The manager

The brush workshop in 1912

In the 1860s, the school expanded to include a trade workshop, where adult blind men could learn a trade and gain employment. They made baskets and mats, with support from sighted teachers, and were paid according to the local trade tariff, in addition to dinner. 

It was not long before the workshop was run almost entirely by blind people. Alfred Midwinter was a blind man who quickly learnt how to make baskets, and rose to become the manager of basket making. The Committee of the school quickly realised his talent, and in 1967, promoted him to be Trade Manager of the whole school. 

Midwinter reformed the workshop so each department in the workshop was run by a blind master tradesman, who could better explain the process to other people with visual impairments. 

However, by 1880, the workshop was making a loss. Members of the Committee put forward a motion to close the workshop, but this was meant with strong opposition by other Members, including Edmund Johnson, who argued that it was a vital function of the school. 

To combat these losses, Alfred Midwinter began offering new trades at the workshop, including brushes, chair caning, piano tuning, wood chopping and sash lines. The workshop began to gain a certain prestige across London for its high quality craftsmanship, and one of their customers was Queen Victoria herself, who used the sash lines from the workshop to hang paintings in Buckingham Palace. 

By the time Alfred Midwinter died in 1893, the workshop was fully profitable.