In modern Berkhamsted, the Ashlyns name is most commonly associated with the secondary school that stands on Chesham Road, up the hill from Rectory Lane Cemetery. In fact, the school was built on a much older country estate that belonged to Ashlyns Hall. Burials at Rectory Lane Cemetery reveal several fascinating historical connections with Ashlyns.
The countryside around Berkhamsted was once occupied by a number of influential country estates and grand country houses — Ashlyns, Haresfoot, Ashridge, Rossway and Champneys. Ashlyns was owned by the Wethered Family. In the reign of King Charles II, Francis Wethered, Comptroller of the King’s Works lived in the old house here. In 1764 the Wethereds sold the house along with 200 acres of farmland, orchards and forest land.
The convenience of a major coaching route along Akeman Street into London attracted an emerging class of landed gentry to settle in the area. In 1800, a new Regency-style house was built on the site for James Smith, of the noted Nottinghamshire banking family and descendant of Thomas Smith, founder of Smith’s Bank in Nottingham in 1699. James Smith’s second marriage was to Mary Isablella Pechell of Berkhamsted Place and they had five children.
Among the Ashlyns house staff was butler Richard Burn, who served the Smith family for 32 years. When he died in 1842 he was one of the first burials in the newly opened Rectory Lane Cemetery and his gravestone can still be seen today.
James and Mary Smith’s second child, Augustus Smith, who was born at Ashlyns Hall in 1804, became a very important figure in the history of Berkhamsted. Augustus Smith was well known in Berkhamsted for his philanthropy. He made his mark on the town’s history when he opposed Lord Brownlow of Ashridge in his attempt to enclose common land for his own private use. In 1866, Smith hired a gang of men from the East End of London to tear down Brownlow’s fencing, in an event that became known as “The Battle of Berkhamsted Common”. Augustus Smith became the first Lord Proprietor of the Isles of Scilly in 1838, and served as Member of Parliament for Truro 1857–1865. Augustus Smith died in Plymouth on 31 July 1872 and was buried in St Buryan’s, Cornwall. There is a monument to Smith in the churchyard of St Mary’s Old Church, St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly.
Robert Algernon Smith, the younger brother of Augustus, married into another banking family, the Dorriens who lived at neighbouring Haresfoot house. His bride, Mary Anne Drever, was the granddaughter of George Dorrien, Governor of the Bank of England 1818 to 1820. Robert and Mary took the name Smith-Dorrien, and together they had fifteen children, among them Thomas Algernon and Horace. Robert and Mary are buried in Rectory Lane Cemetery, along with several members of the Smith-Dorrien family.
In 1859, the Ashlyns estate was purchased by William Longman, son of the publisher Thomas Longman who founded the Longman publishing company. William was a friend of Augustus Smith and had earlier supported him in the Berkhamsted Common affair. Longman died in 1877 and his grave is in Rectory Lane Cemetery. He was highly influential in the town, and after his death he was commemorated in a stained glass window in St Peter’s Church.
In 1930 a large part of the estate was sold off to the children’s charity The Foundling Hospital, which was moving out of London, and a large new Neo-Georgian school building was erected on the land. After 1951, the Foundling Hospital closed its Berkhamsted premises and this building became Ashlyns School.
Ashlyns Hall remained in use as a private house on the remainder of the estate. It was the property of the Smith-Dorrien family, and was let out to a succession of tenants. Between c.1877 and 1896 the estate was let to a Colonel Lucas. From 1896 until 1911 Ashlyns Hall estate was let to the chemical manufacturer and politician, Richard Ashmole Cooper of the Cooper Baronets, of Shenstone Court. Subsequently, the lease was taken up by A.J. Ryder in 1912, and in 1919, Ashlyns Hall was leased to Gerald Kingsley. In 1991, Ashlyns Hall was sold off and converted for use as offices. The A41 bypass was built in 1993, cutting across the former country estate.
Ashlyns Hall is still standing today, just next to the bypass and a public footpath. It is a graceful, neoclassical villa with a bowed front and wrought-iron verandah. The neighbouring stable block and kitchen garden are now in use as a care home.
What's connected with this location
8 burials in Rectory Lane Cemetery are linked with Ashlyns Hall — click on a burial below to find out more about the historical connections: