Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

First Blind Mayor Remains an Inspiration

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

First Blind Mayor Remains an Inspiration

Article excerpt


FOR 150 years, the Newcastle Society for Blind People has helped people cope with the loss of sight.

And one of the members being celebrated as part of the 150th anniversary is James Clydesdale, who was the first blind Lord Mayor of Newcastle.

He was also the first socialist Lord Mayor of the city who overcame the loss of his sight at the age of eight after an accident, to live a life of achievement.

A city council commemorative plaque to James Clydesdale was unveiled recently at the West End customer service centre and library on Condercum Road in Benwell, where he lived most of his life.

Roland Sibley launched the campaign for a plaque after discovering he was living in the house which James had occupied.

Lord Melvyn Bragg, Sir Tony Robinson and film maker Ken Loach all backed the bid for a plaque.

After losing his sight, James worked as a basket maker but became North East organiser of the National League for the Blind.

He took part in 1936 in a march to London by the league. He was elected to Newcastle City Council in 1922 and in 1926 moved to Hodgkin Park Road in Benwell, where he lived until his death in 1962.

He spoke at events up and down the country in favour of social reform.

Mr Sibley, who has researched James's life, said: "The more I found out the more I learned what a great man he was. I thought others should know about him so contacted Ken Loach and others, with my idea for a commemorative plaque.

"James Clydesdale was an inspiration. I hope that when young people learn about him it will inspire them too to go on and do great things with their lives."

The society is compiling a book on its history, to be published on World Sight Day on October 12, after winning a grant for the project from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

It contains a quote from James Clydesdale, which is a measure of the man: "Civilisation is not measured by the cleverness of its scientists or its craftsmen, but by its human relation-ships, the consideration it has for each of its members, the love it expresses, and the social contacts between the individuals composing its society."

A celebratory event for the anniversary was held in the Copthorne Hotel in the city.

There will also be an exhibition at the City Library for a month from July 20 and a conference at the same venue on July 24.

The society is also changing its name to Newcastle Vision Support, to reflect the changing times in which visual impairment is preferred to the blanket term "blind."

"As society grows older and people live longer, more are coping with age-related visual impairment," says society chairperson Lisa Charlton.

"We support people with visual problems.

"We have come a long way since our beginnings in 1867 as Newcastle and Gateshead Home Teaching Society for the Blind but our values and aims remain the same - enabling or restoring people's independence by giving confidence, knowledge, emotional support and getting people involved in social groups or civic life. …

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