A brief history of RNC: 1872 - 2010

In the mid-19th century, few blind children could either hope for a good education or steady and worthwhile employment. The philanthropist, Dr. Thomas Rhodes Armitage believed these problems were interrelated and that, given an education of similar content to that received by sighted children, blind people could go on to have equally successful careers.

In 1871, he met a like-minded visionary in the American, Francis Joseph Campbell. Campbell, born in 1832 in Tennessee, lost his sight at the age of five. He studied at Nashville School for the blind and at 16 years of age, became the Music Master there. After graduating from the University of Tennessee aged 22, he became musical director at the Wisconsin School for the Blind. He left Wisconsin and went to on become the Director of Music at The Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston, Massachusetts for eleven years.

RNC main building

Picture: RNC main building

Campbell and Armitage resolved to found a college for the blind in England and a year later, on 1st March 1872, the College we now know as RNC was established with the assistance of the first Duke of Westminster and Mr C. A. Miner.

The college was originally called The Royal Normal College and Academy for the Blind. 'Normal' referred to teacher training, which was offered by the college. The majority of the teaching staff were, at this time, recruited from the USA. The college started not far from the Crystal Palace in London. By the end of the first year it moved to Upper Norwood. The curriculum was liberal and advanced for its day, including a large amount of physical education. Roller-skating was popular and an early report mentions tobogganing after a heavy fall of snow! In those early days the atmosphere was exciting and experimental.


By the 1880s the College, had well over 150 students, and over 200 by the end of the century. The college was run as a preparatory school taking children aged 5 to 13, and a grammar and high school. The Annual Report of 1880 stated:
'The College is open to the young of either sex and of any rank, but only those will be received as pupils who, in the opinion of the Principal, show sufficient ability to render it probable that by instruction they can be rendered capable of self-support.'

RNC Gardner Assessment Center and HotelPicture: RNC Gardener Assessment Center and Hotel

In 1909, Francis Campbell was knighted by King Edward VII and retired 3 years later to be succeeded by his son, Guy Marshall Campbell in 1929. His widow, Louie Bealby Campbell, succeeded him. When she retired in 1934, the Principalship passed outside the Campbell family for the first time, when William Stone took over. In 1937 Dr Langdon became principal.

In 1940, the College was evacuated to a mansion known as Great Maytham, in Rolvenden. After a series of short-term moves, the College finally assembled at Rowton Castle, near Shrewsbury, in 1943.

In 1955, the College acquired Albrighton Hall, about 3 miles from Shrewsbury, and adapted it for residential and training purposes for the older boys and young men.  In 1958 Hardy House was obtained as a new residential area for girls. The building included 6 kitchenettes, where girls were taught various domestic skills.

In 1978 the College moved to its current site in Hereford, on grounds previously the site of a teacher training college. The site satisfied the College's needs both for teaching, and residential accommodation.  By this time the College had grown to become an amalgam of institutions for the blind, including an academic college, a business college, a piano-tuning academy and an academy of music. This departmental structure changed gradually over the years as interest in music and piano tuning declined. Eventually the departmental structure was abandoned in 2006 to give to give Learning, Finance and Business Enterprise Directorates. It was in 2006 that the College developed an interest in European and International Projects. A small department was formed to develop partnerships and through partnerships, write or participate in EU funded projects. A sister department was also set up for UK projects. There were also departments covering Social Enterprise and Research and Development. Later on, internal restructuring simplified the Directorates.

RNC The Point 4

Picture: RNC "The Point 4"

Since settling in Hereford, the College has undergone many changes, none more visible than the development of Orchard Hall, the Point4 and Gardner Hall Assessment Centre with hotel facilities, see figures following. These new developments give an indication of the College’s future direction.

During the College’s evolution to the present day, the emphasis on learning and employment, dating from its conception by Dr Thomas Armitage, remains the focus for the College’s existence.