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History of Ashford

Ashford comes from the Old English ‘æscet’ meaning a ‘clump of ash-tress’ and ‘ford’ as a ‘ford’; therefore a ‘ford by a clump of ash-trees’. The Domesday Book records Ashford as both Estefort and Essetesford. Edward Hasted suggests the name derives from the river Stour, which, according to William Lambarde, was known as the Eshe or Eschet until it had passed Ashford.

Ashford parish church is a Grade: II listed building, dedicated to St Mary the virgin. The Normans built it in the 13th Century, with substantial restoration in 1475, including, the heightening of the aisles, new windows inserted, battlements added, and raised the bell-tower. There is a record of five bells in 1552. In 1620, Joseph Hatch added a treble to complete a ring of six. Lester and Pack added two trebles and hung all eight bells in a new frame, in 1763, to precede a rededication on 14 March of the following year. In 1798, Edward Hasted, describes the Ashford church as ‘a large handsome building, consisting of three isles, with a transept, and three chancels, with the tower in the middle, which is losty and well proportioned, having four pinnacles at the top of it. There are eight bells in it, a set of chimes, and a clock’. Gillett & Co added two carillon bells in 1885. The architect, Ewan Christian, restored the church in 1860, maximising the capacity to accommodate a congregation that regularly exceeded 1000.

In 1243, Ashford was incorporated, confirming its importance as a growing agricultural and market town. In 1856, local farmers and businessmen relocated the market from the high street to Elwick Road. They formed a Market company, which is the oldest surviving registered company in England and Wales. 

In 1638, Sir Norton Knatchbull founded a free grammar school, built in the churchyard, where it remained until 1846.

Ashford's association with the railway commenced on 1st December 1842 with the opening of a section of the South Eastern Railway’s (SER) line from London to Dover, via Ashford. Initially a terminus, until the line, they extended it, in June 1843, to Folkestone. SER obtained parliamentary approval to build a line from Ashford to Margate in 1844. Soon after arriving, in the town, SER constructed a large locomotive works on a 185 acre site, which developed further in the years that followed....more