A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 5, the Hundred of Cleley. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2002.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
The medieval township of Ashton, which like its neighbour Hartwell was a chapelry in the ancient parish of Roade, occupied about 1,200 acres (fn. 1) towards the north-eastern corner of Cleley hundred, forming a broad strip of land bounded on the north-west by Roade and on the south-east by Hartwell. On the south Ashton was separated from Grafton Regis by the river Tove, and on the south-west from Stoke Bruerne by a tributary. In the north-east the township was bounded by part of Salcey Forest. The southernmost tip of the township, near Bozenham Mill (which lay just inside Hartwell) is about 235 ft. above sea level; on the edge of Salcey Forest the land reaches about 425 ft. The north-eastern half of the township is covered by Boulder Clay but in the south patches of Oolitic Limestone and areas of Upper Lias Clay are exposed. (fn. 2)
In the early 16th century the ecclesiastical status of Ashton and Roade was reversed, with the former becoming a rectory and the latter a perpetual curacy in the parish of Ashton, although the two remained separate for all civil purposes. (fn. 3)
When Salcey was disafforested and inclosed in 1826, most of the south-western side of the forest was extra-parochial. (fn. 4) In about 1882 (fn. 5) most of the extra-parochial land was added to Hanslope (Bucks.), although it remained in Northamptonshire. A small portion, however, including Hartwell Clear Copse and Hartwell Lodge, was added to Ashton, increasing the area of the civil parish to 1,317 acres. (fn. 6)
Before inclosure, the common fields of the three townships making up the ancient parish of Roade were intermixed. One of Ashton's open fields, Breach Field, lay partly in Roade, and part of another, Bozenham Field, was in Hartwell, where it formed Ashton tithing, in which the rector of Ashton, rather than the impropriator of Hartwell, owned the great tithes. (fn. 7) Some of these problems were resolved in 1819 when Ashton and Roade were inclosed; (fn. 8) others had to wait until 1828, when an award was made for Hartwell. (fn. 9) The township boundaries also cut across the pattern of settlement in the parish, at least in the post-medieval period. After the medieval village of Hartwell was abandoned and the main focus of settlement became the modern village at Hartwell Green, part of the built-up area lay within Ashton. Attempts by Hartwell parish council in the 1960s and 1970s to move the boundary so as to include the whole of the village were successfully resisted by the Ashton council, although an alteration was made in 1994. (fn. 10) At Ashton itself, a large house standing on the western edge of the village in 1727 (which had been demolished by 1819) (fn. 11) lay just inside Roade township. (fn. 12)
In 1301 36 people were assessed to the lay subsidy in Ashton; (fn. 13) in 1524 the figure was about two dozen. (fn. 14) A total of 61 households were assessed to the hearth tax in 1674, of which 25 were discharged through poverty. (fn. 15) Similarly, in 1720 there were said to be 60 houses in Ashton, (fn. 16) compared with 55 in 1801, when the population was 292. There was a modest increase up to 1841, when the population was 417, followed by a decline to a trough of 240, the figure returned in both 1901 and 1911. The population then rose again, reaching 398 by 1961, before falling slightly to 378 in 1971 and 374 in 1981.
No major routes run through Ashton, although the parish is served by local roads to Roade in the north, Stoke Bruerne in the west, Hartwell in the east and Bozenham and Grafton Regis in the south. The first of these, which had previously run to a junction with the Stoke Bruerne road to the west of the village, was realigned at inclosure to serve Ashton more directly. (fn. 17)
The London & Birmingham Railway, opened in 1838, runs through the parish from southeast to north-west, dividing the village into two, its impact heightened by the fact that the line is here carried on an embankment. The nearest station (closed in 1964) was at Roade, just over a mile from the village. (fn. 18) The M1 motorway, opened in 1959, runs through the parish for about half a mile near the edge of Salcey Forest; the nearest junction is at Collingtree, three miles away.
Landscape And Settlement.
The only evidence for early settlement in the parish is the discovery of three Roman coins near the Manor House in 1948, and cropmarks indicating a sub-rectangular enclosure with rounded ends north of Rowley Wood. (fn. 19)
Both in the Middle Ages and since the main settlement in Ashton has always been the village which stands virtually in the centre of the parish, at the point at which the roads from Stoke Bruerne, Hartwell and Grafton meet. A stream which rises near Hartwell Clear Copse and flows west-south-west and then south to join the Tove just upstream from Bozenham Mill runs through the village. In 1727 the village was dominated by a moated manor house and outbuildings on its northern edge. (fn. 20) Immediately to the south stood the parish church, the parsonage and a tithe barn. (fn. 21) Most of the rest of the village was laid out in an irregular fashion around the triangular junction at which the three main roads met and along each of these roads, particularly that leading to Hartwell, which ran parallel with the stream. At the western end of the village there were houses on the north side of the Stoke Bruerne road on either side of another stream, including the one already mentioned which lay just inside Roade township. This is shown on the plan of 1727 as a large house of two storeys and attics, of about ten bays, apparently E-shaped in plan, with a range of outbuildings at right-angles to the main elevation. (fn. 22) It was assessed as having 11 hearths in 1674, only two less than the manor house. (fn. 23)
The oldest surviving domestic building in the village appears to be Rectory Cottage on Hartwell Road, which in origin is a medieval hall house, whose roof contains a pair of arch-braced collar-trusses with side-struts to the principal rafters, possibly dating from the 14th century. The house, which was modernised in the 17th century by the insertion of a first floor, is built of coursed limestone, as are all the older houses in the village, several of which clearly date from the late 16th century or early 17th. Perhaps the most ambitious is the former farmhouse opposite the Manor (26-26A Roade Hill), which has ovolo-moulded stone mullioned windows, some with hood moulds, and a gabled stone porch. Inside is a dog-leg staircase with squarepanelled newels with finials and splat balusters, an open fireplace with a cambered, chamfered bressumer, and a collar-truss roof. Rectory Cottage and Orchard Cottage (on Hartwell Road) also have open fireplaces with similar bressumers. (fn. 24)
The whole of the land of the township to the south of the village, and much of that to the north, was occupied in the Middle Ages and later by open fields or common meadow, which were inclosed in 1819. (fn. 25) During the following decade Rectory Farm and Ashton Lodge were built on the resulting allotments some distance outside the village. (fn. 26) In the village itself the main change at inclosure was the building of a more direct road to the north, after which the older lane that skirted the village to the west was stopped up and had disappeared by 1831. (fn. 27) More drastic was the effective bisection of the village in 1838 by the London & Birmingham Railway, which was carried through Ashton on a high embankment. The track was quadrupled (and the embankment widened) by the London & North Western Railway under an Act of 1875. (fn. 28) Although two bridges were inserted into the embankment to accommodate the main road to Hartwell and another lane to the north, the railway severed about a dozen cottages at the eastern end of the village, which henceforth became known as Little Ashton, (fn. 29) from the rest of the community.
