Famous people of Ashbourne

There have been many famous people who have coloured the history of Ashbourne, with even royalty passing through the town when Queen Victoria swept her crinoline through in 1832, and took a famous comfort break at the Green Man pub. There are many more we could report but here are the eight most notable people.

Dr Samuel Johnson, often referred to simply as Dr Johnson, was an English author who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, a biographer, a literary critic, an essayist, a moralist, and if that wasn’t enough, as a lexicographer. He is most famous for producing the first Oxford English Dictionary and suffering from Tourette’s Syndrome. He was born 18th of September 1709 in Lichfield, but his father was born at Cubley, 5 miles from Ashbourne and Samuel had Derbyshire cousins, one of whom later married clerk to John Taylor of Ashbourne.  He lived in many places throughout most of his life but he came back to Ashbourne time and time again through family ties but also for the love of the land it is said.

James Boswell was the ninth Laird of Auchinleck and was a lawyer, diarist, and author who was born in Edinburgh. He is best known for his biography, which he wrote about one of his contemporaries, the above-mentioned Dr Johnson. Having frequently met Dr Johnson at the local pub, Boswell records,

‘I took my post-chaise from The Green Man, a very good inn at St Ashbourne, the mistress of which, a mighty civil gentlewoman, curtsying very low, presented me with an engraving of the sign of her house.’ It is reported the two men were inseparable and spent many a chatty afternoon in the pub.

Prince Charles Edward Stuart, more commonly known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, was the exiled son of Charles Edward Stuart, who launched an invasion of England with the large Scottish army. The Army established 10,000 men, including horses, wagons and some Canon and marched through Ashbourne on the third to 4 December in 1745, plundering goods from shops and food, also livestock from local farms. Upon their arrival at Derby the decision was taken to abandon the invasion and the army returned through Ashbourne where it stayed overnight, the Prince commandeering Ashbourne Hall in Cokayne Avenue for his quarters. An innkeeper at Hanging Bridge was shot dead for refusing to give up his horse.

Thomas Moore was a poet who was born in Dublin in 1779. He was famous for his amorous poetry and lived in Mayfield cottage, near Ashbourne, the same year he formed an intimate relationship with someone who had much influence on his life and writing, his firm friendship with Lord Byron. The cottage is available for rental as holiday accommodation and it is where he published his most famous Irish melodies. The romantic beauty in the summer of Ashbourne made him write, ‘I have my chair and book in the garden and stay out for whole hours.’

George Eliot was the pen name for Mary Ann Evans and she was an English novelist, journalist and translator on one of the leading writers of the Victorian era. She is famed for her depictions of rural society and was self taught, having had little formal education. Norbury is a hamlet with links with George Eliot family, the Evans, and it is thought that Eliot visited Ashbourne frequently. She has described the church of St Oswald as ‘the finest mere parish church in the kingdom.’

Izaac Walton was a fisherman, but also a man of letters who wrote what became one of the most famous books in the English language, the Compleat Angler, or The Contemplative Man’s Recreation. His book is interspersed with dialogue, verses and songs and is mainly built around it delete glimpses of pastoral life. Bentley Brook, a small stream in Mappleton, 2 miles from Ashbourne, and gets a mention by him but he spent many hours fishing the River Dove and the surrounding brooks of the Ashbourne area.

Catherine Mumford was co-founder of the Salvation Army and was born in Ashbourne on January 7, 1829, the daughter of John Mumford and Sarah Millward. She spent her formative years in Lincolnshire and London and she wrote articles on the dangers of alcohol and supported the National Temperance Society. In her later years she married William Booth, a renowned preacher, and developed the Christian Mission in the east end of London, later to become the Salvation Army.

William Congreve was a dramatist and poet and was born near Lichfield in 1670. He studied law in London but abandoned it to pursue a literary career and began publishing prose. He didn’t achieve success until he turned to playwriting his last important play, The Way Of The World. In 1700 it was met with little enthusiasm but it is now considered a comic masterpiece. He wrote his famous play The Old Bachelor at Ilam Hall in Ashbourne.

There are lots of other notable people such as Francis Legatt Chantrey – sculptor, Sir Brooke Boothby – poet, William Cordon the Elder – portrait painter and Catherine Pegg – mistress to Charles II.  Ashbourne certainly has had a fair share of famous people and events to mark its history, and wandering around the town today with its cobbled streets and pubs who still remain resolute from times gone by, it’s easy to let your mind wander and be drawn back in time, imagining what life must have be like for these famous people of Ashbourne  – in their own time.