Marpa House - the history

Marpa House is a Buddhist retreat centre dedicated to the advancement of Tibetan Buddhism. It was established in 1973 by Lama Chime Rinpoche who came to the West in the previous decade. Rinpoche was helped in this initial founding by several kind students. The house that Lama Chime Rinpoche chose for the retreat centre was built in 1890, and originally called All Saints Home. It has a very positive history because it was a successful refuge for homeless children (mainly from London) for 83 years.

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In the late nineteenth century Dr Henry Swete, as the Lord of Ashdon Rectory Manor, was very influential. He decided to provide a thatched cottage rent free to the Church of England Society for Providing Homes for Waifs and Strays. At that time there were many poor orphansrev_swete in the big cities of England, notably in London. They survived on the streets.

Dr Swete paid half the cost of furnishing the cottage (which is now a private home). In 1885 the first group of boys arrived from London. At first there were six children then a further three followed quickly to fill the house. Each boy had a small garden and attended the village school.

The original cottage though, was in bad condition; so Dr Swete very soon decided to build a new house for 12 children close to his Rectory and on land rented from Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. The house was opened in 1890, and became known as All Saints’ Home.


All Saints’ Home was run by a local committee, and one of the most prominent early members of the committee was Mrs Brocklebank of Bartlow Hall. Bartlow is a village close by. Also mentionable is Ellen Whitehead who became matron in 1895 and stayed on for 37 years.

From its dedication in 1890, until 1973 the house continued to be a home for 12 boys between the ages of 8 and 13. These boys were of several cultural backgrounds.

Around the walls of the original play room were painted murals of local animals and people. Having been decorated over, they were lost for years. However, they were uncovered during recent renovation and redecoration of the shrine room, and some of the pictures are shown below.

There is a boy riding on a horse called ‘Punch’, a man leading a working horse and two pictures of dogs- one a local domestic dog, and the other a hound..


All photographs are by courtesy of Mr. John Double, resident of Ashdon, and a former member of the All Saints Home committee.

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