As in the other villages on the Grafton estate, the number of cottages in Ashton gradually increased during the 19th century, but there was no systematic building of improved housing. Small Baptist and Wesleyan chapels and a National school were built in the 1850s (fn. 30) and the parish church was extensively restored over a lengthy period in the later 19th century. (fn. 31)
The Grafton estate, including nearly all the houses in the village, was included in the 1913 sale, with unsold lots offered again in 1919. (fn. 32) As elsewhere, these sales did not lead to any marked growth in the built-up area. During the 1930s the rural district council began to erect houses, first at Cook's Close on Hartwell Road, and later on Stoke Road near the Methodist chapel. Further local authority building followed towards the end of the Second World War and afterwards at both ends of the village. (fn. 33) The earliest post-war private houses-modest in character compared with later developments-were erected in the early 1950s on Roade Hill, to the north of the older built-up area. (fn. 34) More unusually, four pairs of cottages for farm-workers were built privately after the Second World War, near the Green, by Bernard Sunley, a local businessman who in 1942 bought Vale Farm; a detached house nearby was built by one of his foremen. (fn. 35) There was no new development at Little Ashton in the same period and overall the village grew far more slowly than Hartwell, much less Roade. (fn. 36)
After the last lease of the manor was bought up by the 2nd duke of Grafton in the 1720s, (fn. 37) Ashton lacked a squire and in the 19th century and early 20th it was left to the last resident rectors, together with the tenant farmers, to take a patriarchial interest in the parish. (fn. 38) Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee and the Coronation of George V, for example, were both celebrated in large barns lent by farmers. (fn. 39) The sale of the Grafton estate, followed in 1925 by the union of Ashton rectory with Hartwell (whose incumbent henceforth lived at Hartwell), (fn. 40) disrupted this traditional society, although in 1921 the village acquired a secondhand hut which was erected by voluntary labour and served the community as a rudimentary village hall for over fifty years. (fn. 41) Despite this facility, the village had few social organisations between the two World Wars, apart from short-lived youth clubs and a Women's Institute, which lasted from 1926 to 1938. (fn. 42) Similarly, a cricket club set up after the First World War folded in the 1930s. (fn. 43) In 1931 a county branch library was opened one day a week at the school; before this the rector's wife had run a lending library at the rectory. (fn. 44)
The character of the village began to change towards the end of the Second World War, with the arrival of Bernard Sunley, who invested new capital in the farms he bought (including building new cottages) and gave generously to local organisations, notably in providing a ground and pavilion for a revived cricket club. (fn. 45) His family thus came to occupy a similar position (but on a smaller scale) to that of the Cripps family in Roade. (fn. 46) Equally important in a different way was the decision of James Fisher, the ornithologist, broadcaster, writer and publisher, and perhaps more especially his wife Margery, to make their home at Ashton in 1945, first at the Old Rectory and later the Manor House. (fn. 47) Mrs. Fisher took the lead in virtually all village activities in the 1950s and 1960s, including the revived Women's Institute, of which she was president throughout its life (1951-78), (fn. 48) and the parish council and school managers, both of which she chaired. (fn. 49) She was also the driving force behind Ashton's exceptionally full village scrapbook of 1953, which she saw through the press the following year. (fn. 50)
Half the committee of eight responsible for the scrapbook were 'wives of professional men', while the other half were working-class or lower middle-class women. (fn. 51) Ashton had thus begun, somewhat earlier than either Hartwell or Roade, (fn. 52) to make the transition from a small farming village with no resident gentry (or even a resident parson) to a community favoured by middle-class families who were either retired or worked elsewhere, a process that would continue throughout the later 20th century. During that period Ashton lost its Methodist church, village hall (whose closure in 1977 appears to have contributed to the winding-up of the W.I. the following year), (fn. 53) and shop but, perhaps more important, retained its primary school and its pub. (fn. 54)
A policy of strictly limiting new building in Ashton continued after South Northamptonshire Council became the local planning authority in 1974, with development largely restricted to low density, high-status housing within the existing built-up area. A small estate was laid out on the site of demolished cottages opposite the Old Rectory, whose own grounds were released for the building of several large detached houses. The older housing stock, including some former local authority houses, was extensively modernised in the late 20th century.
MANORS AND OTHER ESTATES
The manor of Ashton.
In 1066 Ashton was held freely by Alden. In 1086 the main estate there was held by Winemar the Fleming, under whom Dodin held one hide and fourfifths of one virgate, worth 12s., and Bondi held four-fifths of half a hide, worth 4s. (fn. 55) In addition, Sasfrid held half a hide less a fifth part in 'Aceshill' in Cleley hundred of William Peveril. This estate, which can apparently be placed in Ashton, was waste in 1086 and has no later history. (fn. 56) The land held by Bondi reappears in the early 12thcentury Northamptonshire Survey as the four small virgates held by William Rufus 'Ad hydam'. (fn. 57) This appears to identify the estate as Hyde (in Roade), where land was given by several benefactors to St. James's abbey in Northampton, founded by William Peveril in the early 12th century; William was perhaps the abbey's tenant. (fn. 58)
Winemar's manor formed part of the Northamptonshire lands of his barony of Hanslope (Bucks.). This honor became Michael of Hanslope's by 1131; his only surviving heir, his daughter Maud, married William Maudit, (fn. 59) who was listed as the tenant in chief at Ashton in the Northamptonshire Survey. (fn. 60) His descendant, also William Maudit, held Ashton and Easton Maudit in chief in 1242. (fn. 61) By 1262 Ashton was held by Eustace son of Thomas; (fn. 62) in 1284 Eustace held of the earl of Warwick, who held it of the king as half a knight's fee. (fn. 63) In 1315 (fn. 64) and again in 1346 (fn. 65) Ashton was held as a quarter of a fee, on the first occasion of the fees of the late Guy Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, on the second of the fee of Maudit. The overlordship of the earls of Warwick was also recorded in 1402 (fn. 66) and 1445. (fn. 67)
The main part of Winemar's estate in Ashton was held by Robert son of Anketil (probably Anketil le Lou or Lupus) at the time of the Northamptonshire Survey, when it was assessed at one hide and two small virgates. (fn. 68) Hugh Lupus held half a fee in Ashton in 1167. (fn. 69) Their descendant, Robert le Lou, was lord of Ashton in 1224 and 1230, (fn. 70) and held half a fee in Ashton and Easton Maudit in 1242. (fn. 71) He appears to have been succeeded by Philip le Lou, who, also in the reign of Henry III, settled the manor of Ashton on Robert le Lou, and John his son and Emma his wife, with remainders first to John's son Philip in tail male and second to Philip's sister Agnes. (fn. 72) Robert le Lou died in 1262, holding Ashton by the service of two thirds of a knight's fee. (fn. 73)
His son and heir John was returned as lord of Ashton in 1284 (fn. 74) and 1297, (fn. 75) and granted a virgate of land in Ashton to his daughter Joan in 1296. (fn. 76) He was succeeded on his death the next year by his son Philip, when John's widow Amice claimed dower. (fn. 77) Philip, summoned to serve in Scotand in 1301, (fn. 78) was still lord in 1315. (fn. 79) He and his wife Margery made a settlement of Ashton in 1325 to the use of themselves and Philip's heirs; if he left none, the manor was to remain to Robert le Lou and his heirs. (fn. 80) Philip was dead by 1329, when John de Paveley, son and heir of his sister Agnes, successfully claimed the manor against John de Hartshill, Philip de Hartshill and Philip le Lou's widow Margery, and sold it the same year to Philip de Hartshill. (fn. 81) In 1330 Robert, the son of John le Lou and probably the remainderman in the settlement of 1325, quitclaimed any right he had in the estate to Philip. (fn. 82)
