society appear obvious today, but back in the 1930s, modern, purpose-built homes seemed such an improvement on the degradation that many blind people had previously had to endure, including the humiliation of being sent to the workhouse.
Today, we would think it wrong that blind people should be put to work, weaving baskets, for a minimal payment, but back in the 1930s this was progress indeed and was seen as life-enhancing and a way of fostering self-esteem and self-worth.
Archives held at RNIB in London
In October a small group of volunteers visited the RNIB archive in London. We already knew that this archive contained Worthing material, so this visit was aimed at establishing the scope and interest of this material.
This archive contains newspaper cuttings relating to blind issues in Worthing, especially from the 1960s and 70s as well as copies of WSftB annual reports.
There is information about educational opportunities for the blind. For example, in 1928, the then mayoress of Worthing, hosted a meeting at Beach House to address how blind people could be helped to get into careers and become financially independent. These opportunities ranged from relatively unskilled work right up to routes into Higher Education.
There is also biographical information about some of the leading lights in the Society.