The Story of Ashfield School
By Bryen Wood
Reproduced by kind permission of the Bushey Museum
Ashfield School opened on 5th January 1846 as the British and Foreign Society School, Bushey. It consisted of a tiny cottage for the Master and one schoolroom, just 24 by 48 ft. Into this one room, 132 boys aged between 4 and 14 crowded on that first day. The funds for the new interdenominational school had been collected by public subscription, but Stewart Marjoribanks of Bushey Grove (where the Lincolnsfield Centre now is) gave £315 of the £552 that it cost.
The school was run on the monitorial system, whereby the Master taught the Monitors early in the morning and in the evening. They in turn taught groups of boys, some of whom were only a year or two younger than themselves.
The first Master was Robert Soar, who after a while found it difficult to provide for his growing family on his £30 a year salary. He sought permission for his wife to open a draper’s shop in the High Street, but he was forced to resign as this was considered incompatible with his position.
The second Master was Edwin Bamford who was a popular and colourful character. He was a Colour Sergeant in the Volunteer Rifle Corps and frequently drilled the boys, marching them through Bushey. The school was colloquially known as Bamford’s Academy for many years.
Most schools depended on charity subscriptions and the penny a week fees paid by the children. Like many others, the Bushey School struggled to survive until in 1866, Arthur Ashfield, who was a small-holder and market gardener on Bushey Heath, quite unaccountably left over £5000 to the school – a very substantial sum at that time. From then on the school was substantially independent and it has retained some of that independence to this day, in that the premises are still owned by a charitable trust, not by the LEA. In 1907 the School was renamed Ashfield School in Arthur Ashfield’s honour.
In 1870, elementary schooling was made compulsory and real state funding was provided. The monitors became stipendiary and could progress to become pupil teachers, a form of apprenticeship. Assistant masters had to be engaged and the school had its first major enlargement in 1885.
Edwin Bamford retired through deafness and old age in 1896 and he was succeeded by his son-in-law, Ralph Beardmore James. His large family required the Master’s house to be extended and it began to look as it does today. The need for more space in the school led to hiring St Christopher’s Mission Hall (now Grosvenor House) in Police Station Lane. This Hall was used as a schoolroom (briefly for girls due to overcrowding at Merryhill in 1905), as a gymnasium and for school dinners when they were first provided during the last War. Ralph James died in 1916, soon after one of his sons was gravely wounded in France.
Oswald Atkin, a dour man from Yorkshire, was head until 1932. He had a passion for arithmetic and for singing. Ashfield’s choir won many trophies at Music Festivals. Oswald Atkin managed to organize some extra classrooms in temporary buildings in 1928. In practice they were used until 1970.
Herbert James Brothers followed Oswald Atkin. H.J.Brothers was a severe but committed educationalist. He developed the gardening classes, introduced drama and set very high standards of achievement despite the difficulties of the Second World War. Virtually all the staff were women by the end of the War. Ashfield by this time was unusual in continuing as an all standard boys’ school, some of whom stayed until they were 16. However, the school was proud of the many pupils who won places at Watford Grammar, Watford Technical and Harrow Weald County Schools.
Reorganization was inevitable however. In 1946 Ashfield became a Junior School as it celebrated its centenary with a formal dinner in the main hall of the Royal Masonic School. In 1954 building at last began on a School Hall of its own. Ronald Braddock began a short four years as Headmaster at this time.
In 1958, Edwin Halliwell was appointed Headmaster. The Hall was finally completed and more land acquired for playing fields. Edwin Halliwell was Head for 26 years and during his time there were more changes to the buildings and the site than in all the previous 120 years. The school was finally modernised and the culmination of this was the admission of girls in 1970.
When Edwin Halliwell retired in 1984 he handed over a thriving modern Junior School, albeit with a special character of its own to the new Headmaster Christopher Dobbs. In his time as Head the modernisation continued and there was more rebuilding. In 2004 Mr Dobbs retired and the school was handed over to the new, and first Headmistress in it’s history, Mrs Carolyn Dalziel.
Ashfield’s historic core remains and it’s commitment to service to and in the Community. As a Junior School covering the National Curriculum Key Stage 2 it is still a primary choice of parents for their children.