Philip de Hartshill transferred the manor to Sir John Hartshill, Lord Hatch, (fn. 83) who was lord of Ashton by 1346. (fn. 84) He and his wife Margaret made a settlement of the estate in 1357. (fn. 85) Sir John died at an advanced aged in about 1367 and was buried in Ashton church. He left three daughters as coheiresses and when his estates were divided Ashton was allotted to the eldest, Elizabeth, wife of John Culpeper, whose son Thomas and his wife Eleanor obtained the manor in 1367 (fn. 86) and settled the estate in fee tail ten years later. (fn. 87)
Either the same or a later Thomas Culpeper purchased some additional land in Ashton, Roade and Hartwell in 1420 (fn. 88) and settled the manor on feoffees in 1425. (fn. 89) Thomas was still lord of Ashton in 1428 (fn. 90) but must have died shortly afterwards, for in 1429 his son and heir John Culpeper took possession of his father's estates (fn. 91) and in 1430 settled Ashton on feoffees. (fn. 92) John was dead by 1432, when his widow Julia and her new husband John Braunspath obtained a grant of the manor for their lives from Walter Culpeper, John's eldest son and heir, and his wife Agnes. (fn. 93) The grant was renewed in 1437 when Walter made a new settlement of the estate. (fn. 94) The 'heir of John Hartshill' was found to hold a quarter of a knight's fee in Ashton in 1445. (fn. 95)
Robert Fenn and his wife were perhaps acting as lords in 1462, (fn. 96) and in 1476 Brian Talbot claimed the manor in right of his wife Catherine against Sir John Culpeper. (fn. 97) The Culpepers retained possession: Alexander Culpeper was lord in 1487 (fn. 98) and in 1490 it was settled on him. (fn. 99) He was still lord in 1516. (fn. 100)
In 1529 either the same Alexander, or his namesake in the next generation, obtained a quitclaim from Edmund Knightley of any right he had in the manor of Ashton (fn. 101) and in 1537-8 Sir Alexander Culpeper and his son Thomas granted the manor to Henry VIII in an exchange. (fn. 102) The sale included land in Paulerspury which had descended with Ashton since at least 1411; (fn. 103) in 1537-8 this property was described as the manor of Pury, and in the later 16th century Ashton was sometimes called the manor of Ashton Pury. (fn. 104)
Besides the manor itself, the Crown's acquisitions in Ashton in this period included land belonging to the former Dorset manor of Hartwell in 1527, the former Marriott estate centred on Hartwell End in 1537, and the Roade property of John Mauntell in 1542. (fn. 105) In 1543 Henry VIII made an exchange with Henry Cartwright which included, as well as premises in Roade, rents of tenancies at will worth 23s. 8d. a year and an assart at Blackslade let for 16d. in Ashton. (fn. 106)
Ashton was annexed to the honor of Grafton on its establishment in 1542. (fn. 107) It was the only manor within the honor where the lordship itself was leased throughout the period in which the estate remained in Crown hands. For this reason only a reversion was included in the grant of 1673 under which the 1st duke of Grafton acquired the honor, (fn. 108) although the 2nd duke was able to secure possession, with the rest of the estate, in the early 1720s.
The last Thomas Culpeper leased Ashton manor in 1534 to William Marriott of Ashton for 22 years. (fn. 109) The Crown granted a new lease in 1550 to Robert Strete, groom of the bedchamber, at a rent slightly reduced to allow for loss of land to Hartwell Park. (fn. 110) Strete assigned his interest to Robert Marriott, who obtained a new 31-year lease in 1567 (fn. 111) and in 1578 a 21year lease in reversion from 1597. (fn. 112) In 1593 his son Anthony Marriott obtained a further 21 years in reversion from the expiry of the preceding grant. (fn. 113) Anthony was in dispute with one of his sub-tenants at Ashton, John Cooke, in 1596 (fn. 114) and with members of his own family in 1586 and 1613. (fn. 115) He was granted a new lease in reversion (18 years from 1639) in 1626 (fn. 116) but must have died a few years later. His son Robert was also dead by 1632 when Anthony's widow Mary was accused of cutting down timber at Ashton which properly belonged to Sir Francis Crane as mortgagee of the honor. She denied the charge, (fn. 117) which appears to have been brought as part of a wider dispute between Crane and his rivals at court, notably Sir Miles Fleetwood. Mrs. Marriott claimed that, far from being left with a great personal estate following the deaths of her husband and son, as Crane alleged, she had had to sell the lease of Ashton manor to pay her husband's debts. (fn. 118) The purchaser was John Cooke, whose wife Anne was a sister of Fleetwood's wife Judith, and in 1633 Crane pursued Cooke in the Exchequer, alleging that he was obstructing him in his enjoyment of the manor and that he too had unlawfully cut down timber on the estate. Cooke claimed that he had only taken timber from assart land in Salcey forest, which he held under a separate lease from that of the manor of Ashton. (fn. 119) Crane was initially successful but Cooke counter-attacked the following year, (fn. 120) and in 1635 obtained a fresh lease of the manor for 53 years in possession. (fn. 121)
Cooke agreed to buy the manor in 1650 (fn. 122) but it was conveyed to others the next year. (fn. 123) The manor reverted to the Crown at the Restoration, and the lease to Cooke. He was dead by 1669, when his widow Elizabeth and her second husband John Wykes sought to safeguard their interest in the lease from interference by another John Cooke, presumably Elizabeth's son, who was said to be obstructing sales of coppice wood from the estate. (fn. 124) In 1670 Sir Richard Powell petitioned for a lease in reversion of Ashton manor (fn. 125) but in 1674 the estate was leased to John Cooke. (fn. 126) This lease, repeatedly renewed to extend the term, passed in 1701 to John's widow Anne, (fn. 127) who in 1715 assigned it to Lewis Rye of Blakesley. (fn. 128) Rye, recorded as lord in 1719, (fn. 129) in 1721 sublet the manorial rights for eight years to the earl of Halifax, (fn. 130) who was then acting as lord of the manor. (fn. 131) Shortly afterwards, Rye sold the remainder of his lease to the 2nd duke of Grafton, (fn. 132) who thus obtained direct control of the manor. His descendant, the 11th duke, remained lord at the time of writing.
The manorial buildings.
The present manor house, at the northern edge of the village, was presumably built in the late 16th century or early 17th by the Marriotts during their time as lessees of the manor. All the leases required the tenant to find sufficient 'slate' for the repair of the buildings within the moat. (fn. 133) The moat and its surrounding bank were the subject of a dispute between Anthony Marriott and the parson in 1594, when deponents in the manor court were adamant that both belonged to the manor house. (fn. 134) In 1650 the house contained a hall, parlour, withdrawing room (the only one in the village), kitchen, larder and other service rooms downstairs, with seven bedrooms over. The adjoining farm buildings included two barns, a large malthouse and a dovehouse. (fn. 135) The property was assessed as having 13 hearths in 1674. (fn. 136) In 1727 the house was still surrounded by a sub-rectangular moat, flanked on its eastern side by gardens and an extensive range of farm buildings, including a circular dovecote and a pound. (fn. 137) The moat was drained and the dovecote demolished in 1854, when the house was converted into four tenements. (fn. 138) It remained divided in 1954, by which date the moat had been largely filled in. (fn. 139) A few years later the property was acquired by Mr. and Mrs. James Fisher, who restored the house to a single dwelling and made their home there. (fn. 140) It remained a private residence at the time of writing.
