High Street

Ashford Tourist Guide


There are plenty of things to see and do in and around the town of Ashford!


The town of Ashford lies on the River Great Stour, M20 motorway, South Eastern Main Line and Channel Tunnel Rail Link railways, located just south of the North Downs. Its agricultural market is one of the most important in the county.

Ashford is a relatively common English name: it goes back to Old English æscet, signifying a ford near to a clump of ash-trees. It is likely that the town developed from an original settlement established about 893AD, although a Roman road passed through here from the iron-making area to Canterbury. It is listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 as having a church, two mills and a value of 150 shillings, under its original Saxon name of "Essetesford". 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.

Ashford’s importance as an emergent 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.

Parts of the parish church date from the 13th century but it was significantly restored in the 15th century with many alterations since. In 1638 a free grammar school was founded here, built on the churchyard’s west side, and remained there until 1846. It is now used as a museum.

Fundamentally a modern town, little is left of the old Ashford, apart from some 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. Now the road is in the process of being returned to two-way traffic. 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.

Ashford was one of the towns that became a nucleus when the roads were turnpiked in the second half of the 18th century. Today it is at junctions 9 and 10 of the M20 motorway to London, Maidstone and Folkestone. Other main roads are the A20, which runs parallel to the motorway; the A28 to Canterbury and Tenterden; the A251 to Faversham; and the A2070 to Romney Marsh and Hastings. The Ashford International station opened with the Channel Tunnel in 1994. It now serves Eurostar trains on the high-speed Channel Tunnel Rail Link that opened in 2003, with trains to London, Brussels, Lille, Paris and connections to the rest of Europe. It is planned that direct services to Brussels will be withdrawn and that frequencies to Paris will be reduced when Ebbsfleet International railway station, in Dartford, opens late in 2007. London Ashford Airport is based at Lydd, approximately 17 miles (27 kms) from Ashford, with regular flights to Le Touquet, France by Lydd Air. London Gatwick Airport, the nearest fully international airport is 58 miles (94 kms) from Ashford.

Ashford lies at the convergence of the Rivers Upper Great Stour and East Stour and, along with the Aylesford Stream, Ruckinge Dyke and Whitewater Dyke, it forms the River Great Stour heading for Canterbury, Sandwich and the English Channel.

Brockhill Country Park used to be part of a large estate which dated back to Norman times. You can still see the old manor house adjoining to the park. The rest of the park (54 acres) is dominated by a large grassy valley, sliced through by the Brockhill Stream as it makes its way to the Royal Military Canal at Hythe, and outstanding views to the English Channel. There are two sign-posted trails around the park ranging from 3-6 miles (5-9.6 Km) long, the walks are joined to the Saxon Shore Way, providing a challenge for longer distance walkers. The lake trail takes up to 30 minutes (accessed by a sloped path), while the valley walk takes about 45 minutes and provides a picturesque route around the valley at the southern end of the site. To the north, a short walk will take you to Postling Down, an area of unimproved ancient downland. The turf is ideal for low-growing herbs and the rich assortment of plants provides shelter for many striking butterflies.

One of the most important houses in the Kentish parish of Great Chart is Godinton House. It is 2 miles north-west of the centre of Ashford. Godinton House is an old brick property with a Jacobean architecture style exterior. The roof has a distinctive system of shaped gables (also called Dutch or semi-classical gables). The great hall inside is of medieval style. Worth looking out for are the elaborate carvings in chestnut wood on the main staircase. The gardens include one of the longest Yew hedges in England. Godinton House was the seat of the Toke family for about 455 years from 1440 to 1895.

Ham Street Woods is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) near Hamstreet and Ruckinge, six miles from Ashford. The woodland is claimed to be more than 400 years old. The site is on the escarpment of the old Saxon shoreline and the Saxon Shore Way passes through the woods. The boundary of the site was amended to include the Ham Street Woods National Nature Reserve and a former part of the site (Burnt Oak Wood) is now incorporated in the nearby Orlestone Forest (SSSI).

Willesborough Windmill is a white smock mill built in 1869 onto a two storey red brick base with attached miller's cottage. It is now a Grade II* listed building. It incorporated "patent" type shutters in the sweeps instead of canvas and sails, and created enough power to turn four sets of mill stones as well as the maize and oats crushing/cutting machines. This mill replaced a smaller smock mill which had been in operation previously on the same site and whose sweeps were reported coming very close to the ground. Information received recently states that the current windshaft and brake wheel were reclaimed from that old mill - a common practice among millwrights - this could mean that other items were also re-used.

Ashford Museum contains a variety of local history in the 1635 Old Grammar School, Tel: 01233 502599 Open: 10.00 - 13.00 Apr Nov, Mon - Sat, (closed Sun).

Swanton Mill, Mersham is a weather boarded watermill in full working order, grinding organic wholemeal flour, which is for sale. There is a museum and extensive gardens. Tel: 01233 720223. Open: 14.00-18.00 Apr to Oct, Sat & Sun or by appointment.

Orlestone is the civil parish in Ashford District with a population of 1,500. The centre of the parish is Hamstreet village which falls partly within the parish of Warehorne. Hamstreet is bypassed by the A2070 road, 6 miles south of Ashford. Orlestone itself is a small hamlet with just a handful of houses and the medieval parish church of St Mary the Virgin, parts of which date back to the 11th century. Much of the population moved to Hamstreet (originally known as Ham) when the Ashford to Hastings railway opened in 1853; there was also a better source of water at the newer place. Today, the name Orlestone lives on in the Orlestone Forest (a large area of public woodland), and a number of buildings like Orlestone Grange and Orlestone Riding Centre (near Shadoxhurst).

Ashford Golf Club is located on the west side of Ashford, set in the countryside close to the M20 motorway and the Channel Tunnel. It is a challenging 18 hole parkland course that demands accurate shots to tree lined fairways and difficult to hit greens.

Ashford Market: Click here for information.

William Harvey Hospital, Kennington Road, Willesborough, Ashford TN24 0LZ Tel: 01233 633331

The International Passenger Station opened in 1996. Eurostar Ashford International station is a opportune time saving alternative to London Waterloo for people making the journey to and from Kent, Sussex and other parts of the South or South East of England. Ashford station is a railway centre for train lines to and from Canterbury, Ramsgate, Folkestone, Dover, Hastings and Tonbridge. Domestic rail services on these lines provide speedy access to east Kent for international passengers. In reverse the services provide first-rate interchange for continental destinations.

Please check any details above with Ashford Tourist Information Centre at 18 The Churchyard, Ashford, Kent TN23 1QG in case of changes. 01233 629165 or tourism@ashford.gov.uk

Why not stay and explore Ashford and other Kent towns by staying in a Kent hotel or bed and breakfast establishment?

Disclaimer: The information in this Tourist Guide has been researched from a variety of sources including books, articles and online information. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information the reader should check any specific facts for themselves before making any decisions based upon the said information.

Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015

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