Once a small market town, with vital links with the coast and major towns of the South East, Ashford has its roots in the ninth century. The parish church, St. Mary the Virgin, has Saxon beginnings and contains the family tombs of Fogge, Smyth, and Whitfield to name but a few. The Church records date back to 1570.
Various manors and estates surrounded the town, Repton, Licktop, Esture, and Wall were the main manors that continued to be owned by prominent families throughout the centuries. By the late 18th century, Edward Hasted remarks that Ashford is a 'neat and cheerful town' containing around 2,000 people in 320 houses and 4,000 soldiers in the barracks at Barrow Hill.
The huge increase in population due to the military barracks, the coming of the railway to Ashford and the opening of the railway works at Newtown in the 19th century, saw Ashford and its surrounding parishes being divided into separately administered East and West districts. In the East Ashford Union district there were 25 parishes split into three sub-districts. In the West Ashford Union district there were 13 parishes divided into two sub-districts.
Each Union was self governed by a group of Guardians who oversaw distinct areas of social need such as Health, Schools, provision for the poor in rates or at the workhouse, and registration of births, marriages and deaths. The enormity of the Guardians tasks can be seen in Kelly's Directory in 1881 where population figures for each Union are given as over 13,000 for East and 18,000 for West Ashford Unions.
By the 20th century, Ashford continued to flourish as a rural market town attracting major businesses and traders to the town centre. The Ashford bypass, which became the M20, was constructed in the 1950's, provided the town alternative road links rather than the railway. In the 1990's the Channel Tunnel and Eurostar enabled Ashford to become an international town with links to the Continent.
For more historical information please visit:
Boughton Aluph, Westwell, Hothfield, Great Chart, Kingsnorth, Sevington, Mersham, Hinxhill, Wye
From census and trade directories it appears that Ashford was a flourishing town focussed on its agricultural market and the trade and services that eminated from it. Over time, it benefitted greatly from prominent and wealthy families establishing schools & hospitals as well as other public necessities.
The chart below shows the sharp rise of Ashford's population during a 120 year period.The chart is based on census, trade directories, and Victoria County History of Kent figures.
The Free Grammar School was built in 1635 by Sir Norton Knatchbull. More about its history can be found at Ashford Museum. The museum is housed in this historic building and is well worth a visit. The school was later moved to new premises in 1875.
Church & Religion
The Church of St. Mary the Virgin has Saxon beginnings. Though nothing of the Saxon beginnings survive there are some reused Caen stones from possibly the Norman period. In the Domesday Book and the Monachorum, Ashford is annexed to the once larger parish church of Wye before it was enlarged in the 15th century. Inside the church are many effigies of prominent Ashford families from the 15th century such as the Fogge's, Smythe's and the Whitfield's. In the churchyard are many large altar tombs and grand gravestones. More information about the church can be found here.
Several non-conformist chapels were established in Ashford in the 17th century. There were early cases of non-conformity in Ashford in the 16th century. John Brown in 1511 was burnt at the stake in St. Martyrs Field, Mace Lane, Ashford for heresy. The same happened to Nicholas Final and Mathew Bradbridge of Tenterden in 1557.
Some other Churches and Chapels
More information can be found on these hospitals by visiting Ashford Museum in the Churchyard, Ashford.
Bethersden Biddenden Bilsington
Bircholt Bonnington Boughton Aluph
Brabourne Brook Challock
Eastwell Egerton Godmersham
Great Chart Orlestone/Hamstreet
Hastingleigh High Halden Hinxhill
Hothfield Hurst nr. Aldington
Kenardington Kennington Kingsnorth
Little Chart Mersham Molash
Newenden Pevington nr. Pluckley
Pluckley Rolvenden Ruckinge
Sevington Shadoxhurst Smarden
Smeeth Stone cum Ebony Tenterden
Warehorne Westwell Willesborough
Wittersham Woodchurch Wye
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