Ashford in the Water Customs

Ashford in the Water has a couple of customs. The first, unique to this village and only a couple of others is that of hanging funeral garlands from the roof of the church. They would be carried before the coffin of a young virgin girl in a funeral procession before being hung up. Four can still be seen there today, the oldest dating back to 1747, perfectly preserved in Perspex cases and they were made of white paper cut to from rosettes and fixed to a wooden frame. Either a handkerchief or a glove belonging to the deceased would be nailed to the frame, and would depict the name, age, and date of birth. The relics are known as crowns or crants. Originally there were seven garlands but by 1900 only five remained, and in 1935, unfortunately one fell and was replaced.

Another ancient Ashford in the Water custom is the well dressings. They are an annual event held during the week of Pentecost in Ashford in the Water and other surrounding villages. They usually take place six weeks after Easter, usually in late May to early June. There are about six wells to dress in the chocolate box village and this is one of the largest festivals in the Peak District. Well dressing is popular in many of the limestone villages of the central and southern peak.

The blessing of the water supply, in the form of the well, is a very ancient custom and unique to the Peak District and surrounding areas. Some people say the practice became popular after the period of the Black Death in 1348 to 1349, when a third of the population of England died of the disease. It’s very strange, but some villages were untouched, one being Ashford in the Water. The local people thought at the time that this to their clean water supply and gave thanks by dressing the wells of the village. Others think the practice of dressing wells goes back to pagan times.

The construction of the well dressings is a very skilful art in which the whole population of the village is usually involved. The community well dressings usually take about 10 days to make, and lots of villagers get involved.  Using wet clay spread to a depth of a couple of inches across a wooden backing board, a design is picked out using a paper pattern.  It is a very time-consuming process and the clay must be kept damp at all times, or it will crack, but the overall image is absolutely stunning. Petals and other organic items are placed in the areas laid out by the design. After the well dressing is erected, it is blessed in a short outdoor service and usually a brass band is hired for the occasion. The procession goes around the town and each well is blessed in turn. Visitors flock to the village of Ashford in the Water during May to June in coach loads, visitors often congregating around each well and photographing the stunning artwork.