Both the main house itself, and former outbuildings now incorporated within it, are of coursed limestone rubble with old plain-tile roofs. The house is L-shaped, partly of two storeys with attics, partly of three storeys, and has stone end and ridge chimney stacks; the outbuildings are of one storey with loft. Inside the house is a fine dog-leg staircase rising from the ground floor to the attic with square newel posts and turned balusters. There are old stone fireplaces on all three main floors. (fn. 141)
The lands of St. James's abbey.
Sometime during Walkelin's abbacy (1180- 1205) Anketil Le Lou, for the sake of Alice his wife and Rowland de Ashton, his uncle, gave St. James 6s. rent out of lands in Ashton held by Stephen Parmenter. A little later, Robert le Lou gave the abbey the arable called Gilbertscroft in the fields of Ashton. (fn. 142) Other gifts followed, presumably early in the 13th century. (fn. 143) After the Dissolution the abbey's lands in Ashton were granted, with the rest of their manor of Hyde, to Richard Fermor in 1550. (fn. 144)
William Lane's Estate.
A farm in Ashton, comprising a house, 2 a. of meadow, 6 a. of pasture and 40 a. of arable in the common fields, which before the creation of the honor of Grafton belonged to Mauntell estate in Roade, (fn. 145) was leased in 1551 to John Banister, who had previously been the tenant at will there. (fn. 146) He later assigned to Anthony Merry, who was granted a new lease in 1567. (fn. 147) Anthony was succeeded by Henry Merry in 1583 (fn. 148) and the farm was included in the large lease for 60 years in reversion of 1610 covering much of the honor. (fn. 149) In 1626 two cottages and a few acres of pasture in Ashton were leased in reversion for 17 years from 1639 to Thomas Osborne D.D., (fn. 150) who appears to have been the third son of John Osborne of Kelmarsh. (fn. 151) John died in 1581, when Kelmarsh passed to his eldest son, Sir Robert Osborne. (fn. 152) According to Bridges, Sir Robert was for a time in possession of 'an old mansion' at Ashton, which descended to him from his ancester William Lane, a servant of Charles I. (fn. 153) In fact Lane, then clerk of the Privy Seal, in 1638 was granted a lease for 31 years in reversion of both the farm previously held by the Merry family and also the cottages leased to Dr. Osborne, Sir Robert's younger brother. (fn. 154) Lane, then of Quinton, died in 1644 (fn. 155) and by 1650 his widow Judith, who had married Paul Dayrell, was the occupier of both estates and an assart on the edge of Salcey Forest known as Blackslade or Mantell's Sart. (fn. 156) As well as the cottages leased in 1626, the property included the close (belonging to the 40-acre farm) on which the large house on the western edge of the village just inside Roade parish stood. (fn. 157) Both this house and the cottages abutted on the road to Stoke, which in 1650 was called Doctor's Lane, (fn. 158) presumably referring to Thomas Osborne. This suggests that he built the house, in which case he must have acquired, perhaps sometime around 1610, the lease of the Merrys' farm. Bridges's statement that Sir Robert Osborne inherited the house from William Lane (the lessee of 1638) cannot be strictly correct, although the two families were related, since Robert and Thomas's mother was Catherine, the daughter of Sir Ralph Lane of Hogshaw (Bucks.). (fn. 159) The house seems too grand to have been built by a 16th-century tenant farmer. (fn. 160)
Two of Mrs. Lane's daughters by her first husband were married at Roade in 1657, when they were said to be of Ashton. (fn. 161) Paul Dayrell was there in 1662 (fn. 162) and paid hearth tax on the mansion in 1674. (fn. 163) Two years later both he and his wife were listed as tenants of Queen Catherine's estate in Ashton. (fn. 164) In 1679-80 Mrs. Dayrell was in dispute with her son by William Lane (also named William) concerning the renewal of the lease of the cottage property. (fn. 165) Both the farm and the cottages later passed to Mary Southern, the wife of John Southern, who in 1695 (via her trustee, Edward Noell of the Inner Temple) was granted new leases in reversion from 1709, which were extended in 1703 to run to 1724. (fn. 166) Rather oddly, both Bridges and the duke of Grafton's surveyors believed in the 1720s that the two plots on which the cottages stood, one immediately to the east of the mansion on the north side of Stoke Road and the other on the opposite side of the road near the Crown Inn, were freeholds belonging to 'Mrs. Lane' (perhaps Judith Dayrell's daughter-in-law), (fn. 167) which can hardly have been the case.
John Southern died in 1703, (fn. 168) his wife in 1717, (fn. 169) when she left her two leases (now held from the 2nd duke of Grafton) to her executors on trust to pay the income to her daughter Anne, the wife of Peter Drinkwater, the curate of Ashton. (fn. 170) At the time of her death Mrs. Southern seems to have been living in just a few rooms of the large house on Stoke Road, which contained tapestries and other furnishings of a higher standard than those found in a typical farmhouse. She also had £84 in gold, which represented two thirds of her personal estate. (fn. 171) After Mrs. Southern's lease expired, the duke's commissioners divided the farm, letting most of the land (apart from one close) to a farmer in the village and the mansion itself, with a field behind, to Mrs. Arundel, (fn. 172) who was presumably a member of the Stoke Park family. (fn. 173) After she left, the estate may have found such a large house difficult to let and it had been demolished by 1757; the plot on which it stood was added to the land let with the Manor House. (fn. 174) In 1777 the field was called 'Mrs. Arundell's Close' (fn. 175) and in 1819 it was 'Sudden's Close', recalling the name of the early 18th-century tenant. The Lanes' other property continued to be regarded as freehold. In 1819 the cottages were owned by William Peasnall, a minor, (fn. 176) and by 1831 belonged to Willian Dumsby (or Dunsby), (fn. 177) a local farmer, who died in 1868 when he left the whole of his estate to trustees for sale. (fn. 178) A Baptist chapel was built on the plot near the Crown Inn in c. 1824, when it was said to be owned by Phoebe Peasnall, in trust for her son William Dumsby. (fn. 179)
Apart from Mrs. Lane's estate, only one other tenement in Ashton was scheduled as freehold in 1727, belonging to Joan Sutton and John Blunt. (fn. 180) The cottage and 3 a. of land later passed to Samuel Reade, who died in 1754, and his widow Frances, who died six years, when she left the property to her friend John Simkins. (fn. 181) His widow in turn left it in 1787 to Elizabeth Row, who later married Thomas Addington. (fn. 182) They sold to Henry Evans in 1792, (fn. 183) who in 1818 left the estate to his grand-daughter Sarah Winters. (fn. 184) She married Bennett Kemp of Towcester and they sold the cottage in 1830 to John Blunt of Ashton. (fn. 185) He died in 1834, leaving the property to his son Charles, who himself died in 1873. (fn. 186) Six later his trustees sold to Henry Wilding, who was still the owner in 1897. (fn. 187)
In 1086 Dodin's manor at Ashton contained one hide and a quarter of a virgate, with land for three ploughteams. One team was kept on the demesne and the other two were worked by five villagers and five smallholders. There were also 5 a. of meadow and woodland measuring six furlongs by four. It was worth 8s. in 1066 and 12s. twenty years later. (fn. 188) Bondi's estate, which is said also to have been in the vill of Ashton but may in fact have been at Hyde in Roade, (fn. 189) contained four fifths of half a hide, on which there was land for one plough, occupied by a single smallholder. It was worth 4s. in both 1066 and 1086. (fn. 190)
At the start of the 15th century Thomas Culpepper's manor at Ashton was let for about £25 a year, plus about £2 in wood sales. In both 1399 and 1405 repairs were done to the manor house, indicating that it was not then let out. (fn. 191) In the 1490s seven tenants were paying a total of about £18 a year. By this period the demesne was leased to the bailiff, George Hillyer, for £6 a year; assised rents from tenements in Hartwell as well as Ashton were worth a further 2s.; wood sales varied from nil to 28s. a year; and perquisites of court brought in 2s. at most. (fn. 192)
