The history of what is now Berkhamsted’s Ashlyns School can be traced back to the early 18th century.
In those dark days, child poverty in England was very high and many children struggled to reach the age of seven years.
Retired sea captain Thomas Coram was appalled at the number of abandoned babies he saw on the streets of London and campaigned for a foundling hospital where unwanted children could live and grow up in a safe, secure environment.
Coram was eventually granted a Royal Charter to allow a hospital to be set up and the first children were admitted on March 25, 1741, into a temporary house located in Hatton Garden, London.
In time, work started on building the first permanent Foundling Hospital in Lamb’s Conduit Fields in Bloomsbury.
Three years of work saw the first part of the hospital complete, and another wing was added in 1752 to keep girls separate from boys.
The hospital was described as ‘the most imposing single monument erected by 18th century benevolence’ and soon became London’s most popular charity.
Parliament concluded in 1756 that all the children offered should be received at the hospital.
Before that, children were chosen by chance – their hopeful mothers had to draw a coloured ball from a closed bag. White meant that the child would be admitted if healthy, red meant that they would be put on a waiting list and black meant that they were turned away.
In the space of four years, 14,934 children were presented.
Of these, only 4,400 survived to be apprenticed.
The total expense of this was around £500,000 – a large sum in those times.
In 1928, the London site was sold for £2 million after the governors had realised the value of the estate, and the building was demolished.
A new site was sought and the estate of Ashlyns Hall in Berkhamsted was purchased. The children were sent to a temporary hospital at Redhill until 1935 while the new site was prepared.
By 1951 Berkhamsted was short of accommodation for local children and a new policy of moving foundling children out of institutions meant that the number of foundlings had fallen.
A secondary modern school was established with foundling children being educated alongside local children.
In 1955 Herts County Council bought the building from the Foundling Hospital and Ashlyns School opened as a bi-lateral school with both grammar and secondary Modern sections.
In 1972 Ashlyns became the comprehensive upper school of the three-tier system of education that operated in Berkhamsted. In 1993 there was further change as Ashlyns became a self-governing state school.
Today, Ashlyns is still the upper school of the three-tier system, although there is further change in store soon, and specialises in teaching languages.
When the school celebrated its 60th anniversary last year more than 500 people visited during a celebration weekend, including former foundlings.
Artefacts from the past were on show, such as old uniforms and the punishment book.
Ashlyns also does work in the community, including hosting a musical concert every term, music productions – the most recent being Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat – and an annual summer concert, a huge performance involving all musical students.
by Ashlyns student Joseph Grego, during work experience at the Dacorum Heritage Trust Ltd.
Our October 24 report by Andrew Macgregor was originally published for St. Mary Magdalene, Flaunden, Hertfordshire - A Short History of the Church and Village.