Ashford In The Water History

Fennel Street at Ashford in The Water

Ashford in the water is one of the Peak District is most delightful chocolate box villages, a village included in the Domesday book and famous for a 17th century sheep wash bridge, which still stands proudly centre of attention today. It is a township, a chapel ready as well as a picturesque village and is situated in the Valley, on the east bank of the River Wye. There are three stone bridges which separated from Bakewell  nearly 2 miles away.

Mentioned as a Royal Manor and called ‘Aisseford’ in the Domesday book, the old name is quite befitting, meaning ‘the ford of the ash.’ The mediaeval sheep wash bridge is said to be the most photographed bridge in England, and rightly so. Nestling on the east bank of the River Wye, the crystal clear waters hold visitors entranced to this day, the bridge being a great vantage point for watching the huge rainbow trout below. It’s not hard to imagine the packhorse bridge as it was in the old days, and it is only until recently that sheep were washed here prior to shearing. The lambs would be kept on one side of the River within a stone walled pen while the mothers would be thrown in at the other side, swimming across to get to their offspring plus ensuring a good wash as they swam.

In the 12th century, the Manor of Ashford was kindly granted by King John to the son of a Welsh Prince. His name was Griffin, son of Wenunwyn. It was then acquired by the powerful Neville family in 1408 until 1550 when the village passed to the Cavendish family of the Chatsworth estate. The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire used to live here before moving to Chatsworth. In the 16th century Iit was finally sold off in the 1950s to pay for death duties. The houses were bought once for £50 but they on the now worth several thousand times that amount.


In 1339 and number of woollen mills were built and although the village now has no industry, 900 years ago. There are also stored corn mill. Ashford is surrounded by lofty hills, which are noted for their superior quarries of marble and the village is well known for this particular type of black marble, a form of highly polished limestone famous in this area of the White peak. The black marble provides a perfect background for make mosaic patterns and was used for vases, jewellery and clocks .In 1748, a chap called Henry Watson established a marble mill to manufacture Ashford black marble. The business continued until the early 20th century and in the church. A memorial can be found to Watson, made of Ashford marble of course. Also available for viewing is a wonderful example of an inlaid tabletop in the church. Watson also invented a machine for cutting and polishing the marble.

In the 14th century, the gorgeous Holy Trinity Parish Church began an ancient English custom whereby hanging funeral garlands from the roof of the church when a virgin sadly died.  Made from white paper , rosettes were fixed to a wooden frame and would then be carried before the coffin of the young girl in a funeral procession. They were then returned to the church and hung up and four garlands still hang today, the oldest dating back to 1747. This custom was very much like the garlands that went on the grave with Hamlet’s unfortunate Ophelia, and those which can be seen at Matlock and Ilam too.

In the churchyard lies the base and stump of the old market cross which dates from the 15th century and inside there are artefacts from all centuries it seems. The church is a small an ancient structure, with a nave, a chancel, centre in North Isles, alone square tower and has three bells .  The lower parts of the West Tower has a south door where over the head is an heraldic representation with its original Norman design, showing a tree of life in the centre with a wolf and a hog facing it. Underneath is the following inscription,
‘the boar out of the woods doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it.’ It is supposed to have belonged originally to the Manor house, which formerly stood near the church.

The North arcade dates back to the 14th century, but most the church was rebuilt in the late 1860s. It contains an octagonal font, a chalice dating from around 1650 and a pulpit from the Jacobean times.
The houses in the village are mainly built of stone and roofed with slate but there are several notable houses to see as you wander around the little winding road or wander by the river. Church Dale is a handsome modern structure three quarters of a mile north east of the village, the rookery is an ancient mansion overgrown with ivy having a beautifully manicure fine lawn in front and closely adjoins the Buxton Road. The house is sheltered from the north by the hills and timber trees litter the grounds which are laid out beautifully. Most notable here is a magnificent beech tree over the swiftly passing waters of the why, which is crossed by an ivy clad bridge which just makes the whole scene totally charming.

Ashford Hall was built in 1785 with Joseph Pickford’s design in mind and is a handsome mansion situated on a gentle and innovation a little East Village. It belongs to the Olivier family and its grounds form a slow down to a beautiful lake which fills up nearly the whole of this part of the Dale and is the property of the Duke of Devonshire.

Not too far away from Ashford is the Thornbridge Hall, a Georgian house now privately owned but which used to be a teacher training college,  a multipurpose educational centre and a conference centre. It is used to some extent as an antiques sales shop and contains woodwork from the church and Derwent Hall.

Due to the wonderful River Wye, the village pays homage to the water with a series of six well dressings. Like many villages in the Peak District, each year slabs of clay decorated by village volunteers using plants, petals, leaves and anything else organic to create a very striking picture, usually based around the Bible stories. The finished designs are then displayed at the six wells around the village and the event is marked by a church service a procession through the village to bless the wells.  The custom disappeared about 40 years ago but a lady called Ida Thorpe  it revived and her high standards set the bar and our continued today as hordes of visitors flock to Ashford around Trinity Sunday to have a look. It has been known that nearly 12,000 people passed through the church during well dressing week.

Another fascinating past time, which turned into an industry was that of candlemaking.  At local landmark is house which now stands on the site of the old factory is called the candle house in Greaves Lane, ‘greaves’ being the name given to dregs of melted tallow.

A free grammar school was founded in 1631, and in 1880 Ashford’s children attended the village school in Buxton Road, and the school was finally closed in 1992.

There are two pubs which date back over the centuries and still stand proud today. The Bulls head was known as the’ Turks head’ in the 19th century and has been on by the same family since the 1950s. In the Ashford Arms Hotel is a plush 18th-century coaching in and the Cornershop at the end of Church Street, has been in existence for over 100 years.