Berkhamsted Returns to Ashlyns
December 20, 2023
Berkhamsted Strathspey and Reel Club are delighted to be returning to the Great Hall of Ashlyns School for their Highland Ball with Ewan Galloway on Saturday 10th February next year. The Grade II listed venue adds a touch of historical charm to the club’s flagship event in their social dancing calendar.
Ashlyns School dates back to 1935 when it was built as a new location for Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital, which moved to the rural Berkhamsted location from its original building in Bloomsbury.
In 1739, Coram, a retired sea captain, was deeply moved by the harsh conditions endured by many of London’s unwanted children and resolved to take action. He secured a Royal Charter from George II, for the ‘education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children’ and the Foundling Hospital was established at Lamb's Conduit Fields (now named Coram’s Fields) in Bloomsbury, in 1742.
Coram enlisted the support of renowned artist William Hogarth and celebrated composer George Frideric Handel, who played instrumental roles in realizing his vision.
Hogarth used his influence to encourage prominent artists to donate their artwork to the hospital, enriching its art collection and Handel organized benefit concerts of his renowned composition, Messiah, in the hospital's chapel. The Foundling Hospital became a symbol of philanthropy and compassion, attracting the elite of society.
The new school building at Berkhamsted was designed by the architect John Mortimer Sheppard. It is a Neo-Georgian style building set in large grounds and opened to the first 300 pupils in September 1935.
After the Second World War, there was a shift in attitudes. The Children Act of 1948 increased emphasis on foster care rather than institutional care and as a result, the Foundling Hospital underwent a transformation and, in 1955, emerged as Ashlyns School.
Ashlyns has thus inherited a spectacular site with imposing buildings dominated by the chapel and courtyard beyond leading to the Great Hall. The Great Hall itself is wood-panelled with a high ceiling, newly laid wooden floor and a balcony at one end.
This location has been used in many TV and film productions, including Call the Midwife, The Crown and Eastenders.
Berkhamsted first held their Highland Ball at Ashlyns from 1960 for over 20 years, before returning in spectacular style for their fortieth anniversary in 1992 with the McBain’s Scottish Dance Band attracting 250 dancers. More recently, Covid and a relaying of the floor in the Great Hall necessitated another break, but the club is back for 2024.
The club also claims a direct link to the Foundling Hospital through one of its late members having been a foundling herself. A dance in her honour, The Foundling, was written by a former club president and continues to be danced by the club on a regular basis.
The Great Hall, decorated with shields and tartan swags in honour of past presidents is a spectacular setting for the Berkhamsted club’s Highland Ball which promises to be a great event.
Photo credit: Adam Trigg