Ashbourne History

Ashbourne is a market centre for the surrounding for the surrounding area and has been since it was first granted a charter to allow stalls in its Peak District market place in 1257 and being made a royal borough in 1276. There were fairs selling sheep and cattle, horse fairs 3 times a year, cheese fairs 4 times a year, and today it still has a market in its market place on Thursdays and Saturdays. The market place is used as a car park the rest of the week. On the market place, can be found a statue, erected in 1874, to Francis Wright, a wealthy local industrialist who owned Butterley Ironworks, and lived at Osmaston Manor.

The main place of interest in Ashbourne, and perhaps its glory is Church Street, with its fine Georgian houses, old grammar school, almshouses and St Oswalds Church. The church is one of the glories of Derbyshire, its tower and spire dominating the small town, the spire rising to 212ft. St Oswald was a popular Anglo Saxon saint. He became king of Northumbra(635-642) and brought St Aiden from Iona to Lindisfarne; their efforts were largely responsible for the conversion of that kingdom and the foundation of the Northumbrian church.

St Oswalds Church

The transepts contain 2 chapels dedicated to 2 leading local families, the Bradbournes and the Cockaynes, later the Boothbys. The Boothby chapel is full of monuments, amongst them a memorial to Joan and Edmund Cockayne(1404), Sir Humphrey and Lady Bradbourne(1581) and Sir John and Lady Cockayne(1447), but these are all outshone by the memorial to Penelope Boothby, a six year old who died in 1791. During life, Penelope had been painted by Joshua Reynolds and in death immortalised by Thomas Banks, best known for his memorials to Burgess and Westcott in St Pauls Catherdral. The white currara marble figure of the child is so lifelike that she still appears to be only sleeping. Her epitaph reads `She was in form and intellect exquisite, the unfortunate parents ventured their all on this frail bark, and the wreck was total`.

The church consists of a nave and south aisle, crossing with crossing tower and spire, transepts with aisles as wide as the transepts and a long chancel. A church has stood here, possibly of the same size since Saxon times. A norman crypt was found during excavations in 1913.

It has a 13th century font and there are many fine examples of stained glass to be seen throughout.

Ashbourne’s grammar school, known as the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, was founded by Sir Thomas Cockayne, whose family’s coat of arms formed the school badge. Building started in 1585 and continued until 1603. The front is symmetrical with 4 small gables in the middle over the school room and 2 larger ones on the sides over the master’s and usher’s houses. There are 2 main doorways.

There have been Cockaynes here, in this region, since the 12th century, at first acquiring a rather dubious reputation as gang leaders who were involved in local warfare with rival families, but by the 16th century they were eminently respectable. Sir Thomas Cockayne (1479-1537) was knighted by Henry the eighth at the siege of Tournai and accompanied the king on the field of the Cloth of Gold, whilst his grandson, also, Thomas(1520-92) was also knighted and served as high sheriff of Derbyshire, 4 times.

Adjacent to the grammar school is Grey House built in the mid 18th century, with its large Doric porch and Venetia windows. This is now used as a girls boarding school. Across the road is 17th century Mansion House where Dr Samuel Johnson, noted lexicographer and traveller, frequently stayed with his friend Dr John Taylor.

There are several blocks of Almshouses. Owfields Almshouses were built around 1640 with an upper storey added in 1840. Adjacent is Peggies Almshouses, built from local sandstone in 1669. Also, there are the Clergy Widows Almshouse, a mid Georgian, 3 storeyed building, around the 3 sides of a courtyard, built in 1733 for `the entertaining of widows of four clergymen of the church of England`. These are all now private flats.

Restored Houses

At the town end of Church Street is Victoria Square, also known as the butchery. Just along the road, crossing the road, is an inn sign for the Green Man and Black Head Hotel. The sign commemorates the amalgamation of 2 coaching inns in 1825.

Behind the Green man is Shaw Croft car park where the `kick-off` takes place for the annual shrove tide football game, played over 2 days, on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. A cork filled leather ball is thrown up by a visiting personality and the 2 sides, the Up’ards and the Down’ards battle it through the streets, through the stream, and across open country between the goals at Sturston and Clifton, which are 3 miles apart. It is pretty much a free for all, with anyone joining in. Shop windows are boarded up, car parks are emptied, and the pubs are filled with visitors and locals alike.

A plaque on the front of a small terraced house in Sturston St, indicates the birthplace of Catherine Booth, wife of the founder member of the Salvation Army, William Booth. A memorial also stands to her in the memorial gardens near the playing fields.