ASH-CUM-RIDLEY FROM THE STONE AGE TO THE 21ST CENTURY.
Set on heavy clay-with-flint soil overlying the chalk of the North Downs, Ash-cum-Ridley was settled later than more easily farmed land, such as the nearby Darent Valley. Flint tools found locally suggest that stone age people visited the area to collect flint and perhaps to hunt animals. But the earliest evidence of permanent occupation is the site of a Roman building on Westfield neighbourhood, in New Ash Green. Archaeologists excavated this before the modern houses were built.
The settlements of Ash and Ridley probably developed in the later part of the Saxon era, but archaeological evidence for this period is sparse. Its wooden buildings have long since been destroyed, and even post holes built over. The earliest documentary evidence is in the Domesday Book (1086), which identifies 'Eisse' and 'Redlege', while Textus Roffensis (1115) records the two churches.
In Norman times Ash parish was divided into separate manors. Scotgrove (in Chapel Wood) vanished around the time of the Black Death, leaving archaeological remains which were excavated some years ago. South Ash Manor was farmed until quite recently, but is now a golf course. The Manor House (see picture in Local Views 2) has been restored as the corporate headquarters of John Allen Associates, Consulting Engineers. North Ash Manor has given way to New Ash Green. Parts of the Georgian-fronted Manor House are thought to date from the 13th century. Recently extended, it is now the head office of Bovis Homes plc. Holywell House, in Hodsoll Street, is now a retirement home. Ash Manor is still in family occupation. Held by the Knights Hospitallers in the 14th century, the present house, next to the church, was built in 1637. In 1718 it came to the Lambarde family, whose descendants own to this day. The land of this estate has been owned and farmed continuously by the same family since 1540.
Among other historic buildings, the White Swan dates to the 14th century and there was an inn on the site even earlier. Over the centuries it has been extensively altered and enlarged. The Old Rectory in Ash was built in 1739, though the Rector now lives in the smaller modern New Rectory. Court Farm House, next to Ridley Church, was built about the same date as Ash's Old Rectory. The 17th century Idleigh Court was destroyed by fire in the 1970s and replaced by a modern house.
Until the development of New Ash Green, the population of the parish remained small and fairly static for centuries. The first census, in 1810, recorded 472 people in Ash and 47 in Ridley. By 1931 the figures were 705 and 63. Most people were employed on the land. Of the crops grown, hops are recalled by the oasts, now converted into houses, and relics of orchards survive below the Minnis (New Ash Green) and in the grounds of the Primary School. The field opposite the White Swan is still called 'The Vineyard', while the 'Swan' in 'Swan Farm' could well be a corruption of 'Swine'. The population is now about 7,500. Most work out of the area, especially in London, but the shops, offices and schools of New Ash Green, and light industrial units converted from former agricultural buildings, provide considerable local employment.
In mediaeval times manors were the units of civil administration. The feudal system took a long time to come to an end in some places, and the manorial court of South Ash went on being held down to the 1920s. The Parish took over authority from the manors for such matters as poor relief and maintenance of roads. Vestry meetings dealt with both church and civil matters, appointing officers to manage day-to-day business - churchwardens to look after the church, overseers to administer poor relief. In the 19th century local government functions became more centralised. Examples are the Dartford Union Workhouse, the Dartford Highways Board and the Dartford District School Board. Parish vestries lost their civil functions at the end of the century, and in 1894 Ash Parish Council was formed. Ridley remained independent until 1953, when the parishes were united as Ash-cum-Ridley.
Parish Council business reflects the concerns of the local community. The same themes recur over the years. Schools were founded in Ash in the 18th century, aided by the charitable bequest of the Rev. Thomas Attwood, and between 1849 and 1880 there was a Church School at Ridley. In the 1870s disputes arose about the efficiency of these schools, and there was pressure to establish a Board school. Ash School eventually closed in 1971, when it still had 72 children on the roll, and was replaced by a new school at New Ash Green. The buildings at Ash were then used by Ash Nursery, and then stood vacant until recently (late 2007) purchased for conversion into a dwelling.
One of the most basic needs of a community is a water supply. The well opposite Ridley Church (see picture, above) was dug at the direction of the Rev. Thomas Bowdler, Rector of Ash and Ridley from 1811 to 1823. Legend has it that his children died of typhoid after drinking polluted water. The well, now sealed, and recently rethatched, is still known as Bowdler's Well. It was Bowdler's uncle who published an expurgated edition of Shakespeare, which gave rise to the verb 'to bowdlerise'. Even after the introduction of piped water, Parish Council records show concern at the level of water charges and complaints about discoloured water. Increased demand and summer droughts have led to the construction of a new reservoir at Dell Wood near Idleigh, and the laying of new mains.
Originally the parish extended further south than it does now, reaching beyond the A20. The northern boundary was adjusted in 1987 to include all New Ash Green houses. Milestone School, however, is still in Hartley Parish, even though the Ash-cum-Ridley Parish Clerk's office is housed there, and the Parish Council manages the Ash Green Sports Centre on the site. Northfield, behind Milestone School, is a 64 acre area of open space available for the community, managed by a joint committee of Ash-cum-Ridley and Hartley Parish Councils.
Local history buffs will be interested to see the fascinating Kent Archaeology links shown on the 'Links' page.
History of Ash-cum-Ridley
The full text of 'A Downland Parish - Ash-next-Ridley' by the late W.Frank Proudfoot. (By kind permission of his son, Christopher) can be found by clicking this link :-
You can also find a full transcription of 'The Fulljames Survey of Ash', which includes beautifully coloured maps of all the individual farm holdings (in Section 12.) Click on:-