Ashford

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Ashford is a town in the borough of Ashford in Kent, England. In 2005 it was voted the fourth best place to live in the United Kingdom. It lies on the Great Stour river, the M20 motorway, and the South Eastern Main Line and High Speed 1 railways. Its agricultural market is one of the most important in the county. Ashford is a relatively common English placename: it goes back to Old English æscet, indicating a ford near a clump of ash-trees.

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 being.

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.

As a market town, Ashford has for centuries been a local communications hub for surrounding villages and has stood at the centre of five railway lines, (Ashford to Ramsgate (via Canterbury West) line, Swanley to Ashford (via Maidstone East) Line, South Eastern Main Line, Kent Coast Line and the Marshlink Line) since the 19th century. With the opening of the international passenger station is now an important European communications centre, with new lines running between London and the Channel Tunnel (via High Speed 1).

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.

It is likely that the town originates from an original settlement established in 893AD by inhabitants escaping a Danish Viking raid on the nearby ancient village of Great Chart (Seleberhtes Cert in 762AD), although a Roman road passed through here from the iron making area to Canterbury. It is listed in the Domesday Book, compiled in 1086, as having a church, two mills and a value of 150 shillings, under its original Saxon name of “Essetesford” (or “Eshetisford,” “Esselesford”, “Asshatisforde”, “Essheford”). The manor was owned by Hugh de Montford, Constable of England at the time. Writer Philpot believed Essetesford stood for “ash trees growing near a ford”, while Lampard, a 16th century local historian, suggested that it meant “a ford over the river Eshe or Eshet”, which was the old name for the tributary of the River Stour between Lenham and Ashford.

Its closeness to London has always made Kent a strong influence on the capital, and vice versa. Thus by the end of the 16th century Cade (of Cade’s Rebellion) was credited by William Shakespeare in Henry VI, part 2 as being from Ashford. The play includes an Ashford butcher called “Dick” who looks forward to removing officialdom after the rebellion and says: first thing, let’s kill all the lawyers.

Ashford’s importance as a growing agricultural and market town was confirmed in 1243 when it was incorporated, and by the end of the 16th century it had risen to become an important market town, primarily for livestock. 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 claims to be the oldest surviving registered company in England and Wales. There is still a regular street market in the town, although the market company has relocated outside the town and is used by some 5,000 farmers. Ashford has a quite interesting industrial heritage, from being the world headquarters of Letraset, the way to create posters prior to desktop publishing. There was also the company which was the colonial supply company for Tanzania.

Parts of the parish church date from the 13th century but was substantially restored in the 15th century with many alterations since. In 1638 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.

During World War II Ashford’s importance as a transportation (railway) hub and its location between the Continent and London made it a target for bombing by the Luftwaffe.

The Joint Services School of Intelligence was based at Templer Barracks in Ashford, until the barracks were decommissioned in 1997 and then demolished to make way for High Speed 1. In 1982, Prince Andrew, Duke of York was involved with the “School”.

Ashford lies in a valley at the confluence of the Great Stour and East Stour rivers, where the Great Stour turns northwards to go through the Stour Gap in the North Downs towards Canterbury, Sandwich, and the English Channel. To the south lies the Weald.

The original town of Ashford, in common with most such towns, 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.

Essentially a modern town, little is left of the old Ashford town centre, apart from some mediaeval 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, built in the early 1970s. Three modern shopping centres are located in the town: Park Mall, County Square, and the new Designer Outlet. Bank Street and High Street are traffic-free shopping thoroughfares.

The increase in the town’s commercial importance, as well as its strategic location, is witnessed by the number of industry, business, and retail parks in the town. These include Waterbrook, a 740,000-m² (183-acre) site for production, storage and distribution with a freight clearance facility; Eureka Science and Business Park, including manufacturing sites and prestige office complexes; the 570,000-m² (141-acres) Orbital Park; the Ashford Designer Outlet shopping centre, which has won a design award; and fourteen other business parks and industrial estates. There is also a factory of Premier Foods UK producing Batchelor’s Soup.

The 2007 Kent earthquake, which registered 4.3 on the Richter scale, was felt in Ashford, though its effects were greatest in Folkestone.

Ashford is well known as one of England’s great transport hubs, overshadowing the likes of Ebbsfleet in the South-East of England.

