The acquisition of this unassuming yet substantial building in
Gale’s father had been manager of a coal store at Crabtree and it was there that James had been born. While still a boy the family moved to Tavistock and the adventurous lad spent his days experimenting on the one hand with various substances –chemicals and even gunpowder, presumably made available through his fathers business – and on the one hand making the most of his pleasant green and rural surroundings. He was a lively 14 year old when – apparently as a result of an accident – he banged his head playing on some railings. Over the next three years his sight began failing him till at length he could see no more.
Thanks to the fact that his father could afford a private tutor Gale’s education continued despite his disadvantage, but the promising career as a chemical engineer appeared to have gone very much on the back burner. Facilities for the blind were remarkably few in those days and when, in his mid-twenties, Gale came to live in
“Taking for his motto on-wards and upwards, he worked on steadily, thro ugh sunshine and rain, through heat and cold, oft times returning late at night drenched to the very skin and worn out with fatigue. Often did he feel stricken to the innermost core by numerous re-buffs. “Night after night he lay awake, the tears ever starting from his sightless eyes, as he sadly meditated over the apathy and coldness with which his scheme was received by many who possessed the power, but lacked the will, to assist it forward – (John Plummer “The Story of a Blind Inventor: Being some account of the life and labours of Dr James Gale’. Published in 1868) The perseverance paid off, eventually. The vicar of Tavistock Dr Tancock, was a great help as was Isaac Latimer, then editor of
The second plan was to open a school for the blind at
At the first anniversary meeting the title was changed. The whole operation by now had snowballed, many new faces had decided to lend their support to the “South Devon and
The Prince Consort, Albert, no stranger to these parts, wrote to James Gale, “announcing his intention of patronizing the Plymouth Institution” and “some little time after this incident, the proprietor of the premises Cobourg Street, dying, bequeathed them unreservedly for the proposes of the institution; and one of the lady subscribers, having left a legacy of £200, the committee began enlarging the school, with the view of increasing it’s utility.
Soon the whole concern was such a success that Gale was able to leave it and move up to London, where his later work was to earn him many accolades (foremost among them his invention which allowed for safe storage of gunpowder, work which earned him the nickname “Gunpowder Tamer” from
Meanwhile the move to Stonehouse was marked by an end of hostelling (the blind are more happily integrated into society than they ever were in Gale’s day) and the establishment of work at proper union rates. Today Stonehouse produce is sold to many places and among the major lines produced there are theatre packs for
The Encyclopaedia of