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Ashford, Kent facts for kids

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Ashford (Kent) Town Centre, High Street, February 2012 Snow.jpg
High Street, Ashford
Population 74,204 (2011 census)
OS grid reference TR005425
  • Ashford
Shire county
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town ASHFORD
Postcode district TN23, TN24, TN25
Dialling code 01233
Police Kent
Fire Kent
Ambulance South East Coast
EU Parliament South East England
UK Parliament
  • Ashford
List of places
KentCoordinates: 51°08′47″N 0°52′03″E / 51.1465°N 0.8676°E / 51.1465; 0.8676

Ashford is a town in the county of Kent, England. It lies on the River Great Stour at the south edge of the North Downs, about 61 miles (98 km) southeast of central London and 15.3 miles (24.6 km) northwest of Folkestone by road. In the 2011 census, it had a population of 74,204. The name comes from the Old English æscet, indicating a ford near a clump of ash trees. It has been a market town since the 13th century, and a regular market continues to be held.

Ashford has been a communications hub and has stood at the centre of five railway lines since the 19th century. The arrival of the railways became a source of employment and contributed to the town's growth. With the opening of the international passenger station it is now a European communications centre, with new lines running between London and the Channel Tunnel (via High Speed 1). The M20 motorway also links Ashford to those two destinations for road traffic.

The town has been marked as a place for expansion since the 1960s and appeared on several Government plans for growth. Changes have included the County Square shopping centre, the redevelopment of the Templer Barracks at Repton Park, and the award-winning Ashford Designer Outlet. In the 1970s, a controversial ring road scheme and construction of the multi storey Charter House building destroyed significant parts of the old town, though some areas were spared and preserved.

St Mary's Church in Ashford has been a local landmark since the 13th century, and expanded in the 15th. Today, the church functions in a dual role as a centre for worship and entertainment. Ashford has two grammar schools; the Norton Knatchbull School and Highworth Grammar School.


Early developments

There has been evidence of human habitation around Ashford since the Iron Age, with a barrow on what is now Barrow Hill dating back to 1500 BC. Two axes from the Lower Paleolithic period have been found near Ashford. During the construction of the Park Farm estate in the late 1990s, excavation in the area revealed tools from the Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic period dating back to the 7th century BC. A number of other Mesolithic tools were discovered during construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link through Ashford.

During Roman Britain, iron ore was mined in the Weald and transported to Ashford where two ironworks processed the ore into a workable metal. Archaeological studies have revealed the existence of a Roman town to the north of the current centre, roughly at the junction of Albert Road and Wall Road.

The present town originates from an original settlement established in 893 AD by inhabitants escaping a Danish Viking raid, who were granted land by a Saxon Lord for their resistance. The name comes from the Old English æscet, indicating a ford near a clump of ash trees. At the time of the Domesday Book of 1086 it was still known by its original Saxon name of Essetesford (or Eshetisford, Esselesford, Asshatisforde, Essheford). The manor was owned by Hugh de Montford, Constable of England, and had a church, two mills and a value of 150 shillings (£7.50) at the time. One of the earliest houses in the area still in existence is Lake House at Eastwell Park to the north of the town, which contains the grave of Richard Plantagenet.

Middle ages

Ashford's importance as an agricultural and market town grew in the 13th century, and in 1243, Henry III granted the town a charter to hold a market for livestock. The pottery industry expanded in the 13th and 14th centuries, with the main works based at what is now Potter's Corner, a few miles west of the town centre. Later evidence from examining waste suggests that production was on a large scale. The Kent Archaeological society have discovered sandy ware at this location dating from around 1125 – 1250.

Jack Cade, who led the Cade's Rebellion against corrupt Royal officials in 1450, is believed to be from Ashford. In William Shakespeare's Henry VI, part 2, Cade is shown conversing with "Dick, the Butcher from Ashford".

In the 16th and 17th centuries, Ashford became known for nonconformism. A local resident, John Brown was executed for heresy in 1511, and may have inspired the later namesake of the song "John Brown's Body". Thomas Smythe acquired the manor of Ashford as dowry from Queen Elizabeth I in the mid 16th century and is buried in the parish church.

