The Friends of St. Peter's Berkhamsted

Friends of St Peter's, Great Berkhamsted

Henry Stainsby (1859 – 1925)


Mr Henry Stainsby devoted forty-five years of his life to the cause and care of blind people. All his best efforts had been employed in thinking out new schemes for the training, recreation and general well being of the sightless. His connection with the blind world began in 1880 when he joined the General Institution for the Blind, Birmingham, which had been established since 1846 and later became the Birmingham Royal Institution for the Blind. During his time here, he took a leading part in fitting out the Institution to fulfil the requirements of the Elementary Education (Blind and Deaf Children) Act 1893. This Act made it incumbent upon school authorities to enable blind children between the ages of 5 and 16, resident within their areas, to obtain a suitable education. He supervised the extensive alterations and additions to the building, which included a large and up-to-date gymnasium. From 1880 to his retirement from the Institution in 1909 he progressed from Assistant Master through Assistant Secretary, Trade Manager, and General Superintendent to become the Secretary to the Institution. During his tenure he took a prominent role in the foundation of a Kindergarten Branch, for the reception of forty blind children which opened in November 1904 and he was instrumental in the erection of workshops where blind people could learn a trade.

He retired from the Birmingham Institution in 1909 to take up the position of Secretary General of the British and Foreign Blind Association (subsequently named the National Institute for the Blind and later incorporated by Royal Charter). This Association was founded in 1868 by T R Armitage MD, and as the office of Secretary was vacant in 1908, Henry Stainsby was invited to take up the post. When he joined, there were a staff of 54 and an annual income of £6,000. By the time that he died the Institute employed 600, both blind and sighted, people with an income amounting to £286,000. On 19th March 1914 their Majesties (King George V and Queen Mary ) opened the new buildings for the National Institute for the blind in Great Portland Street, London. Henry Stainsby had played a substantial part in obtaining the finance for this new building.

During his lifetime Mr Stainsby did much to promote legislation on behalf of the partially sighted and sightless, including: –

The Education (Blind and Deaf Children) Act 1893

The Education Act 1902 Part II

The Education Act 1918

The Blind Persons Act 1920

He served on numerous committees covering education, teaching and employment, as well as committees for the drafting of legislation for the blind. He was also an inventor of many useful appliances including a shorthand machine, a Braille typewriter and an eye-less needle for sewing with coir yarn. The method of printing in Braille was very laborious until Stainsby introduced an electrically operated machine which increased the production by fifteen times, thus making more Braille documents available. By the date of his death there were eleven magazines and newspapers being published regularly in addition to an enormous number of books and pieces of music readily available.

With his commitment to the blind it was inconceivable that he was not involved with St Dunstan’s and the rehabilitation of the men who had been blinded during the First World War. He took an active roll in the opening of the first St Dunstan’s home for the blind in Bayswater, London.

To commemorate his work at the Birmingham Institute, the Committee, staff and friends of the Institution inaugurated a fund known as “The Henry Stainsby Pension Fund for the Blind” to provide pensions for a number of deserving blind people. This fund although modified is still in existence, a subsidiary charity within the Birmingham Royal Institution for the Blind. A fitting reminder of a man who gave so much to those people less fortunate that himself.

Ken Wallis

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