In Haunt

The Deaf Institute

Many people today may associate The Deaf Institute as one of Manchester’s most iconic gig venues – located near All Saints Park and just off Oxford Road on Grosvenor Street, its stone Gothic-styled exterior invites visitors into a beautiful three-tiered building of tall, lavishly-decorated rooms and an impressive upstairs music hall. But this place, now Grade II listed, has a history dating as far back as the 19th century, with plenty to discover. Emily Oldfield finds out more... 

The intriguing name itself links to the previous usage of the venue – formerly Manchester’s Adult Deaf and Dumb Institute, as is inscribed in the stonework above the entrance. The building was designed by John Lowe, with another still-visible inscription marking its foundation stone, laid by the MP Hugh Birley on the 2 June 1877 - the construction taking place over the course of that year. Channelling the Gothic style, the structure boasts a bold sandstone façade, a slate roof and archways throughout, including the windows and wide main door.[1]  Considering that ‘dumb’ is no longer an appropriate term, it will be used in terms of its historical context within this article – and when the building itself reopened as a venue in 2008, it took the title ‘The Deaf Institute’.

Closer observation of the front of the building is worthwhile. An intricate carving above the doorway is visible, representing a hand on a book - a likely reference to the emblem commonly used and worn by deaf people at the time to make people aware of their disability.

The Deaf Institute

 A sculpture of what appears to be two men can also be seen on one of the plinths; thought to be a depiction of Christ restoring the hearing of another man. This links to the inscription in the stone below it that reads ‘Ephphatha’ meaning ‘be opened’ – believed to be the phrase used by Christ when he performed this miracle[2]. In turn, the religious symbolism may have been a reassurance to users of the building, and it was here that served as a sanctuary for deaf and speech-impaired people for a number of years.

Such an impressive structure did not come cheap, however. Built out of Manchester’s industrial glory years – civic pride was highly regarded, and constructions often intended to reflect the idealised grandeur of the city – with the Adult Deaf and Dumb Institute itself costing around £5800 at the time[3]. It was opened to much fanfare, with Bishop Fraser (then Lord Bishop of Manchester) overseeing the ceremony on 8 June 1878.

A venue well over 100 years old - and now home to a range of gigs, entertainment and even a bar and kitchen, seems rather remarkable… and eclectic. Yet the building would have also served varied uses when it was operating as the Manchester Adult Deaf and Dumb Institute. Inside, what is now the music hall was used as a chapel space, whilst other areas included a large club and reading room, a smoking room, offices and even preparations for a gymnasium in the basement, interestingly now where clubnights can take place (as seen below, and space is also available to hire, with more information online). 

The Deaf Institute

The Manchester Adult Deaf and Dumb Institute served a vital role in the city; providing education and opportunities to people with speech and hearing difficulties, with at least 750 individuals requiring such services in the region when the Institute opened. It has its origins in a society founded by the former headmaster of the Old Trafford School for the Deaf and Dumb, Andrew Patterson - the society occupying a number of temporary premises, including on John Dalton Street, before the new Grosvenor Street location opened.[4]

In the Grosvenor Street building, this would have included the facility to register disability and needs, as well as the provision of entertainment on weekdays, occasional lectures and up to two services on Sundays. The Institute was intended to be serviceable to all who needed it, accustomed to shifting and changing clientele.

Yet despite its community function, the building itself faced a period of abandonment as the 20th century wore on. In 1975 the facilities of the Manchester Adult Deaf and Dumb Institute moved to new premises, and the Grosvenor Street site in turn started to fall into disrepair[5]. In fact, it lay abandoned for a number of years, an eerie period of time that has perhaps inspired the range of ghostly stories associated with the venue – including tales of figures on the stairs and movement coming from unoccupied rooms!

The Deaf Institute

Thankfully, the life of the building was not to come to an end. In 2006 it was taken over by Manchester’s TROF group, with the aim of turning the spacious interior into a gig and entertainment location, whilst remaining sensitive to the historic features. Extensive restoration was needed however, especially considering the time that the building had laid unused, and it was in 2008 it reopened under the shortened name ‘The Deaf Institute’[6], with Joel Wilkinson as owner.

The innovative use of the building certainly attracted attention and not just what was immediately obvious on the outside; the impressive heritage arched windows and stone carvings still intact. Inside offered even more. The former chapel and upstairs event space had been converted into an extravagant music hall, boasting an enormous disco ball, a wall filled with hi-fi speakers (see image below!), parrot-patterned wallpaper and a raised stage. Keen to keep the multi-purpose nature of the place going, the ground floor had been transformed into an ample bar and seating area – with added dancefloor potential - whilst the basement became an atmospheric club-style space. Intriguing passageways and corridors are also part of the place – though usually out of the public eye – as there is a back staircase allowing bands to access the venue without using the main front, and even an in-built apartment.

The Deaf Institute Speakers

And this is an example of restoration in more ways than one. Energy, excitement and opportunity have been revived within the building since its reopening, attracting gigs from touring and local artists, as well as festivals, clubnights, parties and other events. Known for its vibrant and eclectic approach, this has included everything from ‘Zombierobics' to gigs from the likes of ILL, James Holt and Florence and The Machine. It is also where the local promoters Now Wave held a number of their earlier nights, for example, and The Deaf Institute celebrated its 11th birthday as a venue in 2019. 

Involving a fully-functional kitchen for many years – with at least 80% of the menu now vegan-friendly – it is evident that this a place keen to welcome people in, and throughout the centuries. The whole place has been transformed into three floors of immersive partying for clubnights such as Bollox (with a NYE special coming up), is home to Stay Fresh Fest (which returns on 8 February 2020) and DJ slots are a regular feature in the main bar area, so people can drink and dance beneath the atmospheric patterned walls and exposed brickwork.