Dr John Wallis, the internationally recognised mathematician and one of Isaac Newton's main tutors was born in Ashford in 1616, but moved to Tenterden in 1625 to avoid the plague. He was a promising student, and subsequently graduated from Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

Modern developments

Ashford Market in 1975 - - 1710306
Ashford Market in 1975. A market had been based here since 1856.

By the 1780s, local farmers had begun to hold informal market days, and advertised the town's ideal location between London, Chatham and the Kent Coast. The market was held in the High Street until 1856 when local farmers and businessmen relocated to Elwick Road and formed a market company that is the oldest surviving registered company in England and Wales. There is still a regular street market in the town, although the market company has had to be relocated outside of the town due to part of the 19th century site being demolished to make way for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. It is still used by around 5,000 farmers.

The Army first established a presence in Ashford in 1797 when it built a garrison on Barrow Hill, and storerooms along what is now Magazine Road. The military presence was scaled back during the 19th century, though the town was still considered strategically important in the event of an invasion. The Territorial Army established a presence in Ashford in 1910.

During World War I, Ashford's importance as a transport hub and its location between the continent and London made it a target for aerial bombing. On 25 March 1917, a bomb fell on the railway works, killing 61 people, while the town was a target in the Battle of Britain during World War II including an attack on 15 September 1940.

The Joint Services School of Intelligence was based at Templer Barracks to the west of town. Robert Runcie, later to become the Archbishop of Canterbury, was stationed at Ashford during the war while Prince Andrew, Duke of York attended a course here in 1982 while he was stationed in the Royal Navy. The barracks closed in 1997 to build the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, and the site was sold to developers in 2002, Repton Manor House, in the centre of the barracks, is a Grade II listed building and remains intact.

Ashford has been associated with the German town Bad Münstereifel since the 20th century. British forces occupied the town in 1919 under the command of Major J Goode, following the end of World War I. Goode subsequently formed close friendships with some Bad Münstereifel residents. John Wiles, Major Goode's brother in law, later became mayor of New Romney in 1946, and subsequently arranged a visit to the Rhineland with Winston Churchill. Wiles arranged several other exchange visits between British and German families at a time where travel between the two countries was rare. He was declared an honorary citizen of Bad Münstereifel in 1961, which led to the two towns being formally twinned in 1964. Bad Münstereifel was twinned with the French town of Fougères, Brittany two years later, which led to a twinning with Ashford in 1984.

During the early and mid 20th century, print and media became a noted industry in Ashford. The Headley Brothers, a printing services company, was founded in 1881 and by the mid-1950s were printing and exporting over 2 million books. The Letraset company set up an arts material factory in Ashford in the 1960s. It closed in 2013, following the decline of Letraset and the company's decision to relocate works abroad.

Little is left of the old Ashford town centre, apart from a cluster of medieval half-timbered buildings in Middle Row and around the churchyard in the town centre. A number of old buildings were removed to make way for the controversial ring road around the centre, including four public houses. Further demolition was required to build Charter House, an eight-story office building for Charter Consolidated, that opened in 1975. Charter subsequently moved back to London in 1985, and the building is now being converted into flats, though progress was stalled due to the discovery of asbestos. Charter compensated for the demolition by funding a restoration scheme on North Street, preserving several historic buildings.

The motto of Ashford Borough Council is "With stronger faith", taken from, To Lucasta, Going to the Warres, a poem by the 17th-century poet Richard Lovelace from the borough. The relevant verse is :

True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.

The council's coat of arms uses gold to symbolise richness, three sprigs of ash tree representing former council areas, and a lion to commemorate nearby Tenterden as one of the Cinque Ports.


By road, Ashford is about 61 miles (98 km) southeast of central London, 20.9 kilometres (13.0 mi) southeast of Maidstone, and 15.3 miles (24.6 km) northwest of Folkestone. The town lies at the intersection of two valleys in Kent – the south edge of the North Downs and the valley of the River Stour, at the confluence of the Great Stour and East Stour rivers. This made it an ideal place for a settlement. The Borough of Ashford lies on the eastern edge of the ancient forest of "Andredsweald" or "Anderida". This originally stretched as far west as Hampshire and formed the basis from which the Weald is formed.

