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Logo: Tom Bates, Derbyshire Local Histrory writer  
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Posted Saturday, May 12, 2007

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Arguably the most picturesque village in Derbyshire, Ashford-in-the-Water nestles mainly on the east bank of the meandering River Wye as it winds it`s way slowly south-eastward towards the town of Bakewell, a mile and a half downstream.

The famous and much photographed medieval Sheepwash Bridge is the site of the original `ford by the ash trees’ from which the village takes it`s name and one of several ancient bridges which span the river here. Demonstrations of sheep-washing are still sometimes given, providing an added attraction for tourists who come in considerable numbers, drawn from the passing A6 by the beauty and natural charm of the riverside setting.

The A6 ran through the village until a modern by-pass saved it from the ravages of modern traffic congestion and helped preserve the peaceful atmosphere of it`s rural tranquillity.

Market House and church at Ashford-in-the-Water

Described as a Royal Manor in the Domesday Book, `Aisseford’ passed to the Nevilles in 1408, and then to Sir William Cavendish, the forebear of the Earls and Dukes of Devonshire in 1550. It remained under ducal control for the next 400 years until the houses were sold off individually in the 1950`s to help pay death duties, and today`s 800 or so residents reap the benefits of the skilled local crafstmanship employed for four centuries by various members of the Cavendish family.

The village grew up round the ford over the river on the ancient route of the Portway and was once encircled by lead mines, and though today it seems devoid of industry, it has a long industrial heritage.

A corn mill existed here 900 years ago and Ashford had woollen mills in 1339.

The Wye drove many mills in the past but perhaps the best known are the marble mills, established by Henry Watson in 1748.

Ashford `Black Marble’ – which is really a form of highly polished limestone, was mined on the edge of the village at Rookery Wood. It was worked from prehistoric times and a dressed slab was found in a tumulus on Fin Cop, north of the village.

It was also used in many medieval churches,- and for the chimney-pieces at nearby Haddon Hall in the 1590`s.

A modest example of an Ashford Black Marble fireplace can be seen in the quaint and comfortable Tea Rooms at the rear of The Barn Gift & Craft Shop; this excellent olde worlde emporium also doubles as Ashford Post Office and is a real nostalgic delight to visitors.

There are numerous delights in this exceptionally attractive village of mainly limestone dwellings where everything seems to fit perfectly into place around the beautiful central setting of Holy Trinity church, with it`s square battlemented tower, and the ancient Old Tithe Barn standing beside it.

The Old Hall was built by the Neville family, then Lords of the Manor in 1408 and used to stand in the garden area behind the Tithe Barn, but was demolished in 1937.

The church was virtually rebuilt in the Victorian era and only the Norman tympanum, Jacobean pulpit, tower battlements and north transept remain of the original building.

Across the road stands the rambling 17th century coaching inn, the Ashford Arms, - (formerly the Devonshire Arms) and just around the corner is the Bull`s Head, the other of the villages two remaining public houses.

The splendid Riverside House Hotel, built in varying stages between 1620 and 1760, with its restaurant, conservatory - and floodlit croquet lawn, is set in beautiful grounds at the end of Fennel Street near to the Sheepwash Bridge and opposite the recently restored Pump House.

In October 1998 the hotel was literally `in – the – Water’` along with most of the rest of Ashford, - or to be more precise the water was in the hotel, - heavy rain and the flood debris blocked Sheepwash Bridge and caused the Wye to back up and flood the premises to a depth of 3 feet!

Today`s sumptious refurbishment pays tribute to the sterling work of management and staff who ensured that the hotel was re-opened within two months of the disaster, and remains fully deserving of it`s Egon Ronay award.

Close by also on Fennel Street is another award winning establishment, the Cottage Tea Rooms, once chosen as the Top Tea Room in Derbyshire by the Sunday Telegraph, and included in Egon Ronay`s `Just A Bite guide. Next door stands the Cottage Craft Shop stocked with a fascinating array of mainly local items, including mill-stones in a variety of sizes.

The Village Stores stand opposite the Ashford Arms at the junction with Greaves Lane and have been so named since Victorian times. The stores also double as the village Newsagents, and the local Bradwell Ice Cream is reputedly the best in the whole county, (& I can heartily recommend the toffee & banana flavour!).

Of the many fine dwellings perhaps The Rookery is the most imposing; seen from the A6 it is set in sylvan surroundings just west of the village beyond a great loop of the river, and is carpeted by magnificent lawns. Here the 6th Duke of Devonshire installed his mistress Elizabeth Warwick in 1829, and it became the first home of the present Duke & Duchess of Devonshire after their marriage in 1941.

The road to Monsal Dale & Wardlow climbs northward through the village from Vicarage Lane past the small school and adjoining School House, and with glorious open meadows to the east.

Beyond the meadows and in it`s own park designed by Joseph Pickford around 1770, stands the elegant Palladian mansion of Ashford Hall . This former home of Lord George Cavendish is now owned by the Olivier family and has wonderful views from it`s hillside position overlooking the Wye and Ashford`s pretty and well manicured cricket ground.

The excellent Village Memorial Institute epitomises the character of the place, which is also reflected in the typical Derbyshire style limestone architecture of it`s numerous small and mainly terraced cottages that are festooned each summer with colourful hanging baskets of flowers. Bridge House is noted for its charm and lovely gardens, as are others with quaint names like Old Bakery Cottage, Foxglove Cottage, Bobbin Cottage, and Christmas Cottage.

Ashford has no less than six wells dotted around the village, some still with working pumps, and the unique Derbyshire tradition of Well Dressing takes place annually each summer; the Blessing of the Wells is the highlight of the church`s Patronal Festival each year on Trinity Sunday.

This is a village with a permanent smile on it`s face; everything is in good taste and there are no discernible blemishes, yet despite it`s beauty and popularity it shows no outward sign of falling prey to tourism. It is a must for any visitor to beautiful places and the gem in the crown of Derbyshire`s White Peak.

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The famous Sheepwash Bridge

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