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Logo: Tom Bates, Derbyshire Local Histrory writer  
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Ashover

Posted Saturday, May 12, 2007

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Ashover - Best Village in England!

The ancient village of Ashover is a large, sprawling settlement of many parts and has a rich and fascinating history filled with remarkable characters.

Situated in the beautiful Amber Valley, the village nestles snugly in richly picturesque countryside almost in the centre of a vast bowl of land, with wooded slopes and rocky hills rising all around, and with narrow lanes leading like strands of a spiders web from the village centre in all directions.

Ashover is a huge sprawling parish of some ten thousand acres with numerous small villages within it’s boundaries, and the richness of its diverse nature can be attributed to the parish’s geological structure, where, as at Crich, an island of limestone rises from an encircling sea of gritstone.

The gritstone hills which surround the village must also have contributed to its independent character, for they isolated the village to such an extent that it was late in the eighteenth century before the first wheeled vehicles penetrated this part of the Amber Valley. For centuries until the first metalled road was driven into the valley, Ashover remained virtually a self-sufficient and self supporting microcosm of Derbyshire, rich in both minerals and lush pastureland suitable for dairy farming, and throughout its history these two occupations have provided the main source of Ashover’s prosperity.

The Roman road of Rykneld Street which runs from Derby to Chesterfield – seven miles north east of Ashover - passes through the parish two miles to the east of the village, giving credence to the belief that the Romans mined lead here two thousand years ago.

In Saxon times when England was divided into Hundreds, “Esseovre” meaning ‘Ash-tree slope’ was, along with most of the County to the east of the River Derwent, in the Hundred of Scarsdale. The earliest surviving reference to `Esseover’ comes in the Domesday Book of 1086-7 when it is credited with a church, a priest and a mill, which together were worth a grand total of thirty shillings!

At the beginning of the twelfth century the manor was owned by the Reresby, Pershall and Babington families, whose manor houses were Eddlestow, Eastwood Hall and Goss Hall. Of the church mentioned in the Domesday Survey nothing now remains except for the Norman lead font of 1150, which surprisingly is the only one of its kind left in Derbyshire – the rest having been melted down for bullets during the Civil War.

The present All Saints Parish Church was erected between 1350 and 1419 incorporating some of the earlier fabric, notably the south doorway, built in 1275 by Margery Reresby. Thomas Babington who died in 1518 built the tower and the graceful spire which at 128ft has been a familiar landmark in the valley for 600 years. He also gave the rood screen beneath which lies his tomb complete with alabaster effigies of the Knight and his Lady which Pevsner thought `the best of its date in Derbyshire’.

Indeed, Ashover’s splendid church and it’s remarkable incumbent Rectors have played a major role in village life throughout it’s history. A tablet inside the church contains a list of The Rectors of Ashover and the names of Reresby, Bourne, Nodder and Bourne-Nodder appear fourteen times from 1343 with only occasional gaps until 1942, remarkably all members of one family who held the living for 600 years! The longest serving of them all was John Bourne-Nodder who succeeded his father in 1878 and remained Rector for 64 years until his death in 1935.

The first `Bourne’ on the list of Rectors was the Rev.Immanuel Bourne who took the living at Ashover in 1621 and purchased Eastwood Hall in 1624.

He was a puritan and staunch Parliamentarian who, despite his friendship with Sir John Gell of Wirksworth, tried to remain neutral during the Civil War. But in 1644 after numerous skirmishes had resulted in the destruction of all the stained glass in the church and the burning of the registers, a troop of Royalist Dragoons who had been garrisoned at Eddlestowe Hall under the command of the Earl of Newcastle attacked and partially destroyed Eastwood Hall, leaving it in ruins, as it remains to this day.

A plaque outside the Crispin Inn near the church tells the tale of Landlord Job Wall, who in 1646 tried to eject the Kings Troops, - “But they turned him out and set watch at the door till all the ale was drunk or wasted”.

The Crispin Inn’s claim to date from 1415 must refer to an earlier building for it is one of many houses surviving from the 17th century along with ‘The Nettle’ at Milltown, named after a famous greyhound. The other two surviving village inns are the Black Swan (1740) and the Red Lion(c1780).

During the 18th and 19th centuries lead mining brought prosperity to Ashover, particularly in the Milltown area where the Gregory Mine under Cocking Tor was one of the most productive in Derbyshire. A major shareholder was the the internationally famed botanist Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) who had sailed to Australasia with Capt. James Cook and whose inheritance of the Overton Hall Estate on the death of his uncle, Robert Banks Hodgkinson, proved extremely lucrative.

The textile industry’s only legacy in Ashover is the name, `The Rattle’, an area to the west of the village once notorious for the `rattle’ of its frame-knitting machines.

Other bygone industries here included a Ropeworks on Malthouse Lane, a couple of corn mills on the Amber, one of which, Fall Mill, was in use right up to the 1950’s – and the Ashover Light Railway, which arrived in 1925 and carried passengers until 1936 before reverting to its original use as a mineral line to Clay Cross Works. The closure of the Butts and Milltown quarries signalled the end of the line for the A.L.R. in 1950, and the old trackbed can still be followed in places along the floor of the valley.

The Victorian era saw the provision of schools and hydropathic establishments and with improved transport access to the village, Ashover became something of a mini-resort catering for tourism.

During the early years of the twentieth century historian & author Cecil Lugard was a regular visitor to the hydro at Ambervale on Moor road and loved the area so much that he became a resident of the village and wrote two valuable works, “The Inns & Outs of Ashover”(1923) and “The Saints & Sinners of Ashover”(1924). After Lugard’s time and following the demise of the rail passenger service just before the second world war visitor numbers dwindled, marking the eventual closure of the hydro’s. As the century progressed and with it’s industrial heritage firmly consigned to history, the village returned once more to it’s relatively peaceful pursuit as a minor tourist haven and to the agriculture that had sustained it for at least a thousand years. The famed Ashover Show, which had been interrupted by the Great War, was resumed in 1924 and continues to be the major event in Ashover’s calendar every August.

The Bassett family, confectioners famed throughout the world for their brand of ‘Liquourish Allsorts’ were an old established Ashover family, formerly ardent Wesleyans who built the first chapel in 1807 in memory of their parents, and later endowed the 1874 Methodist Church that replaced it.

Elisabeth Bassett, or ‘Betty’ as she was known fondly by her many friends lived for most of her long life at Hilltop Cottage, until her death aged 100 in 2003. Her father was a J.P. and a founder member of the Ashover Show Committee who held farming interests and property at Ashover and Uppertown. During her long and fruitful life Miss Bassett served the Ashover community in a variety of roles. She was a founder member and former President of the Women’s Institute, served as a School Governor, and for many years was Churchwarden of All Saints Parish Church.

To mark her centenary year in 2002 Miss Bassett was presented with a Royal Crown Derby commemorative plate especially commissioned for the occasion, and civic dignatories attended a special ceremony on February 17th 2002, when the Parish Rooms in Ashover were renamed ‘The Bassett Rooms’ and a plaque to mark the occasion was unveiled, with the words:-

The Bassett Rooms

Dedicated in recognition of the contribution to Parish life

Of the Bassett Family and in commemoration of

The 100th birthday of Miss Elisabeth Bassett

17th February 2002.

Modern Ashover is a thriving community of some 1,740 inhabitants whose social calendar of clubs and societies must be the most comprehensive in the county, boasting a range of activities from flower shows to ferret racing. This reflects the tremendous community spirit engendered here, and has earned Ashover the prestigious accolade of being voted `Best Village in Britain’ in 2005.

 
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