2009 marks the bicentenary of the birth of Louis Braille, inventor of the Braille system of reading and writing. To celebrate, guest blogger Philip Jeffs of Royal National Institute of the Blind writes on the long connection between the Postal service in Britain and the Blind Community.
Very few places in the country offer, or ever have offered Braille books to be borrowed by the public. This has meant that charities such as RNIB have from our earliest days offered books for loan through the post.
The postal service and blind charities felt that blind people were put at a disadvantage within the postal system because Braille items were particularly large, heavy and expensive to send. In 1906 the Post Office (Literature for the Blind) Act was passed stating that books in raised text could be sent through the post at reduced costs. This meant that correspondence and parcel post were now accessible to the blind.
The latest legislation covering postage for the blind is the Postal Services Act 2000, which includes large print material and talking books, and now covers any material for use by the blind. This Act ensures that postage is provided entirely free of charge.
The first two images show a little girl receiving a copy of a Braille book through the post from the National Library for the Blind, now part of RNIB, and then reading the book out loud to her younger brothers.
The second two show Henry Fawcett, a blind man who was made Postmaster General in 1880, one being a photograph from the official biography written on his death and one taken from Punch magazine showing, as you would expect, a slightly less respectful and more satirical view.
Henry Fawcett was born in Salisbury in 1833. At the age of 25 he was accidentally blinded by a shot from his father’s gun whilst the two were out hunting. When told that his blindness would be permanent Fawcett told his father “Well, it shan’t make any difference in my plans of life!”. That certainly seems to have been the case as despite his blindness Fawcett continued to study at Cambridge and in 1863 was appointed Professor of Political Economy at the University. Two years later he was elected Liberal MP for Brighton. As a Liberal, Fawcett campaigned tirelessly for women’s suffrage in the House of Commons.
In 1880 prime-minister William Gladstone appointed Fawcett as his Postmaster General. Whilst at the Post Office Fawcett introduced the parcel post, postal orders and the sixpenny telegram, he also worked actively to employ more women in the service.
In the summer of 1882 Fawcett was taken seriously ill with diphtheria and although he gradually recovered, his political career had come to an end. Henry Fawcett, severely weakened by his illness, died of pleurisy in 1884.
The images in this post are provided courtesy of the RNIB Archive and may not to be reproduced without permission. Contact the RNIB Archive.