Inspiring Minds for 125 Years
Set back from Ashford’s lower high street, between the County Hotel and the NatWest bank, passer’s by might spot a three-storey terrace in which, in the year 1898, Mrs Muriel Thimann opened the Modern High School for Girls.
Seven Monarchs, a site move, two world wars, a change of ownership, a merger, coeducation and 125 years later, Ashford School finds itself celebrating its quasquicentennial.
Under the stewardship of Miss Edwards, the school grew until it soon burst the banks of its original premises, subsequently assuming its current site at Alfred House on East Hill. From there, under the headship of the inimitable Lilian Brake, the premises of the school expanded at breakneck pace; Somerville, Coronation and Cranmer were all added to the original manor house. The burgeoning school, increasingly an academic powerhouse housing army of venetian striped blazers that Brake left behind by the mid-1950s, suddenly bore much closer resemblance to the modern school than the cramped townhouse of those distant early years.
Under Miss Nightingale came modernity and the school shot into the second half of the century with a raft of now familiar buildings; Brake, Jubilee, the Refectory, New Alfred and the Octagons. With this expansion came huge success. Ashford became a byword for academic success, forward thinking and high standards in girls’ education.
Three miles away from East Hill, in the rural village of Great Chart, opened a small proprietorial prep school, often for the brothers of Ashford girls. Friars School was born. In its first twenty years, the school grew into a successful prep, and with its stunning original 1st XI pitch on the site of the current car park, developed a name for cricket as well as an all-round education. Under the headship of John Stevens, the school grew, added a pre-prep department in the 1980s and began to admit girls.
In 1994 the Ashleys took up the reins and led the school through a period of significant growth, with the Friars Hall, DT, HE and Music suites all completed during this period, as well as the new swimming pool.
In 2005 the governors of Ashford Girls and Friars School took the decision to take the bold step of combining the two former schools to form a relaunched co-educational Ashford School. Changes were immediate. The Junior School on East Hill vacated and relocated to Great Chart. At Friars, education to year 8 transferred to the Senior School and the days of Common Entrance ended. Interactive whiteboards appeared everywhere – with the palpable sense that the 21st century, and indeed a new era had arrived!
In the years since, the pace of change has been breakneck – the Friars site has been significantly redeveloped with the addition of the new prep school building, Harper Hall, The Stables Nursery and the new pitches, Astro and pavilion. Over on East Hill, the Atrium, Somerville Library, the Sports Centre and refurbishment to the teaching accommodation has come. Academics have gone from strength to strength, sport has expanded to place us among the most competitive schools and performing arts have developed into a significant point of pride and distinction. Ashford School is an exciting place to be in the 2020s.
Ashford School in 2023 has the luxury of an illustrious past but has its eyes firmly on the future. The next year is a great opportunity to celebrate the life of the school past, present and future, with a range of events, from balls to summer lunches, to an open Vivaldi gala concert. We would strongly welcome all members of the Ashford and Friars diaspora who wish to come back and see their old school, and would very much like to ensure that as many of you as possible have the opportunity to be part of the journey to come.