Deaf Life13th October 2013

Tony Padden - Life as a Deaf Tailor

Deaf and from Ireland Tony Padden made his way as a gentelmen's tailor, culminating in his work at Harrods

by Sarah Lawrence

90 year old Anthony (Tony) Padden was born hearing. His family remember him speaking as a child, but when he was about three, for reasons unknown, he became deaf. The reasons are probably partly genetic. His two eldest brothers, Philip and John, were also deaf.

Tony was born on a farm at Carrowkeribla, Attymass, County Mayo, the tenth of eleven children. Two of those children had been lost before Tony was born, but with five brothers and two sisters, he was part of a very big family growing up.

From the age of 7, Tony attended St Joseph’s School for Deaf boys at Cabra in Dublin. Founded in 1857 to accommodate 100 Deaf pupils, it is estimated that 20,000 students have been educated at St Joseph’s. Students came from all parts of Ireland, due to its unique nature as a Catholic deaf school.

The school was run and lessons were taught by the Christian Brothers. Reflecting on his time at school, Tony says he liked most of the Brothers, but he recalls one who was particularly cruel, always falsely accusing boys of wrongdoing, so that they were flogged. Tony remembers that during the afternoon, all the boys were made to sew clothes, socks and pants for the Christian Brothers, and were not allowed to look up or sign to each other.

He also recalls one particular incident when a Christian Brother crept up to an elderly deaf-blind man and pulled his beautiful handlebar moustache so hard that it came off in his hand. The man was shocked, in pain and bleeding, and signed asking who did this. Tony remembers that all the boys were too frightened to look up as the Brother held up the moustache in triumph, laughing out loud.

Tony first started learning to be a tailor at the age of 11. Students were given the choice of learning one of three trades – carpentry, tailoring or cobbling. Initially, Tony wanted to learn carpentry, because that is what his hearing brothers did, but the school told him to follow in the footsteps of his two deaf brothers, who were tailors.

Tony left St Joseph’s at the tender age of 14 - because the priests told him he was clever enough! But he realised he still had a lot to learn, especially in his understanding of English. Initially, he went to work on his parents’ farm, which he loved. But after two years they told him they thought farming was not for him and he should get a job as a tailor, just like his two older deaf brothers. He got a job as a tailor in the nearby town of Ballina, before later working alongside his brother John.

In 1952, while on holiday in London, Tony met Sheila Myers, a Deaf girl from Tipperary. Sheila had been at school in Cabra at exactly the same time as Tony, but as the boys’ and girls’ schools were segregated, they had never met each other! Tony moved to London and they married a year later. In those early days in London, Tony worked for a few different firms, as moving from job to job was far easier in those days.

Tony recalls just how hard the work was back then, “slogging away on the factory floor”, but he put up with it for over 20 years before a better opportunity presented itself. Robert Daunt, a Birmingham-based deaf man who also came from Ireland told Tony about a tailor’s job that was available in Harrods.

Tony took the bull by the horns and went to Harrods in person to ask about the opening. He got the job, and started working as a Harrods tailor in 1975. The hours were still long but Tony recalls being very happy there, with a much more flexible approach to the hours that he worked.

Being a tailor at Harrods, Tony met many famous men and had the opportunity to make their suits. Of all those he ‘measured-up’, he regards the Sultan of Brunei as the most famous person he made a suit for, although in the Sultan’s case, it was several suits, not just the one!

Arriving at Harrods quite late in his career, Tony stayed until 1987, when he made the decision to retire at the age of 65. Understandably, Tony is very proud to have been a tailor at Harrods and he regards that as the best time in his working life.

Interestingly, in looking back at his career, Tony still wishes that he had ignored the advice of his teachers and continued with the carpentry course. On reflection, he realises that in spite of his great skill, he “hated” much of his time as a tailor, but persevered as it was his only way to make a living.

Happily retired, Tony now spends his time reading, doing puzzles and playing bingo at deaf clubs. He also enjoys going out for walks and spending quality time with his family, including his Deaf daughter Tessa, who has proudly carried on the Deaf family tradition and passed it on in turn to Tony’s Deaf grandson, Nicholas! Tony also has a hearing granddaughter, Iona, who is just as proud of her Deaf grandad.

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Community / Deaf Life

13th October 2013