The management of the Crown estate in Ashton differed from the policy pursued elsewhere in the honor during the 16th century and early 17th in that the entire manor was leased as a single entity, (fn. 193) whose lessee in turn granted under-leases of individual farms and cottages, of which there were at least nine in 1626. (fn. 194) Until the 1620s almost the only premises in the parish, apart from the manor, leased directly by the Crown were those acquired from the Dorset, Mauntell or Marriott estates. Here, as elsewhere, the first 21-year leases, replacing tenancies at will, were granted in 1551-2, (fn. 195) and were surrendered in return for new leases for the same term in 1567 (fn. 196) and 1571. (fn. 197) There were further renewals, all for 21 years at unchanged rents, in 1577 (fn. 198) and 1583- 4. (fn. 199) An assart at Blackslade, which was subject to a 44-year lease from 1540 when it was acquired by the Crown, was leased in reversion in 1572 and 1584. (fn. 200) On the other hand, there is no sign in Ashton of the Crown granting leases in the 1590s for terms in reversion (except of the manor), nor leases for three lives, as occurred elsewhere in the honor. (fn. 201)
Some land from the common fields of Ashton was added to Hartwell Park in 1540 and in later years in the mid 16th century, when the park was enlarged from 25 a. to about 257 a., although most of the extra land lay in Hartwell. (fn. 202)
In 1610 Anthony Marriott, the lessee of the manor, (fn. 203) took a lease for 20 years of four assarts on the edge of Salcey and an adjoining close, all previously in the custody of the Crown as part of the forest. (fn. 204) The same premises were included in a lease for 31 years in reversion of an extensive acreage of assart land throughout Northamptonshire in 1623, (fn. 205) and in 1629 were granted out in fee farm. (fn. 206) The reserved fee farm rent of 30s. 4d. was sold off in 1651. (fn. 207)
The only other property in Ashton leased separately before the 1620s was the large house on the western edge of the village, together with a farm of about 50 acres, which had been acquired by the Crown as part of the Dorset manor of Hartwell and had been let on a succession of 21-year leases since 1551. (fn. 208) It was included in the lease of most of the honor to John Eldred and William Whitmore in 1610 for 60 years in reversion, and in 1638 a further term of 31 years in reversion was granted to William Lane. (fn. 209)
Towards the end of the period in which the honor was administered by the Prince of Wales's commissioners, the leasing policy in Ashton changed. Between 1623 and 1627 all the farms, except the manor house and the Lanes' house, were leased individually in reversion for between 15 and 17 years from 1639. (fn. 210) This considerably reduced the value of the manor, which in 1635 was leased for barely a third of the previous figure. (fn. 211) It nonetheless remained by far the largest holding in Ashton. In 1650, besides 13 cottages, the buildings included two barns, a large malthouse and a dovehouse. As well as 34 a. of enclosed pasture, the farm had 132 a. of arable, 120 a. of ley ground, 16 a. of meadow, and 205 a. of woodland and assart, on which there was timber and coppice worth £273. (fn. 212)
The farm formerly leased to William Lane consisted in 1650 of a house with hall, parlour, kitchen and larder, cellars beneath, and seven bedrooms over; the buildings included a brewhouse and dovehouse. The farm had 40 a. of arable, 2 a. of meadow and 9 a. of closes, on which there were 65 timber trees. (fn. 213) There were seven other farms in Ashton in 1650, two of them the product of amalgamating two previously separate holdings. All the houses had a hall, parlour and kitchen; four also had butteries. All appear to have had only two storeys, with two or three chambers upstairs. The size and variety of buildings varied roughly in proportion to acreage: most had a barn, stable and cowhouse, but the largest, with 110 a. of arable, had a brewhouse and malthouse supplied from its own hopyards. The tenant also leased a second farmstead, with 25 a. of arable, giving him slightly more land than the manor farm. The next two farms had 82 a. and 71 a. respectively, following earlier amalgamation. The other four ranged from 20 to 49 a. All the farms had some enclosed pasture and some common meadow; the larger ones also had some timber or coppice. (fn. 214)
In 1638 five of the Ashton farms were included in the first of the Crown's huge leases of premises in the honor for 31 years in reversion to Thomas England and Richard Fitzhugh; (fn. 215) the following year three of the remaining four farms, together with two cottages in Ashton and woodland in Paulerspury and Wood Burcote, were included in the second such lease, to John Chewe and Richard Fitzhugh, (fn. 216) leaving only the manor, William Lane's estate and one other farm unaffected. During the Interregnum, most of the farms in the parish, including that not leased in reversion in 1638-9, were sold to John Marriott of Ashton and John Tomlinson of Roade, (fn. 217) who were probably acting on behalf of a consortium of tenants; the manor, (fn. 218) William Lane's estate, (fn. 219) and the woodland in Paulerspury (fn. 220) and Wood Burcote (fn. 221) were sold to other purchasers.
After the Restoration all the Ashton farms, including the manor, were let on leases in reversion. (fn. 222) There were still nine farms in 1700, despite an apparently more extensive rearrangement of holdings than elsewhere in the honor. (fn. 223) The lessees became fewer: in the last round of leasing before Queen Catherine's death in 1705 the farms were divided between only four tenants, three of whom each had two properties. (fn. 224)
Farming in the 18th century.
After the estate passed to the 2nd duke of Grafton in 1706, his officials initially continued the policy, in Ashton as elsewhere, of granting leases in reversion at the traditional rents plus entry fines to make up terms of 21 years, thus extending tenancies inherited from the Crown into the late 1720s. (fn. 225) Once the duke had obtained full control of the estate following the death of his mother, Ashton, together with Hartwell and Roade, was ordered to be surveyed, (fn. 226) a task completed in 1727, when it was found that the duke owned 1,138 a. out of the 1,283 a. mapped. (fn. 227) The duke's commissioners then proceeded to reorganise the estate, (fn. 228) granting new leases in 1728- 34 for between three and six years at rack rents, with no entry fines. (fn. 229) A further round of leasing, for six or twelve years, took place in the early 1750s. (fn. 230) In both cases, land in the three townships continued to be intermixed, with tenants whose farmhouse was in Ashton taking land in the fields of Roade and Hartwell as well as Ashton itself.
Because of this intermixture, 18th-century rentals for Ashton listed more tenants than farms. In the 1740s there were 13 separate tenancies, paying a total of £438, (fn. 231) but in 1757 there were only eight farms in Ashton, (fn. 232) one of which had only 17 a. and the rest between 65 a. and 227 a., with a median of 93 a. and a mean of 99 a. One of the farmers had a 12-year lease granted in 1747; most (probably all) the others were tenants at will. (fn. 233) There were still about a dozen tenancies in the 1760s, but the rental had risen to just over £500; (fn. 234) modest increases when premises changed hands lifted the figure to £530 in the 1770s. (fn. 235) There were seven farms on the rental around 1780 (six in the village together with Bozenham Mill Farm), with between 92 a. and 199 a. (a mean of 131 a. and a median of 126 a.), which together produced £422, with the balance coming from parcels of accommodation land let with farms in neighbouring townships. All the farms were then on tenancies at will. (fn. 236)
Farming in the 19th century.