The original town of Ashford, like many other settlements, has outgrown its original size and has combined with smaller villages in a conurbation. These villages include Bockhanger, Kennington, Sevington, Singleton and Willesborough. In addition, housing estates have been built in the open spaces amongst Bybrook, Godinton, Kingsnorth, Park Farm and Stanhope.

In 1727, an underground fire was reported in nearby Hinxhill, while a larger earthquake struck the town on 1 June 1756. The 2007 Kent earthquake, which registered 4.3 on the Richter magnitude scale, was felt in Ashford, though its effects were greatest in Folkestone.


Ashford gets around 750 millimetres (30 in) of rain a year, though the town generally has less rainfall than areas closer to the North Downs. The area around the Stour, and particularly south of the station is prone to flooding, which means it has been generally uninhabited. Recent development has been possible by putting foundations on concrete stilts.

The nearest official Met Office station located in Faversham which is 12 miles (19 km) north of the town.


See also: Listed buildings in Ashford, Kent
St Mary's Church, Ashford, Kent - - 809020
St Mary's Church, Ashford, dates from the 13th century, but was extensively modified in the 15th by John Fogge

St Mary's parish church lies in the town centre. Parts of it date from the 13th century, including a brass of the first rector, Robert de Derby. John Fogge supervised substantial changes to the church in the late 15th century, including creating the 120 feet (37 m) tower and raising the roof. He was buried in the church and a memorial window is dedicated to him. In the 17th century, a free grammar school was founded here; it was built on the churchyard's west side, and remained there until 1846, now used as a museum.

On 7 October 2010, the church was reordered by the Bishop of Dover, Trevor Willmott, to improve its dual function as both a place of worship and an arts centre and performance space for up to 350 people, in a similar style to Union Chapel, Islington. Around £1.7m was spent improving the venue, of which £1.2m was provided by European Union funding through the Green Reonvation Cluster programme. Acts that have since appeared at the church include the Lightning Seeds, Tim Burgess, Gaz Coombes and Turin Brakes.

Ashford Mark IV female tank 05
The Mk. IV tank, St George's Square, Ashford

A Mk. IV tank built in Lincoln and used in the First World War was presented to the town on 1 August 1919 to thank the townsfolk for their war efforts. It is situated in St Georges Square near the town centre. For some years, electricity provider Seeboard fitted an electricity substation inside the tank, but this has now been removed. A protective cover was built over the tank in 1988.

H.S. Pledge & Sons Ltd built two flour mills in Ashford, and became an important employer in the town. The first opened on Victoria Road in 1890 while the second opened on East Hill in 1901. The mills closed in 1972 and were both partially destroyed by subsequent fires. The East Hill Mill fire occurred in 1974, but the main six-storey tower block survived. It was used as a nightclub until 2014, when the nearby Ashford School, which acquired the building in 2011, decided not to renew the lease. The Victoria Mills were almost completely destroyed by a fire in September 1984, and the remainder of the building had to be demolished.

The Corn Exchange, situated at the junction of Bank Street and Elwick Road, opened on 3 December 1861. As the name implies, it was originally used for trade, but during the early 20th century its role expanded to cover dinners, dances and trade shows. The building was extended to improve capacity in the 1930s. It was demolished in 1963.

Ashford's main library originally opened in 1966 on a war-damaged site on Church Road. In 2010, the building was redeveloped to house Ashford Gateway Plus, which provides local council services in addition to the library itself. Other attractions near the town include Ashford Borough Museum, Godinton House and Gardens and the New Mill at Willesborough, which is Grade II listed.

Ornate Fountain in Victoria Park - - 1279097
Ornate fountain in Victoria Park, Ashford

The first cinema in Ashford was the Odeon on Lower High Street, which opened in 1936 and closed in 1976. The current main cinema in Ashford is a 12 screen theatre in Eureka Leisure Park to the north of town. In 2013, Ashford Borough Council announced plans to build a new cinema in the town, using vacant land off Elwick Road.

