Our history

Henshaws is one of the oldest charities in the UK and in 2012 we celebrated our 175th anniversary - find out about our history and how it all started.

The legacy

In 1810, Oldham businessman Thomas Henshaw left £20,000 in his will to establish an ‘Asylum for the Indigent Blind’ in Manchester. He had made his wealth in the local hatting industry, but despite this success, he battled with depression until his death.

That may explain why his second wife Sarah contested his generous legacy on the grounds that he had made the will “whilst mentally unbalanced”. The case went to the Court of Chancery and it was 23 years before the verdict was given in favour of the terms of his original will.

So in 1837, the original ‘blind asylum’ finally opened its doors in Old Trafford. By 1930, the school had 273 pupils, 194 workshop employees, 64 residents and 19 blind instructors.

Historic photo of a group of friends playing in Henshaws school in Harrogate.
179 years later

Now approaching almost 200 years old, Henshaws is still growing today! We employ over 300 members of staff and 232 volunteers who support individuals, families and their carers who are living with sight loss as well as a range of other disabilities.

In 2012 we celebrated our 175th anniversary with an exhibition entitled, Thomas Henshaw: One Man’s Vision. The exhibition explored our history and the history of visual impairment and was toured in Oldham, Leeds and Salford.

Visit our website 'One Man's Vision'