Having lived close to this town for the majority of my life I feel that maybe I should give it a bit of a mention.
The trouble is when you know a town so well is that you have to choose where to start.
A BIT OF GEOGRAPHY
Ashbourne is considered to be the gateway to the Peak National Park and if you come from the Derby direction you will come along the A52. Coming from Leek it is again the A52 but should you approach Ashbourne from Buxton or the Peak District or from Uttoxeter you will come in on the A515 from either direction.
Ashbourne is in a valley surrounded by hills so that in order to get out of Ashbourne you have to be prepared to climb a hill. This was always fun when it came to cross country running at Secondary school however we thwarted their cruel plans and managed to find places to cut through and return without doing the whole course!
Ashbourne is a classic example of an English market town although the cattle market is no longer and the other market in the town centre which used to be very busy on Thursdays and Saturdays is rapidly dying a death.
Ashbourne was mentioned in the Doomsday Book so has been going a good few centuries. At that time it was known Esseburn. Apparently the esse comes from old English for Ash and of course ‘burna’ or burn is stream or brook so it was the place where a ash trees grew near a stream or the River Henmore as we know it today.
In the 18th and 19th century Ashbourne became a busy town as it was at the junction of six coaching roads. A couple of the pubs in the town such as ‘The Green Man’ were obviously coaching inns as they still have the archways into the stabling areas.
A number of famous people have stayed in the town including Bonny Prince Charlie who seems to have stayed in every town in England but it was in Ashbourne that he proclaimed his father king of England. This took place in the Bull Ring which is in the present day market square. This event makes Ashbourne the only place in England where a 'Pretender' to the throne has been proclaimed.
Oliver Cromwell decided to take a few pot shots at St Oswald's Church when he passed through.
Dr Samuel Johnson stayed many times in ‘The Mansion’ which is on Church Street. In fact I might have stayed in the very same room because ‘The Mansion’ was for many years the girl’s boarding house for Queen Elizabeth’s grammar School and I was a boarder there for a year or so.
George Elliot also spent time in the town and is said to have described the church of St Oswalds’ as, 'the finest mere parish church in the kingdom' and commented that it had the 'finest single spire in England.'
Izaac Walton fisherman extraordinaire and famous for his book ‘The Compleat Angler’ also spent time in the town and fishing in the waters around near Mappleton village and there is now the hotel near Dovedale that is named after him.
Catherine Mumford, co-founder of the Salvation Army and was born in Ashbourne on January 7, 1829, she married William Booth later to become Catherine Booth.
St Oswald’s Church with its 212 foot spire can be seen as you come down onto the town as well as from most places in the town. It is a pretty old church dating from around 1241 with some parts older and others added later. There are a number of lovely stained glass windows inside and the rather beautiful tomb of Penelope Boothby daughter of Brooke Boothby who was a member of the Midlands gentry, a poet, political pamphleteer and radical supporter of the French Revolution who became friends with Rousseau when the latter came to Ashbourne as a Revolutionary refugee.
The Mansion on Church Street not far from the church is a beautiful Georgian building with a fabulous garden which leads right down to the Henmore brook. Aside from the fame of having Dr Samuel Johnson as a visitor it is now a grade 1 listed building. It was built in 1680 and was the home of John Taylor who was the friend and literary partner of Johnson. I the garden aside from a grass tennis court which we made good use of there is also is a small building a bit like a Greek temple now a Grade II listed summer house with its three-arched façade and this is where Dr. Johnson and Dr. Taylor often wrote their work together
It was for many years the girls’ boarding house when the boys boarded in the Old School building over the road.
The entrance hall is pretty stunning with a beautiful painting on the ceiling which we always were told was ‘The rape of Ganymede’ but the rape may well have been a bit of poetic story telling however the painting is said to be the work of Zucchi, a leading Italian artist.
Sadly for years this building lay empty and uncared for. It went to auction and sold before the auction. Rumour has it that the son of Barbara Cartland bought it.
The Old School opposite the Mansion was the original site of Queen Elizabeth’s grammar School granted a Royal Charter by Queen Elizabeth I in 1585. There was great excitement in the town in 1985 when it celebrated its 400th anniversary as the Queen Elizabeth paid an official visit. Despite being a Comprehensive and now a school with academy status it still bears the same name. The building was said to have become structurally unsound and it was definitely bowing outwards but it has been converted into flats now so presumably they have sorted that out.
We used to have all our meals in the huge oak floored dining room and I have spent many a Sunday afternoon washing up in the kitchens using a boiler and steamer that would be certainly not allowed to be used by school pupils these days as it was pretty lethal!
Another building with an interesting history is ‘The Green Man and Black Heads Royal Hotel’ which has the historic Cross Street Gallows sign which is in the Guinness book of records as the longest inn sign in the world. The pub dates back to 1750 and was originally two coaching inns. The landlord of the Green Man bought the Blackamoor Inn and on the sign you can see that the head on the sign on one side is smiling while on the other, he's scowling. James Boswell and Dr Samuel Johnson are said to have had a few drinks here.
Rumour has it that Queen Victoria visited probably for a toilet stop but it was called a 'refreshment break’ but it gives the pub the right to have 'Royal' to its name.