Thomas Braidwood

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Thomas Braidwood (1715[1]–1806) was a Scottish teacher of the deaf.

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 master instructing the children of the wealthy at his private residence 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' which is recognised as 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, the famed astronomer; Francis Mackenzie (Lord Seaforth) who became a Member of Parliament and later the governor of Barbados; John Philp Wood, who went on to become a famed 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 ever public school for the Deaf in England in 1792.

Braidwood had three daughters, Margaret (b. 4 Sept. 1755, Edinburgh), Elizabeth (b. 1757, Edinburgh) and Isabella (b. 27 Jan 1758, Edinburgh). His wife was Margaret (née Pearson) whom he married on 1 October 1752. His daughters followed Thomas in becoming teachers of the deaf, but Elizabeth married early to a Durham surgeon and went to live in Durham. Very little is known about his daughter Margaret and there is no mention or record of Margaret 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, Hackney. 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, London; his daughter Isabella continuing the running of the school.

Thomas Braidwood was a distant cousin of Thomas Braidwood Wilson 1792–1843, after whom the Town of Braidwood, NSW is named.


  1. Christened 28 April 1717.
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain[ "Braidwood, Thomas" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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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