Did you know Walthew House has existed since 1865? Read on to learn more about our journey to the present day.
A timeline of Walthew House
Join us for a journey through our history supporting people in Stockport since 1865
A meeting called by a leading member of the town’s community in 1865.
John Walthew, who became Mayor of Stockport in the early 1870s, and his wife invited the town’s blind people to tea. The Walthews of Wood Hall, Reddish, had first hand experience of the disability, as their daughter Louisa was blind and deaf.
After this first meeting, regular weekly gatherings were arranged, at which volunteers read to and generally helped the blind people.
In January 1867, the town’s blind, deaf and residents without speech were invited to a meeting at Stockport Sunday School to draw up detailed plans for support. The meeting was chaired by James Sidebottom JP, appointed to carry out the project.
To help finance the work, Mr Sidebottom pledged a donation of £50 per year. There were a number of other subscriptions including £10 per year from Mr Ephraim Hallam.
The meeting agreed the main aim was to give people with sensory loss the chance of an education and work experience.
The committee set up workshops where clients made goods and a shop was opened on Wellington Road South, Stockport, where they were sold. A schoolroom was also established.
In the early 1870s, the committee decided it needed its own premises and bought a site in St Petersgate.
The foundation stone of the building – called the Institute for the Blind, the Deaf and the Dumb – was laid by Louisa Walthew on 14 September 1872 and the building built at a cost of £3,500.
The three storey building included two shops to sell the goods made there, large work rooms, two living rooms, a library, a committee room and a reading room which had some books with raised letters.
Most of the cash for the centre was raised through bequests, including one of £2,000 from James Ollershaw, who had lived in Stockport before moving to Jersey and £500 from Henry Marsland, who had lived in Woodbank.
The gentleman responsible for the initial thrust to the project, John Walthew, remembered The Institute when he died in April 1889. He left £500, which was invested to provide a regular income.
The St Petersgate base was used until the late 1960s but by then it was clear that new premises were needed.
To adequately cater for the wide ranging needs of its clients the St Peresgate property was old to fund the construction of
the Institute’s present base in Shaw Heath.
This was opened in 1970 and named Walthew House.
It was decided that an extension to the existing building was required and a phenomenally successful fund-raising appeal co-ordinated by the Institute Chairman Colonel Haldon Hole – was launched and raised £100,000 with nearly all the money coming from within the Borough.
Building work on the extension began in October 1987, the labour was provided free of charge by Manpower Services Commission.
The completed extension was named the Haldon Hole Wing, as a tribute to the chairman’s work and was officially opened by her Royal Highness, the Princess Royal on 4 March 1991.
Baptised at St Marys, the story of John Walthew is that of a true Stopfordian rising from humble origins to a captain of industry.
How did this local industrialist become involved with sensory loss support?
Throughout this article we will explore the life of John Walthew as he rose from a working class upbringing to owning four mills across Stockport and Manchester.
Moreover, we will delve into how and why John Walthew founded our charity.
John's Life in dates
John was born
John was baptised at St Mary's Stockport; after this, John and his family moved around South Manchester, living in notoriously poor living conditions, and often going without necessities such as shoes.
The Family move back to Stockport
In 1833 the Walthew family moved back to Stockport, where it is recorded that John was working as a weaver. John was eleven, and he likely started working at nine.
Career in the mills
1833 - 1845
John worked continuously from 1833, working his way up to a warper and then as a book keeper.
Move into business
John took the brave decision to set up on his own. He bought several doubling frames in Newbridge Lane mill; this would serve as the first step toward John's eventual mill ownership.
From employee to employer
John is recorded on this years census as a "manufacturer of sewing cotton employing 4 men and 8 women".
Having attended the Mechanics institute from an early age John was well received as a public speaker there. This experience was the catalyst for a future as a talented orator.
Elected Councillor of Edgeley
Now a mill owner and father of two John became a Councillor. During the cotton famine John began what would be a long association with the workhouse near his house. He became a guardian and attended weekly meetings.
Elected Mayor of Stockport
John was elected Mayor of Stockport in 1871 and as one of his final acts as Mayor, laid the foundation stone of the "Institute for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb" which can still be seen on St. Petersgate.
"Institution for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb"
First tea party for the Blind
At the age of three the Walthew's daughter Louisa lost her sight. John and Mary, his wife, anticipated 20 attendees but received a staggering 64!
Start of the Blind institute
The Walthew's, and other volunteers, organised a regular meeting for people with sight loss to learn new skills in the centre of Stockport.
Foundation stone laid
In 1867 the assistance was extended to people who had hearing loss and so the "Institute for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb was born, with the then Mayor John Walthew laying the Foundation stone.
On April 2nd John Walthew died at the age of 67. He left £500 (over £40,000 today) to the institute of which he was the serving president. John had also been the president of the Mechanics Institution and Vice-President of the Infirmary, not to mention his extensive service as a Mayor and Councillor.
The "Institute for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb" has adapted over the subsequent 160 years from its inception. The charity was officially renamed in 2009 to Walthew House and continues to serve the beneficiaries as outlined in the original constitution.
Why read about John when you can hear from the man himself?
John Walthew's legacy lives on through the work that is done everyday by the charity renamed in his honour. Thousands of people have been supported in the 154 years since the first tea party, and Walthew House has adapted to support people as needs have changed. Walthew House continues to be a trusted companion for people with a sensory loss in Stockport, providing responsive and effective support to beneficiaries for nearly 150 years.
If John Walthew's legacy inspires you why not consider volunteering at Walthew House?
Contact us below to find out about our available volunteering positions!