Ashville College shares colourful history with the world

Ashville College archivist, Dr Pavneet Kaur, is uncovering some remarkable stories as she digitises the school’s comprehensive history

The world is being invited to look on as the history of a Harrogate school is brought to life in vivid fashion.

Ashville College archivist and librarian, Dr Pavneet Kaur, is not only digitising school records dating back to 1877, but uploading all she finds to the National Archives.

Two years into trawling through thousands of letters, photographs, reports, minutes and yearbooks, Dr Kaur has uncovered some fascinating glimpses into Ashville’s past.

“Our aim is to make the archives available for pupils and former pupils alike, so they can learn about the College and the pupils and teachers that have helped shape its history,” she said.

A particularly remarkable example concerns one of the most important characters in the school’s history, the Reverend Alfred Soothill. Headmaster from 1905-1927, he took on an ailing institution – reduced to just 32 pupils, carrying huge debt and in a state of no little disrepair – and helped it prosper.

The moving vignette unearthed by Dr Kaur occurred shortly after the Great War’s armistice in 1918, when Rev Soothill’s son – presumed killed two years earlier – was found alive in a German prisoner-of-war camp.

The day he learned the news, the jubilant reverend assembled his pupils and bid the head boy bring him the detention list from the notice board. “The school will start with a clean sheet!” he announced, as he tore the paper to shreds.

Being a boarding school with pupils, past and present, coming from every inhabited continent, this is a very exciting development for us – Dr Pavneet Kaur, Ashville College

Other artefacts in the archive include ornaments, uniforms, plaques, trophies and heirlooms donated by former pupils and their families.

For instance, Second World War memorabilia belonging to Old Ashvillian, Flight Lieutenant Donald Checklin, was bequeathed to the school by his brother. The noteworthy collection features a Distinguished Flying Cross, the accompanying letter signed by King George VI, together with his pilot’s logbook and photographs of the Lancaster bomber he piloted.

“Sharing our information with the National Archives will allow our records to be viewed by a worldwide audience,” added Dr Kaur.

“Being a boarding school with pupils, past and present, coming from every inhabited continent, this is a very exciting development for us.”

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