Henshaws: Society for blind people Website

The Exhibition

As part of the 175th anniversary celebrations at Henshaws produced an exhibition to share the story of the charity and explore the history of visual impairment.

The past 175 years of  Henshaws Society for Blind People are a model example of the way attitudes and services for visually impaired people have changed. The exhibition explored those changes and traces the fascinating story behind the charity’s founding back in 1837.

It was in the late 1700s that the first Asylum for blind people was established in England and what followed was a small explosion of similar charities set up to provide education and meaningful employment for those who had previously been marginalised.

Thomas Henshaw: One Man’s Vision has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and developed with support from Henshaws volunteers and service users.

The exhibition contained five key themes;

  • Thomas Henshaw

    His life and death, his Will and the early days of Henshaws Asylum for the Blind.

  • Technology

    The development of technology to help visually impaired people lead normal lives.

  • Education and reading

The changes in the way visually impaired people were educated and trained. Including the many examples of raised-type books created.

  • Health

    The changes in causes of visual impairment and the scientific improvements in treating visually impaired people.

  • Society

    Social attitudes towards visually impaired people and the rise of philanthropy in Britain over the past 200 years.



The exhibition invites visitors to experiment with how they experience the exhibition, using their different senses to step into the shoes of the people who Thomas Henshaw set out to help.

The exhibition will contain;

  • An audio-tour with special audio-descriptions of all the exhibits
  • Penfriend labelling (penfriend is a piece of portable hardware which is programmed to ‘read’ object captions by scanning barcoded labels)
  • 3D tactile artworks
  • Handling objects
  • Document reader technology which allows visitors to magnify replicas of original documents relating to Henshaws early history
  • Oral histories and poetry available to listen to across the exhibition
  • Tactile navigational signage
  • Braille transcripts of all written information
  • Text and audio scripted in clear language
  • Interactive exhibits which will enable visitors to experience the most common visual impairments.

“A dyspraxic daughter usually means we don’t enjoy galleries – thank you”

Feedback from ‘post-it wall’

sculptures TH collage touch and hear Penfriend braille home tactile diseased soldier

Get Involved

One Man’s Vision is about sharing the story behind Henshaws, along with those of the many people over the years who have made the charity what it is today. We’d love you to be part of the story and there are lots of ways for you to get involved.

Find out more


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