Dunstable lodge provided homes for six ‘poor, maiden gentlewomen’

Ladies Lodge, Church Street
Ladies Lodge, Church Street

The mystery of some missing portraits is puzzling Dunstablians preparing to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Chew’s School in High Street South, Dunstable.

The charity school, still a local landmark with its distinctive clock tower and statues of two pupils in school uniform above its front door, was built in 1715 in memory of William Chew.

Blandina Marshe

Blandina Marshe

It was founded to give an education for 40 poor boys of the town and continued to give a chance in life to local youngsters for nearly 200 years.

A series of events is planned for Dunstable later this year to commemorate Mr Chew, whose portrait is now being sought.

He had amassed a fortune as a drinks distiller and owned many local properties, including the Sugar Loaf hotel.

His relatives were also wealthy, and their names live on in Dunstable through many charitable bequests.

One of them was Blandina Marshe, who bequeathed money in 1730 to build the Ladies’ Lodge, still standing in Church Street near the Kingsway junction.

The picture on this page of the lodge, founded to provide homes for six “poor, maiden gentlewomen”, was painted in around 1810 by Thomas Fisher when the original brickwork was still visible. It is on display at the Dunstable Council meeting room in Grove House.

Portraits of William Chew and his relatives once hung inside each of the lodge’s six apartments but they have disappeared.

One solitary image remains, thanks to the late John Lunn, headmaster of Beecroft School, who (in the 1970s) took a colour photograph of the portrait of Blandina Marshe. The photo, reproduced here, includes a brass plate giving her details.

Other portraits at the Lodge were apparently of Jane Cart, Frances Ashton, Thomas Aynscombe and Marshe Dickinson.

But they weren’t there when the lodge was renovated some 15 years ago.

Maybe they are being stored, unappreciated, in an attic somewhere and any news of their whereabouts would be gratefully received.

> Yesteryear is compiled by John Buckledee, chairman of Dunstable and District Local History Society.