Shaftesbury Open Air School for Delicate Muscular Dystrophy Children
Ashley Camp House, Staples Road, Loughton,
Essex IG10 1HS

Medical dates:

Medical character:
1923 - 1937

Open Air School
In 1879 a tea room and tea garden for day trippers - the Melbourn Retreat - was established at the south end of Staples Road, Loughton, on the very edge of Epping Forest.  

In 1894 the premises were purchased by the Ragged School Union (R.S.U.) and renamed the Shaftesbury Retreat (after the Union's long-serving President, the politician and philanthropist Lord Shaftesbury, who had died in 1885).  (The R.S.U. was renamed the Shaftesbury Society  in 1914.)

The Retreat was to provide a healthy centre for visits by the poor children of London and, for much of its time, was strongly supported by Pearson's Fresh Air Fund.

For the next half-century, children arrived by the trainload at Loughton station, to be marched in crocodiles up to the forest edge for games, exercise and hearty refreshment in the open air.

The Retreat only functioned seasonally (the season was often opened formally with a visit from one of the Royals - King George V ensured all his children came to Loughton) and only had facilities for day visits.  However, the Society saw a need for residential facilities for the open air treatment of delicate children, particularly those suffering from muscular dystrophy, in whom it had a special interest.

By good luck, at the opposite end of Staples Road, still on the edge of the Forest, was the large Loughton National School, dating from 1863 and disused from 1913.  The Society was able to purchase the building and its grounds.  It was renamed Ashley Camp House, in memory of Lord Shaftesbury's family name.

The Open Air School for Delicate Muscular Dystrophy Children, popularly known as the Shaftesbury Open Air School, opened in 1923 on open air principles as a residential school.

The School operated independently of the education and health authorities, receiving children sent from the various Society missions around the country.

In May 1931 it was arranged that the School's facilities be loaned to the LCC to provide an experimental residential open air camp school for ailing mentally defective children.  The children arrived in two parties - 25 boys with 2 teachers in June and 25 girls with 2 teachers in September - who stayed for a whole month.  The weekly charge was 12s 6d (£0.63) for each child and 25 shillings (£1.25) for each teacher.  The experiment was declared a considerable success, with the children benefiting physically from their stay in the camp.

However, the Society was not satisfied with the facilities and success of the School.  It was soon closed down and the site was sold for housing redevelopment in May 1937.

Present status (September 2013)

Ashley Camp House, the former Loughton National School, was demolished in 1938 and its site redeveloped as a terrace of nine houses - Ashley Grove - accessed by a narrow drive off Forest Way to the north.

With the outbreak of war in 1939 regular outings to the Shaftesbury Retreat ceased.  The Chigwell Urban Dictrict Council took over the buildings for use as an emergency mortuary for the expected victims of air raids.  Returned to the Society in 1946, it did not reopen, but was rented to a glass factory.  Finally, in 1969, it was sold for housing.  Most of its site is now a close called simply Shaftesbury.  The Retreat house (the original tea room) survives next to this, renamed as Melbourn Cottage in 2000.

The Shaftesbury Society (now known as Livability) did not abandon its concern with children suffering from muscular dystrophy.  After the war, it opened three new residential centres for these children.

Site of Shaftesbury Open Air School
The pedestrian entrance to Ashley Grove from the south.

Site of Shaftesbury Open Air School  
Site of Shaftesbury Open Air School
Ashley Grove from the south (left) and from the northwest (right).

Site of Shaftesbury Open Air School  Site of Shaftesbury Open Air School
Melbourn Cottage (left) and a notice board displaying the history of the Shaftesbury Retreat (right).

Site of Shaftesbury Open Air School
Looking along Shaftesbury.  The notice board is situated
in opposite Melbourn Cottage.
References (Accessed 14th December 2013)

Wilkinson D 2000 From Mean Streets to Epping Forest.  The Shaftesbury Retreat Loughton.  Loughton and District Historical Society,

http://wellcomelibrary.org (1)
http://wellcomelibrary.org (2)
http://wellcomelibrary.org (3)
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