The Ashford Green Corridor is a linear park alongside the two main rivers through the town, which is protected from development by lying on the main flood plain. Most of the area covered by the park has been marked by Ashford Borough Council as a nature reserve. This area includes Victoria Park, which lies to the immediate south of the town centre and the railway. It includes an ornate fountain first shown at the 2nd International Exhibition in London in 1862, and presented to the park by George Harper on 24 July 1912. The Coningbrook Lakes Country Park opened on a former quarry site to the northeast of town in 2015.


Ashford Intl station bldg
Ashford International station


See also: Ashford railway works

Ashford station was established when the South Eastern Railway's London to Dover line opened between 1842 and 1845, and the company established its locomotive works in the town. A line to Canterbury opened in 1846, followed by the Marshlink Line to Hastings and a line to Maidstone in 1884, which was served by Ashford West until 31 December 1898. The railway community had its own village containing shops, schools, pubs and bathhouse. It was first known as Alfred, but later renamed Newtown. By 1864, there were 3000 people living around the railway line. The railway works declined in use from the 1960 onwards, finally closing in 1982.

Ashford Locomotive Depot geograph-2653323-by-Ben-Brooksbank
Ashford Locomotive Depot in 1946

The Ashford International station opened by British Rail with the Channel Tunnel in 1994. It now serves Eurostar trains on High Speed 1, with trains to London, Lille, Brussels and Paris and connections to the rest of Europe. In 1999, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link was approved, which involved an extensive upgrade of the railways around Ashford. A trench between 20 metres (66 ft) and 42 metres (138 ft) was dug near the station to house the new line, a new tunnel was dug at Westwell Leacon, and a 19th-century level crossing near South Willesborough, the last remaining one between London and Folkestone, was removed.

From 2007 to 2009, services to Brussels were withdrawn due to the opening of Ebbsfleet International railway station, but were restored after a petition. Since December 2009, domestic train services run along this route, reducing journey times to London from 88 to about 38 minutes.


In Roman Britain, what is now Ashford was the meeting point of two main roads. One led from London to Lympne (Lemanis), the other from the Weald, through Canterbury (Durovernum) and ending at the port of Richborough (Rutupiae). Ashford was one of the towns in Kent to become a hub when the roads were turnpiked in the second half of the 18th century.

Ashford's first bypass was opened on 19 July 1957 by the then Minister of Transport, Harold Watkinson. The main road through Ashford is now the M20, which opened in stages between 1981 and 1991. Junctions 9 and 10 serve the town. The other main roads are the A28 to Canterbury, the A2070 to Romney Marsh and Rye and the A251 to Faversham.

Operation Stack
Operation Stack causes HGVs to queue for channel crossings, and can result in the M20 around Ashford being closed eastbound

The Ashford Ring Road was completed in November 1974 around the town centre in an attempt to relieve congestion, though part of it involved demolition of existing properties and part of the old market. It initially opened as one way, but was converted back into a two-way operation in 2007, at a total cost of £14m, so the town centre could expand and accommodate more people. The two-way route incorporates the first shared space scheme in the country. An art installation, Lost O, curated by the artist Michael Pinsky, was created as part of this redevelopment but confused drivers.

Operation Stack is a traffic management system on the M20 through and near Ashford, which allows HGVs to queue for the Channel Tunnel and the Port of Dover when there is bad weather or industrial action. The scheme is controversial as it involves closing the entire eastbound motorway to through traffic. In 2013, Kent County Council sought funding to build a dedicated lorry park in Ashford.


Stagecoach in East Kent provide bus services around the town. Most services include access from the station to the Designer Outlet. Out of town buses serve neighbouring towns, including Canterbury, Tenterden, Maidstone and Folkestone.

Until 1974, Ashford was served by Lympne Airport, with commercial services to Beauvais, The airport at Lydd, designated London Ashford Airport and approximately 13 miles (21 kilometres) south of Ashford, has regular flights to Le Touquet, France by Lydd Air. London Gatwick Airport, the nearest fully international airport is 45 miles (72 kilometres) from Ashford.

The National Cycle Network, a network of cycle routes in the United Kingdom, includes two routes through Ashford. These are NCR 17 from Rochester to Hythe and NCR 18 from Canterbury to Tunbridge Wells. The Stour Valley Walk also follows the main river, connecting Ashford with Lenham and Canterbury, and links with other long distance footpaths in this part of Kent.

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