One of Manchester’s crucial creative hubs, this is the place to enjoy a range of live music, iconic clubnights including Girls on Film, plenty of food and drink (including the Vegan Hangover menu on Sundays), and of course the history too. (Image below - LIINES at The Deaf Institute. Credit: Neil Winward)

By Neil Winward

Considering the history of The Manchester Deaf and Dumb Institute - by Thomas McGrath

Thomas McGrath (PhD candidate and Associate Lecturer in the History department at Manchester Metropolitan University) is a historian whose research delves into the hidden heritage and secretive stories of buildings and locations mainly in the Greater Manchester region – as explored in his fascinating site IF THOSE WALLS COULD TALK. He also allowed Haunt to reblog 'The hidden history of The Bellhouse Building – Manchester’s former Ear Hospital, now home to the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies' from his original article here

Although the current Deaf Institute building dates from 1878, the Manchester Deaf and Dumb Institute was founded several decades earlier, in January 1824. The aim of this early Institute was the education of children and a school founded by the Institute had around 14 pupils. Within just a year of its opening, the Manchester Mercury enthusiastically reported ‘several of the children can already articulate in a manner that could not have been anticipated, and are making rapid proficiency.’[7] The children were taught to read and write using an early form of sign language.[8] This allowed them to play an active part in the wider world, giving them communication skills which had otherwise left them excluded. The original Institute was based on Stanley Street, near the River Irk and New Bailey Prison in Salford. By the late 1830s, the school had moved to new premises in Old Trafford, where it remained until the 1950s.

In 1850, the Manchester Adult Deaf and Dumb Institute was formed, a somewhat separate enterprise concerning the educational and spiritual welfare of adults, rather than children.[9] In 1876 it was estimated that there were around 170 deaf people living in and around Manchester itself, with another 350 persons living in the districts around the city.[10]  The Adult Institute was located on John Dalton Street but it was decided in the 1870s, that the adult community should have its own purpose-built place of worship, which would cater to their needs, alongside acting as a community venue. A site on Grosvenor Street was purchased for £2200.[11]

The Deaf Institute

The building was constructed by R. Neild and Sons to plans designed by Mr John Lowe.[12] There was a gymnasium, a coffee room, a class room, a reading room, a lecture room and chapel. The building was only completed with charitable bequests and donations from members of the public. For example, a three-day bazaar was held at the Chorlton-upon-Medlock Town Hall in 1878, with the aim of raising £600 towards the building costs.[13]

There was no charge to use the facilities at the building, instead the upkeep was met through annual subscriptions. However, this meant that the Institute often fell short of funding. As early as 1881 it was found the reading room was ‘improperly furnished’ due to lack of funds.[14] In 1907 a fire broke out at the Institute, caused by faulty wiring. Fortunately, all 30 members inside the building were able to escape unharmed and one member, Mr Brierly was able to alter the fire brigade via a written message. [15]  Unfortunately, the fire raged for an hour before it was extinguished and it damaged the building.

The Deaf Institute

Nonetheless, lack of funding did not prevent a strong community spirit from developing among the members of the Institute. Working alongside other local ‘Deaf and Dumb’ Institutions, the members formed their own sports clubs, including a draughts club, a swimming team, a water polo team and a cricket team. The Institute held annual soirees at the start of the twentieth century. In February 1900, members of the Manchester Institute performed Romeo and Juliet in sign language at Hulme Town Hall, to an audience of around 300 people from similar institutions around Manchester and Liverpool.[16] During the Second World War, the Grosvenor Street building was opened up to the whole community in Chorlton-upon-Medlock. All Saints Church was destroyed during the December 1940 Blitz on the city and thereafter, church services took place in the Deaf Institute’s chapel.[17]

In 1987, planning permission was granted to convert the building into a wine bar and bistro. Later in 1999, the building changed use again and Manchester City Council allowed it to be converted into an electronic arts centre. After its period of disuse in the early years of the millennium, it is now the bar, kitchen and gig venue many people love today. 

The Deaf Institute, 135 Grosvenor St, Manchester M1 7HE (open from 4pm Mon-Sun). Also on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

All photography with thanks to Lydia Wakelam, except image 6 by Neil Winward and image 9 by Jack Kirwin 

By Jack Kiriwn


[1] English Heritage (1978). Adult Deaf and Dumb Institute (Former), Manchester. (Listing NGR: SJ8439897079). Retrieved from http://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/

[2] Cocks, Harry. Wyke, Terry. Public Sculpture of Greater Manchester. Liverpool University Press, 2004. pp84-85

[3] Ibid

[4] ] W.B.T. (1900, April 1). The Manchester Adult Deaf and Dumb Institute. Silent Worker. Retrieved from http://gaislandora.wrlc.org/ p.114

[5] Cocks, Harry. Wyke, Terry. Public Sculpture of Greater Manchester. Liverpool University Press, 2004. pp85

[6] T.R.O.F. (2008). The Deaf Institute. Retrieved from http://www.thedeafinstitute.co.uk/information.php

[7] Manchester Mercury, 15 March 1825, p.4

[8] Manchester Courier, 1 April 1826, p.3

[9] Some accounts suggest the Adult Deaf and Dumb Institute was found in 1853.

[10] Manchester Courier, 25 September 1876, p.8

[11] Manchester Courier, 25 September 1876, p.8

[12] Manchester Courier, 4 June 1877, p.6

[13] Manchester Evening News, 6 June 1878, p.3

[14] Manchester Courier, 16 April 1881, p.14

[15] Manchester Courier, 29 April 1907, p.8

[16] Manchester Courier, 17 February 1900, p.15

[17] Manchester Evening News, 11 July 1942, p.4

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