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Ashford, Kent, England

Town of Ashford, Kent

Geographical position has been a dominant factor in Ashford ’s history and one which also looks likely to shape its future. There are different schools of thought as to how the name Ashford was derived. Records show that for several centuries the settlement or town in Ashford was known as "Essetesford". The 16th century writer Philpot believed that "Essetesford" stood for "ash trees growing near a ford", while Lampard, a 16th century local historian, suggested that it meant "a ford over the river Eshe or Eshet", which was the old name for the tributary of the River Stour which rises at Lenham. No one can be quite sure when the first settlement was made in the area. Roman remains have been found locally at Westhawk, and a road, built to transport iron ore from the Weald of Kent to the north Kent Coast, went through the town, roughly following what is now Kingsnorth Road and Beaver Road in South Ashford and Station Road and Wellesley Road through to Kennington.

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It is believed that the town’s real origins lie in the ninth century when the country was invaded by the Danes in 893. At that time there were settlements at Great Chart and Appledore, and as the Danes plundered and raided these communities the inhabitants fled to the forests for safety. It is thought that many of the survivors settled either in nearby forest or in the "Royal Ville of Wye". As a reward for their services in battle a group of people are thought to have settled on land in what is now Ashford, given to them by the Saxon Lord.

Prior to the Norman invasion, it is known that part of Ashford was owned by St. Augustine’s Abbey at Canterbury, part belonged to King Edward the Confessor and part to Earl Godwin, the father of King Harold. After the Conquest, St Augustine’s retained its possessions, but the remainder was given to Hugh de Montfort, one of the Conqueror’s commanders, as a reward for his services in battle.

In the Domesday Book survey compiled by the Normans in 1086, Ashford is entered as having a church and two mills.

By 1600 Ashford was well established as an important and flourishing market town. Ashford was aided in this by its location, with roads to the port of Faversham and to Canterbury, Hythe, Romney Marsh and the Weald. Just as important was the number of large estates in the district owned by the nobility.

The town consisted of a small mediaeval gathering of buildings with the Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin at its centre. Close by was the Six Bells, the Chequers and the Court House, a number of ale houses, shops, craftsmen’s premises and cottages. The present Middle Row was known as The Shambles and provided markets for fish, corn, meat, butter and livestock.

Down by the river stood the mill and the tannery. New Rents and St. John’s Lane were narrow ways out of the town and can still be seen today. The countless Tudor buildings made Ashford one of the most picturesque towns in the county and this little jewel was set in water meadows surrounded by ancient woodlands.

Over the years a number of factors have played a part in shaping the town, and many notable characters and organisations have their origins in Ashford.

Official Ashford Borough Council website: www.ashford.gov.uk

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