In 1800 eleven tenants were paying £537. (fn. 237) The following year the 3rd duke's purchase of Roade tithes lifted the Ashton rental to £568, since some land in the township paid tithe there, (fn. 238) and in 1805 the division of land previously let with a farm in Hartwell among farmers in Ashton increased the figure to £586. (fn. 239) In 1811 the seven farms, ranging from 92 a. to 207 a. (around a mean of 156 a. and median of 146 a.) had 1,090 a. between them, and were paying £591 (out of a total for the township of £621). A survey recommended an average increase of 69 per cent in the farm rents (but only 41 per cent for the rental as a whole after three smallholdings and two parcels of accommodation land were added), (fn. 240) and these figures were achieved when the tenancies were renewed from Lady Day 1812, (fn. 241) giving a total of £1,057 from Ashton as a whole, £998 from the seven farms. (fn. 242)
More radical changes followed inclosure a few years later. In the 18th century, and presumably for some centuries previously, the land between the village and the Tove was divided (by the stream which flows south from the village to join the river near Bozenham) into two fields, South Field to the west and Bozenham Field to the east, of which the latter extended into Hartwell. Along both the Tove and its tributaries there were considerable stretches of common meadow. To the north, the common field near the village was named Warren Field in the 18th century, that further away (which included some land in Roade) was Breach Field. (fn. 243)
By the 1720s about half the land between the north-eastern edge of Breach Field and the parish boundary at the edge of Salcey Forest was divided into old inclosures that appear to have been cleared from earlier woodland, especially as adjoining fields in Hartwell to the south and Roade to the north were all named 'The Sarts' (i.e. assarts). (fn. 244) The other half was occupied partly by Rowley Wood, which survived as woodland until modern times, while the remainder was described as 'Ash Wood, now in coppice'. The rest of Ash Wood, just inside Roade, had been cleared by 1747. (fn. 245) The map evidence strongly suggests that Rowley Wood and Ash Wood had once formed part of Salcey Forest, which in the Middle Ages probably here extended as far west as the edge of Breach Field. There was no farmstead on the inclosed land next to Salcey in 1727 but in 1795-7 Ashwood Farm was built there, (fn. 246) one of the few instances on the Grafton estate of a new farm being established outside a village prior to inclosure.
The common arable and meadow on either side of the village was inclosed, together with the open fields of Roade, in 1819. (fn. 247) Since the Grafton estate owned three quarters of the land of the parish (about 900 a. out of 1,164 a. covered by the award), and half the rest was allotted to the rector as glebe or in place of tithe, (fn. 248) the process was far simpler than in either Roade or Hartwell, which was inclosed nine years later, when the rector of Ashton received a further allotment of land there instead of tithes from Ashton tithing. (fn. 249) Under the earlier award the rector had most of the former South Field, in the middle of which Rectory Farm was built a few years later, (fn. 250) while the duke of Grafton had most of Bozenham Field (which thereafter seems normally to have been let with Bozenham Mill Farm), Warren Field and Breach Field. Here the estate established, sometime before 1831, (fn. 251) Ashton Lodge Farm on the road from Roade to Hartwell which ran through the newly inclosed land. Inclosure enabled the estate to increase the Ashton rental to £1,600 by the early 1820s. (fn. 252)
In 1831, after Hartwell had also been inclosed, (fn. 253) there were six farms on the Ashton rental, with a total of 856 a. (of which 253 a. were in Roade). The smallest had only 31 a., but the others ranged from 103 a. to 220 a. (around a mean of 142 a. and median of 146 a.). (fn. 254) By 1844 one of the farms had been given up, leaving three large holdings (of 196 a., 223 a. and 244 a. acres), and two others of 108 a. and 65 a., a total of 836 a., for which the rental had fallen to £960. (fn. 255) The proporton of arable was virtually the same in 1831 and 1844 at around 70 per cent of the total. (fn. 256)
Four farms were surveyed in Ashton in 1875, with 102 a., 219 a., 237 a. and 320 a. (fn. 257) After this there was little change before the first auction in 1913. (fn. 258) The gradual reduction in the number of holdings during the 19th century meant that in 1875 only one of the four (Vale Farm) was still centred on a house and buildings in the village itself, where several former farmhouses were converted into cottages. The Manor House ceased to be a farm in 1854 and was let as four tenements, (fn. 259) and the large house opposite (later known as The Warren) was superseded after inclosure by Ashton Lodge, the only major farm building to be erected by the estate in the parish in the 19th century, which stood to the east of the village. (fn. 260) Bozenham Mill Farm and Ashwood Farm had always been outside the village. (fn. 261)
Farming in the 20th century.
Ashton Lodge and Ashwood were included in the Grafton sale of 1913, together with The Warren and a number of cottages. Ashton Lodge (312 a., let on a yearly tenancy at £155) was withdrawn, whereas Ashwood (131 a., £147) was sold, as were the cottages. (fn. 262) Ashton Lodge, Vale Farm and Bozenham Mill Farm were included, together with the Manor House, The Warren (with which was coupled a recently created holding of 91 a., known confusingly as Manor Farm), some allotments and accommodation land, plus the remaining cottages, in the 1919 sale, which effectively marked the breakup of the Grafton estate in the parish. Ashton Lodge, which then had 282 a. and was let for £291, was sold to the tenant; Bozenham Mill Farm (151 a., £174) was sold at auction for £4,500. Vale Farm and Manor Farm (with The Warren) failed to sell, as did the Manor House, still divided into four tenements, and the allotments. The cottage property, together with the Crown Inn, was all sold, either to tenants or at the auction. (fn. 263) Manor Farm and The Warren were sold together privately in 1919, as was Vale Farm (299 a., £342). The other unsold lots were also all disposed of by the end of the year. (fn. 264) Of the entire Grafton estate in Ashton, Roade and Hartwell, only Rowley Wood (23 acres) remained to be included in the 1920 sale, where it failed to reach its reserve of £2,000. (fn. 265)
The sales of 1913 and 1919, coupled with the disposal of the bulk of the glebe (Rectory Farm), (fn. 266) were regarded in the 1950s as by far the most important events in living memory, especially as the Grafton estate's main tenant in Ashton, John Bliss, employing 20 or more men, left the village at about the same time and the farms were disposed of separately. (fn. 267) The sense of disruption and loss resulting from the break-up of the estate was made worse by the difficulties faced by servicemen returning from the Great War, whose wages had not been made up local farmers and whose jobs had not been kept open. Several young men left the land as a result. (fn. 268) Despite these changes, farming remained the largest employer in Ashton between the two World Wars and for some years after 1945. In 1953 there were seven farms and two smallholdings in the parish. (fn. 269) By far the most important was Vale Farm, acquired by Bernard Sunley, a successful builder and civil engineering contractor, in 1942, and later modernised and mechanised. (fn. 270)
Trades and crafts.
