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The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland 1868

"ASHFORD, a parish and market-town in the hundred of Chart and Longbridge, lathe of Scray, in the county of Kent, 14 miles from Canterbury, 20 miles to the S.E. of Maidstone, and 53 miles by road from London, or 67 miles by the South Eastern railway, on which it is a chief station. It is also the point of junction with the Canterbury and Hastings branch railways. It is situated in a pleasant and fertile district on the Esshe, or Esshet, the west branch of the river Stour; the town being built on a gentle eminence overlooking the Weald. The name of this place in Domesday Book is Estefort, and it belonged at that period to Hugo de Montford. It passed subsequently to the family of the Asshetesfords, and through other houses in succession, till it became part of the endowment of St. Stephen's Chapel, Westminster. In the reign of Edward VI. it was granted to Sir Anthony Aucher, Knt. Since the close of the 17th century the estates have become separated by sale and otherwise.

The town is well built, paved, and lighted. The High Street is about half a mile in length, and the shops of handsome appearance. A new market-house has been erected, with townhall and assembly rooms. There are two banks, a savings-bank, and two mechanics' institutes, with large libraries. Besides the buildings which have been erected near the railway station a new town is growing up on the south side of Ashford, the property of the South Eastern railway company. It was named Alfred, but is commonly spoken of as Newtown. A small part of Newtown is not included in the parish of Ashford, being situated within the limits of Willesborough. Here are the extensive works of the company, erected at a cost of £100,000, and including an engine shed, repairing shop, boiler and wheel shops, smithy, carriage house, &c. The engine shed is 200 feet in length the repairing shop nearly 400 feet, the carriage house about 650 feet. The machinery is worked by two engines. There are gasworks and waterworks, and a handsome school-house, which is used also as a church. The works give occupation to about a thousand persons, consisting of the population of Newtown, and many of the inhabitants of Ashford. At a short distance from the church is a now cemetery, with two chapels. The river is crossed by a stone bridge of one arch. Linen weaving is carried on in the town, and the cattle markets, which are held at short intervals, are among the largest in the county. Ashford is the seat of a County Court district and a Poor-law Union. Polling for the county takes place here, and petty sessions are held once a month.

The living is a vicarage* in the diocese of Canterbury, value £460, in the patronage of the Dean and Chapter of Rochester. The church is dedicated to St. Mary. It is a large and handsome building, in the form of a cross, in the perpendicular style, with a lofty tower at the intersection of the transepts. The tower was erected in the reign of Edward IV., by Sir John Fogge, who restored the church and founded a college. The college building has been modernised, and now serves as the vicarage. The tomb of Sir John Fogge is near the altar. It had brasses of himself and his two wives; but they are lost or mutilated. In front of the altar-steps is a brass of Elizabeth, Countess of Athol, who died in 1375. A small chapel on the south side of the church contains three fine marble monuments of the Smyths of Westenhanger, former owners of the manor of Ashford. There is an octagonal font sculptured with roses and blank shields. There are chapels belonging to the Society of Friends, Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion, the Wesleyan Methodists, Baptists, and Independents.

The free grammar school, which was founded by Sir Norton Knatchbull in 1636, has an endowment of £30 per annum. The national school, for 90 boys, has an endowment of £20 a year, bequeathed by Dr. Thomas Turner in 1702. The revenue of the church lands is £184. The charities of the parish amount altogether to £309. The custom of gavelkind prevails in the manor.

Ashford is the birth-place of several distinguished men. Richard Glover, the antiquary, was born here in 1542. His nephew, Thomas Milles, also a native, was eminent as a herald and genealogist. Here, too, was born, in 1616, Dr. John Wallis, the mathematician; his father being vicar of Ashford.

The market is held on Tuesday and Saturday. On the first and third Tuesday of each month the cattle market is held, which is considered one of the largest in the county; numbers of sheep and bullocks being brought from Romsey Marsh. Fairs take place on the 17th May, the 9th September, and the 12th and 24th October, for horses, cattle, and pedlary. There are races once a year. Ashford gives the title of baron to the Keppels, Earls of Albemarle.

[Transcribed from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland 1868 by Colin Hinson ©2010]