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WILLIAM MOON

Image of William Moon

William Moon, was born in Horsmonden, near Tunbridge Wells in Kent on 18th December 1818. Following an infection of scarlet fever when he was four he lost the sight in one eye and his remaining sight gradually deteriorated.

Shortly after he had recovered from his illness his parents moved to Brighton and William was left in the care of his grandparents, who eventually sent him to a school in London. When he left school he moved to Brighton and lived with his mother, then widowed, and his sister. By his 21st birthday he lost the sight in his other eye and had become totally blind.

He became a teacher, teaching boys how to read using the existing embossed reading codes. He married Mary Ann Caudle, daughter of a Brighton surgeon, in 1843.

He realised that the boys found the existing tactile reading codes difficult to learn and devised a new system which came to be known as Moon type. It was based on a simplified alphabet which he designed to be easier to learn. He first formulated his ideas in 1843 (published in 1845. Moon type was subsequently replaced in popularity by Braille but it is still in use by about 400 people in Britain today and is important to those who have difficulty reading Braille.

In the early 1850s William met Sir Charles Lowther, who had also suffered from scarlet fever as a child and lost his sight. He became William’s closest friend and supporter. He was a baronet and a wealthy man with position and influence and funded a printing press for William in 1856.

Sir Charles Lowther

For the next 40 years he helped to further William's work, as he considered the Moon system to be the best one for enabling blind people to read by touch. It is estimated that books have been produced in Moon in over 470 languages worldwide.

William Moon's type face and a tactile diagram.

The example is a map of the British Isles.

 
Moontype Moontype


The Moon alphabet

Moon alphabet



Moon's house

He produced Moon type books for over 50 years, originally from his home in Queens Road, Brighton. His printing works relocated and continued to operate until the 1960s. His house at 104, Queen's Road was demolished as part of a redevelopment and an office block with Tesco Express occupying the ground floor now occupies the site. There is no reference to William Moon or his historic work there.

He started teaching blind people at his house and established the Brighton Asylum for the Instruction of the Blind there in 1841. After a short time the school moved to a building in Egremont Place which was shared with deaf and dumb children. However, the number of blind pupils increased so the school moved again and by 1844 was situated in the Central National Schools in Church Street with the entrance to the Asylum round the corner in Jubilee Street.

In October 1861 following a public appeal the Asylum moved to newly constructed premises (demolished in 1958) in Eastern Road, which had been designed by Somers Clarke (1841-1926) of 20 Cockspur Street, London, on land donated by the Rev Henry Venn Elliott.  It had two school-rooms, a music and dining hall, work-room and a willow-soaking room for basket-making.

The opening of the school was reported in the Illustrated London News on 26th October 1861

The asylum
William Moon

Mary died in 1864 and in 1866 William married Anna Maria Elsdale. William and Mary had a son, Robert, and a daughter, Adelaide.

He was honoured for his work during his lifetime.

He was elected to fellowships of the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Society of Arts in 1852 and 1857 respectively.

In 1871 he was awarded an honorary LLD degree by the University of Philadelphia.

In 1851 the census entry listed William as the master of a Blind school. The entry below from the 1861 census for 104, Queen’s Place shows his profession as a publisher of books for the Blind.

In the 1890s William built a house called the Croft in Fulking and spent the summers there with his family.

The photo shows William, seated, with Anna on his left and his daughter, Adelaide, on his right.

In 1892 William suffered a slight paralytic stroke at the Croft. He continued with his work in Brighton and returned to Fulking for the summer in 1893. He stayed at the Croft for most of 1894 with Adelaide keeping him informed about the work in Brighton. William’s health declined further and he died on 9th October 1894. His close friend, Charles Lowther, died the following month.

Both Adelaide and Robert continued William’s work promoting the use of William Moon’s tactile code extensively and the Brighton Asylum continued educating blind children.

William Moon family

Robert Moon became an ophthalmologist and from1866 to 1878 he worked at the South London Ophthalmic Hospital, started in 1857 by John Laurence. Together they described a condition of  Laurence-Moon syndrome, also known as Bardet Biedl syndrome.

In 1904 the girls were transferred from the Brighton school to the Barclay School for Partially Sighted Girls in Sunninghill, Berkshire, (which was opened by Mrs Gertrude Campion  in 1893 using a substantial gift in the estate of Alexander Charles Barclay) and the Asylum catered just for boys.

In 1921 the Asylum was renamed Brighton School for Blind Boys. The school was evacuated to Upton Hall, near Newark, Nottinghamshire in February 1942 and returned to Brighton in June 1945. It was renamed the Brighton School for Partially Sighted Boys in 1946.

After the 2nd World War Blatchington Court in Seaford (previously a private girls' school) was purchased and in 1951 the school moved to the new site. The school was renamed Blatchington Court School for Partially Sighted Boys. The school properties in Brighton were sold.

Due to declining numbers of pupils Barclay House School was closed in 1970 and at the request of the Department of Education and Science, arrangements were made to accommodate some thirty girls at Blatchington Court. A property nearby was bought and enlarged to serve as the boarding house for the girls and the girls moved to the school which was renamed Blatchington Court School. The girls’ boarding house was named Barclay House and is now run as a residential home for blind adults by SeeAbility. In 1970 the school had 7 classrooms, specialist classrooms, a gym, a swimming pool and a library. There were also 11 acres of grounds which included four playgrounds, a football pitch and an area for camping and camp fires. There were 60 members of staff.

The government set up a committee in 1975 to advise on the future provision for special educational needs. The Warnock report was published in 1978. As a result of the committee’s recommendations many special needs children were moved from special schools to mainstream education. As a consequence the rolls of many schools, including Blatchington Court School, declined and in 1985 Blatchington Court closed, bringing to an end 140 years of specialist education provision for blind and visually impaired pupils in Sussex.

Painting of Blatchington Court School

Watercolour of Blatchington Court School

 

Blatchington School badges

The badges of Blatchington Court School

The site in Seaford was sold and the Trustees established Blatchington Court Trust to promote education of blind and visually impaired children and young people in Sussex. The Trust commenced operations in 1994 and has its offices in Hove about a mile and a half from William Moon's house in Queen's Road.