Ashton was always too small to support more than a limited range of trades and services, and there was never any industry in the parish itself, although in the 20th century local people found such employment in neighbouring communities. A shopkeeper named Thomas Wickens was buried at Ashton in 1780; his son Jeremiah and grandson Thomas also kept a shop, (fn. 271) and there was one shop in the village in 1847. (fn. 272) Thereafter the village had a general store, conducted from various premises, until the last closed in the 1980s. (fn. 273) There was a wall letterbox from the mid 19th century, but no post office until 1894, by which date the shopkeeper was acting as subpostmaster. This continued until about 1903, when the village was again left with only a letterbox. In 1932 an office was reinstated, and a few years later a telephone kiosk was provided. (fn. 274)
Licensees of Ashton's only public house, the Old Crown, can be traced from 1810. Bought by the tenant at the Grafton sale in 1919, the pub was sold in 1945 to the Abington Brewery Co., which in 1953 modernised it inside and out. (fn. 275)
The Goodrich family were blacksmiths in Ashton from at least the middle of the 18th century until 1880, when the last smith died. (fn. 276) For most other trades, the village had to rely on its larger neighbours, Roade and Hartwell. Remains of a dam on the stream which flows through Little Ashton may represent the site of a medieval water-mill, although no trace of a dam, storage pond or mill was shown on the map of 1727. (fn. 277) Certainly from the 16th century, like Grafton Regis and Alderton on the opposite bank of the Tove, Ashton used Bozenham Mill, which (although giving its name to one of Ashton's open fields) lay just inside Hartwell. (fn. 278) A windmill near the Manor House was included in all the leases of the manor to the Cooke family from 1635 to 1704, (fn. 279) but is not shown on the map of 1727, although part of Warren Field immediately to the north of the house was then known as Windmill Furlong. (fn. 280)
There were at least three lace-dealers in Ashton in 1777. (fn. 281) There was a lace school in Little Ashton in 1853, (fn. 282) which closed shortly after the Revd. A.C. Neely became rector; thereafter some girls learnt the craft at Roade or Blisworth or from relations. In 1874 lace-making was said to be carried 'to a great extent' (fn. 283) and in the late 19th century Ashton was one of the parishes in which Mrs. Harrison, the wife of the rector of Paulerspury, attempted to revive the craft. Some lace from the village was exhibited at Northampton in 1891 and a small amount was still being made in the early 1950s. (fn. 284)
There were also two or three shoemakers in Ashton in the mid 19th century. (fn. 285)
More important than these domestic crafts was the building of the London & Birmingham Railway in the 1830s, which brought a temporary influx of navvies both then (fn. 286) and again in 1906 when lay-by sidings were built at Ashton. (fn. 287) There was also some permanent employment, either on the railway itself (in 1953 five men, three of them resident in Ashton, maintained the mile and a quarter of track forming the Ashton section of the main line) or at Wolverton works, where another five local men worked in the 1950s. (fn. 288) Other employers which drew men (and, during and after the Second World War, women also) from the village were the engineering works at Roade (employing eight people from Ashton in 1953), the sawmills at Hartwell (one man), and the R.A.F. depot in Salcey Forest. (fn. 289) Although in the 1950s it was said that daily travelling to office or factory work in Northampton had only become possible after a bus service began in 1922 and only became common during the war, (fn. 290) the local sanitary inspector observed as early as 1914 that artisans who worked either in Northampton or at Wolverton, to which they could travel by train from Roade, were choosing to live in Ashton because the housing was cheap. (fn. 291)
Ashton was served by at least one carrier to Northampton on Wednesdays and Saturdays from the mid 19th century (if not before) until the First World War, and occasionally to Tow cester on Tuesdays. (fn. 292) One carrier, who also sold paraffin and benzolene, continued to go to and from Northampton on Saturdays until the late 1920s, (fn. 293) by which time two rival motor-bus operators were running services through the village from Hartwell or Hanslope to Northampton. One survived to be absorbed by United Counties, which was still running a daily service in 1954. (fn. 294)
A handful of rolls for the Culpepers' manor of Ashton for the early 16th century show that the court was transacting routine business, (fn. 295) as was that held by Anthony Marriott as the Crown lessee of the manor in the 1590s. (fn. 296)
During the 1720s Ashton manor court sat twice a year, nominating the constable, headborough, hayward and field tellers, making orders for the management of the common fields, and receiving the fealty of incoming freeholders. As elsewhere on the estate, except at Potterspury and Yardley Gobion, there were no copyholds in Ashton. (fn. 297) From 1731 to 1733 the court sat only once a year, and thereafter at irregular intervals until 1753. The nature of the business remained unchanged. (fn. 298)
By 1764 the Ashton court had been amalgamated with that for Roade, Hartwell and Grafton Regis, where it sat. A separate jury was still empanelled for Ashton and another for Grafton, Roade and Hartwell, but field orders were made for Ashton and the two latter townships together, a reflection of the intermixture of their common lands. (fn. 299) The conveyance of freeholds continued to be noted. From 1773, as on the rest of the estate, the court sat only once every two years. Right up to 1801 a full set of officials continued to be nominated for both Ashton and the other manors. (fn. 300) The Grafton Regis court was still sitting in the 1830s, (fn. 301) although by then Ashton, Roade, and Hartwell had all been inclosed and there can have been little business to transact beyond the nomination of constables.
The parish council.
Ashton became part of Potterspury poor law union after 1834 and thus of Potterspury rural district in 1894. It was transferred to the new Northampton rural district in 1935 when Potterspury was abolished, and to South Northamptonshire district in 1974. (fn. 302) The parish was too small to have a council as of right under the 1894 Local Government Act and only after three parish meetings was a resolution obtained to ask the county council to grant one. The request was accepted and the first council elected in 1895. (fn. 303) Later the same year the council sought to adopt the Lighting & Watching Act, but that was successfully opposed by the London & North Western Railway, the largest ratepayer in the parish. (fn. 304)
Ashton was the only parish in Potterspury rural district where the council was pressed to build houses before the First World War. In April 1914 the council received a petition from the parish, which also complained to the Local Government Board. They in turn threatened a local inquiry into housing conditions and observed that the number of houses in the district as a whole inspected under the 1909 Housing Act seemed very small. (fn. 305) The medical officer and sanitary inspector reported a divergence of opinion in the village: the majority seemed to think that if houses were built it was by no means certain that they would be let. The health of the people was satisfactory and, following some judicious boarding-out of children, there was no statutory overcrowding. (fn. 306) The L.G.B. inspector thought otherwise and recommended the council build at least four three-bedroom houses to enable families to move from insanitary accommodation. (fn. 307) A site was found but, despite continued pressure from the L.G.B., (fn. 308) in February 1915 the council postponed the scheme until the end of the war, pointing to the removal of men from the village to enlist and the high price of money, labour and materials. (fn. 309)
When the L.G.B. asked Potterspury for its post-war housing plans in August 1917, the council replied that it saw no need for any building, except perhaps at Ashton. (fn. 310) Throughout 1919 the Board urged the council to revive their plans for the village, but preferably on a larger scale, pointing out that to buy three cottages at the forthcoming Grafton sale, demolish them and use the materials to build four new ones would hardly solve the village's housing problem. (fn. 311) In 1920 loan sanction for £3,935 for four houses was obtained. (fn. 312) When tenders were opened and it was found that a rent of 11s. a week would have to be charged, the R.D.C. postponed further discussion until the view of the parish council was obtained as to the likely demand. (fn. 313) The scheme was abandoned in December 1921 (fn. 314) and the site sold back to the vendor three years later. (fn. 315)