Insofar as roads are concerned, 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. Those roads later became the A20 road from London to the Channel ports; and the A28 which runs from Margate, through Canterbury onto Tenterden and Hastings. Junctions 9 and 10 on the M20 motorway serve the town. Additionally the A251 links the town with Faversham and the M2. The A2070 links the town with Romney Marsh and Rye.

Operation Stack on the M20, usually implemented in response to industrial action in Calais, brings Ashford to a halt several times each year.

The A292 Ashford Ring Road was created in the 1970s around the town centre in an attempt to relieve congestion along the previous main thoroughfare in the town centre, the narrow East Hill. The Ring Road has recently been converted to two-way traffic again, to minimise the “race track” feel and help bring the isolated town centre back into the rest of the area. There are plans for a fast public transport link between the town centre and the suburbs and main amenities, called “SMARTLINK”. 

The railway came to Ashford when the South Eastern Railway’s London to Dover main line opened between 1842 and 1844, and the company established its locomotive works here. The railway community had its own shops, schools, pubs and bathhouse, and much of the area retains the look of a “railway town”; the works closed in 1981. Ashford became a junction when the line to Margate was opened in 1846; in 1851 today’s Marshlink Line to Hastings was opened, and on 1 July 1884 the final connection, from Maidstone, was made.

The Ashford International station opened with the Channel Tunnel in 1994. It now serves Eurostar trains on High Speed 1, with trains to London, Lille and Paris and connections to the rest of Europe. In November 2007 direct services to Brussels were withdrawn and the frequency of trains to Paris was reduced to three per day when Ebbsfleet International railway station opened. Local firms, residents and politicians were amongst those seeking a less drastic change in the Eurostar timetable. With the introduction of domestic train services in 2009 along the new High Speed One line to St Pancras and Stratford in east London, travel time from Ashford to London will be reduced from 83 to about 37 minutes. A limited preview service for the high speed trains began in July 2009, and the full service launched on the 14th December 2009.

The Stour Valley Walk also follows the main river, connecting with other such long distance footpaths in this part of Kent, including the North Downs Way.

Ashford is one of the fastest growing areas in England, with rapid growth in the population and the infrastructure needed to support the town.(For the development of the M20 motorway around Ashford, Junction 10 and the new Junction 10a see the M20 development article). In 2004 Regional Planning Guidance for Ashford set out plans to deliver over 13,000 homes by 2016. Overall, the area has the capacity to deliver a total of 31,000 new homes and 28,000 new jobs by 2031. New housing estates are planned, in particular the area of Cheeseman’s Green, to the east of the town. The town’s ring road, with the town centre sitting as an island, was converted back into a two-way operation in 2007, after 30 years as a one way system, at a cost of £10m. The aim of this scheme is to allow the town centre to expand and accommodate the increasing population. The new two-way route incorporates the first shared space scheme in the country.

Currently the borough is developing the park and ride system to allow shoppers better access to the facilities in Ashford and is focussed around the previously known ‘Drovers roundabout’. As part of this development, there will be changes to the access to J9 on the M20 as well as the building of a new BUPA facility “SMARTLINK” is a proposed fast link between the town centre of Ashford, Kent, England and its suburbs and main amenities, creating an alternative to the car, reducing the overall impact of transport. An integral arts program, Lost O, curated by the artist Michael Pinsky, was developed as part of this scheme but has been highly controversial and has now been removed from the road to avoid confusion by the passing drivers.

The town’s main shopping centre, County Square, has been expanded and the new section opened in March 2008. It now has 50,000 sq ft of retail space and houses many popular ‘high street’ retailers. In addition a new Waitrose store opened in November 2009 as part of a 50 hectare project on the on the former Rowcroft and Templer Barracks site which will eventually provide 1250 new homes, including 23 apartments above the supermarket itself. The new train line launched in 2009, High Speed 1, provides access to London in 37 minutes.

Within the town there are some tourist attractions, among them being Ashford Borough Museum, Godinton House and Gardens and the Willesborough Windmill. In addition to the main library in the town there are some local, smaller libraries. A First World War Mk. IV tank built in Lincoln was presented to the town on 1 July 1919 to thank the townsfolk for their war efforts. It is displayed in the town centre.

The Ashford Green Corridor is a linear park alongside the two main rivers through the town.

Ashford is twinned with Bad Münstereifel,  Germany; Fougères, France; Hopewell, Virginia, USA.

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 being:

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.

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