A PURPLE plaque is being unveiled in Rhyl to recognise a woman who became a pioneer of British Sign Language (BSL) poetry and a playwright.

The plaque, celebrating the life of Dorothy Miles, will go on display outside 27 Westbourne Avenue - where Dorothy used to live.

Dorothy compiled the first teaching manual for BSL tutors and helped establish the first university course for deaf people to become BSL tutors. 

Dorothy's former home is now owned by Christine Potts and her partner Duncan Nield-Siddall.

Christine said: "Two years ago a man called Rhodri knocked on our door telling us about Dorothy Miles who was a pioneer for sign language. Dorothy was a child when she contracted meningitis which caused her to become deaf.

"Rhodri asked if we would mind if a QR code was fitted on our gate for people to scan on their phones to read about this remarkable lady. We said yes and the QR code has been on our gatepost ever since for passers-by to scan with their phones. 

"Rhodri said they were applying for permission to put a purple plaque on our house."

Christine continued: "We feel very special knowing that Dorothy lived here at Westbourne Avenue in our house which she described as a 'very happy home.' I have always said this house is special and feels happy and this confirms it.

"We feel honoured to have this plaque on our house."

Purple Plaques Wales has organised the unveiling, which is set to be well attended. The mayor is set to attend as well as councillors, family members of Dorothy, those from the deaf community and more. This is to take place between 12.30pm and 1pm on Friday, April 26.

Following the ceremony, attendees will head to the bowling green opposite for a buffet and there will be a chance to socialise.

The public are welcome to attend.

This will be Wales' 16th Purple Plaque. 

Christine said: "Anyone is welcome to attend. The plaque is already on our house and is being covered by a black polythene sheet - hiding it before the ceremony."

Purple Plaques Wales is a voluntary organisation. They facilitate plaques along with community organisations - in this case, the money has generously been donated by Rhyl Town Council. 

According to History Points, Dorothy was born on August 19 1931 in Gwernaffield, Flintshire. She was the youngest of the five children of James and Amy Squire. James, from Bersham, Wrexham, and was a hairdresser before joining the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in the First World War. He and his young family emigrated to Canada in 1920 but returned later that decade.

Dorothy later wrote about “the stretch of ‘golden sands’ at the seaside resort of Rhyl, my first remembered home.” Her family nurtured her creativity. Her father sang soldiers’ songs, her mother recited poetry. Her eldest sister, Jean, wrote poems which she read, along with stories, to Dorothy at bedtime. 

In March 1940, Dorothy contracted cerebrospinal meningitis, which left her deaf and initially unable to walk. She attended the Royal School for the Deaf, Manchester, and the Mary Hare School in Sussex (the first grammar school for the deaf).

Working as a welfare officer at the Liverpool Adult Deaf and Dumb Benevolent Society, Dorothy began acting in sign language plays. She won a scholarship to Gallaudet University in Washington DC, where her literary talents flourished and she won prizes for her prose, poetry and acting. In 1958 she married fellow student Robert Miles, but they separated in 1959.

After graduating, she joined the National Theatre of the Deaf and began composing sign language poetry, aiming to bridge the gap between the worlds of hearing and deaf people. Her book Gestures: Poetry in Sign Language was published in 1976. In 1977 Dorothy returned to Britain. She contributed to the National Union of the Deaf’s Open Door BBC TV programme and helped initiate the See Hear TV series. She wrote British Sign Language: A Beginner's Guide in 1989, published by the BBC to accompany the series.

She was prescribed medication after a severe bipolar episode in 1977. On the night of January 29 1993, she tried to contact the Samaritans using a special communicator but the line was too busy. At about 2am on January 30 she jumped from the window of her London flat. The coroner’s court concluded that “she took her own life while depressed."

The Dorothy Miles Cultural Centre (DMCC) was established in her memory.

From it grew Dot Sign Language, a not-for-profit organisation aiming to improve communication and understanding between deaf and hearing people.

* People are asked to respect the current occupants’ privacy as they look at Dorothy's former home.