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The Only Dwarf in Liverpool

Episode 1 of 12

Duration:
15 minutes
First broadcast:
Monday 27 May 2013

Across the country, historians are discovering the voices of disabled people from the past. In this 10-part series, Peter White draws on the latest research to reveal first-hand accounts of what it was like to live with physical disability in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The result is moving, revealing, and sometimes very funny:
"Sirs, I am a dwarf. I have lost my job at the circus and what is a dwarf to do in such a situation? In this Godforsaken place the snow comes so deep that a self-respecting dwarf can't even walk along the street without drowning!"

This document is from a huge archive of letters from disabled people in the 19th century, applying to the local authorities for money. They are a rich source of what life was like with a disability. Sources like this are only now being discovered and interpreted by historians across the country - it amounts to a new historical movement.

In the first programme, Peter explores what this new history reveals, and challenges our pre-conceptions.

For Peter, as a blind man, there is a strong sense of personal discovery. He says, "I never realised disabled people had a history. History was what happened to everyone else."

For him the series is revelatory. This programme, for instance, includes 18th century jokes about disability and discusses what juicy terms for disability were common in a society where there was no political correctness.

With historians David Turner, Chris Mounsey, Stephen King, Judith Hawley, and voices from the past brought vividly to life by actors Gerard McDermott, Ewan Bailey and Emily Bevan.

Producer: Elizabeth Burke
Academic adviser: David Turner, Swansea University
A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.

Broadcasts

Free download

  1. Image for Disability: A New History

    Disability: A New History

    Drawing on new research, Peter White presents a history of disability in the 18th and 19th…

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