The Langdon Down Museum of Learning Disability was awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund Grant in 2012 to exhibit artefacts made by James Henry Pullen, whose life and achievements are considered to be significant in the history of learning disability.
He is believed to have had the condition savant syndrome and was famous for his great talent for mechanics and drawing. His drawings were given to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and he enjoyed the patronage of King Edward VII, then the Prince of Wales.
Pullen was known in his day as the Genius of Earlswood and described as an idiot savant by Dr John Langdon Down who was medical superintendent of the asylum. He was born in Dalston, London in 1835 and admitted to Essex Hall, Colchester in 1850. He then transferred to the Royal Earlswood Asylum near Redhill when it opened in 1855 and died there in 1916.
He was given training in the carpenter’s shop and soon became an expert craftsman. A special workroom and exhibition room were set aside for him. Over the 60 years spent at Earlswood he completed many fine models, paintings and drawings, and was also a fine carver in ivory. King Edward VII took great interest in him and sent him tusks of ivory to work with and Sir Edward Landseer visited him and sent him engravings of his work to copy. Although well known as a savant – one who has a learning disability but with a special talent in one narrow field – we know that he was intelligent but suffered from a severe communication disorder and high frequency deafness. It is probable that he was aphasic i.e. he had difficulty in understanding and using language.
The exhibition Pullen: Ships of Reality and the Imagination features some of Pullen’s greatest work, including his intricately detailed model of Brunel’s paddle steamer the SS Great Eastern. Also in the exhibition is the Princess Alexandra, a 40 gun man-of-war.
Photographs by Click Photography Students: photographs of the Great Eastern taken by the young people attending a photography workshop at the museum. Click works with young photographers in schools, after-school clubs and holiday workshops to share a love of photography.
Octagon Club: Boat inspired by James Henry Pullen. Made by the Octagon Club and Mary Herbert. Octagon Club is an afterschool club for young people aged 11-18 with additional needs that meets at Orleans House Gallery, Twickenham every Tuesday in term time. The group is run in partnership between the gallery, Crofters and Three Wings Trust. The group are given the opportunity to work with professional artists on visual art projects.
The museum and theatre is open: 2pm – 5pm Mondays | 9.30am – 1.30pm Saturdays.
Please note: the theatre may not be open on Monday afternoons.
The Langdon Down Centre | Normansfield | 2A Langdon Park | Teddington | Middlesex | TW11 9PS