In 1931 the R.D.C. acquired part of a field previously rented by the parish council as a recreation ground as the site for eight houses. (fn. 316) After a delay caused by the financial crisis of that year, the Ministry of Health approved the scheme in November 1932 (fn. 317) and the houses, on Hartwell Road, were completed the following June. (fn. 318)
During 1929-30 the council considered bringing piped water to Ashton, either from a source within the village or, at greater expense, by extending the pre-war scheme at Hartwell. (fn. 319) Nothing was done until 1933, when the sanitary inspector reported an acute shortage of water in Ashton, (fn. 320) and the Grafton estate, which still owned Hartwell waterworks, agreed to an extension to serve Ashton. The scheme was implemented in 1934-5, having been modified after the extension of mains electricity to Hartwell made it possible to install an electric motor at the works. (fn. 321)
Although electricity reached Hartwell in the 1930s, the company saw little prospect of supplying Ashton, in view of the limited demand, (fn. 322) and it was not until 1945 that the whole village was connected to the mains. A few houses had telephones during the Second World War and others were installed in 1953-4. Street lighting arrived in 1951 and sewers the following year. During the war the water supply to Ashton, Roade and Hartwell was placed under renewed strain because of the growth of the Pianoforte Supplies factory at Roade and the building of the R.A.F. maintenance unit in Salcey Forest; as a result Ashton and Roade were supplied from a new reservoir at Harpole, rather than the Hartwell works. (fn. 323)
The parish church of Roade appears to have been founded jointly by the lords of Ashton and Hartwell, who also each built chapels within their respective manors and shared in the advowson of the parish church. (fn. 324) Thus the earliest reference to a church at Ashton occurs in 1298, when there was a dispute between Amice, widow of John le Lou, and his son Philip concerning her dower in the manor of Ashton and in the advowson of the chapel of Ashton and a moiety of the church of Roade. (fn. 325) The share of the advowson of Roade held by the lords of Ashton was in fact a third, which descended with the manor until the lordship was acquired by the Crown in 1538. (fn. 326) In the early 16th century, beginning with the institution of John Day in 1516, the Culpepers succeeded in reversing the status of Ashton and Roade, so that the former was henceforth regarded as a rectory and the latter as a parochial chapelry. (fn. 327) The status of the other chapel in the medieval parish, at Hartwell, was unchanged. (fn. 328)
Throughout the period in which the honor of Grafton was held by the Crown and the manor of Ashton leased, the advowson was reserved, (fn. 329) as it was when the honor was granted out in 1673. (fn. 330) In 1925 Ashton was united with Hartwell, which by that date was a perpetual curacy in the patronage of the bishop of Peterborough. Thereafter presentation to the united living alternated between the Crown and the bishop until 1958, when the bishop surrendered his share. (fn. 331) In 1987 Ashton with Hartwell was united with Roade, where the bishop was patron, and so the right of presentation once again alternated between the diocese and the Crown. (fn. 332)
Income and property.
The rectory was valued at £10 3s. 6d. in 1535 (fn. 333) and in 1655 was certified to be worth £100 a year. (fn. 334) Before inclosure, the rectors of Ashton had about 54 acres of glebe worth £116 a year, together with the tithes of Ashton and (every third year) those of Roade, and a composition of 5s. a year for land in the parish added to Hartwell Park in the 16th century. (fn. 335) When Ashton was inclosed in 1819, the commissioners allotted the rectory 150 a. of land in lieu of tithes and glebe. (fn. 336)
In 1854 the living was worth £319 a year. (fn. 337) Its value fell to £180 in 1898 (fn. 338) and £160 in 1910, (fn. 339) before recovering to £200 in 1914, (fn. 340) and £340 in 1924 (fn. 341) as a result of the sale of much of the glebe in 1920. (fn. 342) In 1925 the living was combined with that of Hartwell and the joint income assessed at £550. (fn. 343) The figure had fallen to £450 by 1940. (fn. 344)
There was a parsonage near the church of seven bays, with extensive outbuildings, in the 17th and 18th centuries. (fn. 345) A new house was built in the early 19th century (fn. 346) and extended by Andrew Neely in the the 1870s when a kitchen and a west wing were added. (fn. 347) A tithe barn survived until 1893, when it was demolished, and some of the farm buildings were still in use until 1920. In 1931 a house called Tithe Barn was built on the site of the old barn. (fn. 348) Following the union with Hartwell, the parsonage was sold and the incumbents resided at Hartwell. (fn. 349) In 1966 the re-purchase of Ashton parsonage by the church was considered and rejected because of the poor state of the building. (fn. 350) Following the union of 1987, the incumbent resided at Roade. (fn. 351)
Incumbents and church life.
In 1645 the living was sequestered and the incumbent, John Whitford, fled. He was replaced by William Clever, who was described as having an immoral character. His behaviour at both Ashton and Croydon (Surrey), the living to which he moved from Ashton, was the subject of complaints by parishioners. (fn. 352) Whitford was restored to the living in 1660.
Ashton was frequently held with another living from the 16th century onwards, its incumbents often installing a curate to officiate. Most seem to have held only one other living, although Edmund Easton, rector from 1611 to 1622, and Henry Wilde (1634-40) each had two. (fn. 353) Several incumbents also held livings in other parishes in Cleley hundred: Wilde was rector of Alderton, and Robert Harding (1739- 67) was also vicar of Potterspury. (fn. 354) Benjamin King (1700-12) managed to combine the rectory of Ashton with being vicar of All Saints', Northampton, and a prebendary of Gloucester.
Between 1767 and 1895 the rectory was served by only two families. John Risley, also rector of Tingewick (Bucks.), resigned in favour of his son, another John, in 1799. The younger Risley held the living until 1853, along with Thornton (Bucks.), employing Robert Burgess, William Butlin and John Moore to officiate for him at Ashton. (fn. 355) Risley's long incumbency was followed by the equally lengthy term of Andrew Neely (1853-95). (fn. 356) Neely was incapacitated during his last years, and his son, also called Andrew, was curate at Ashton from 1887 to 1895, as well as being curate-in-charge at Hartwell between 1892 and 1895. (fn. 357)
In 1851, when the church had 209 sittings, of which 74 were free, average attendance at morning service was said to be 50, with 106 present in the evenings. A Sunday school held morning and evening had 44 children at both. (fn. 358)
Ashton continued to levy a church rate until 1868 (fn. 359) and in 1870 the vestry resolved to collect a 'subscription' (in fact a voluntary rate of 1d. in the £1) to meet church expenses. In 1874 an offertory was established and collections begun at services. By the turn of the century there was only one annual subscription and almost all the parish's income came from collections, which from 1914 were taken at every Sunday evening service. (fn. 360)
In 1887 a monthly celebration of Holy Communion was introduced and from 1889 a weekly celebration, although this seems to have been abandoned within a couple of years. (fn. 361) Also in 1887 the choir was surpliced for the first time, the altar was enlarged and a new altar cloth and cross provided. (fn. 362) In 1891 there were 40 communicants on the church roll and 75 subscribers to the parish magazine. The Sunday school had an average attendance of 34 with six teachers, a Bible class had 15 members, and a Church of England Temperance Society branch had 30, including 20 juniors. The church then had 180 sittings, of which all but 40 were free. (fn. 363) By 1920 there were only 21 children in the Sunday school, taught by the rector and his wife, and the Bible class and C.E.T.S. had disappeared. (fn. 364)
A parochial church council of 12 members met for the first time in January 1923 and immediately devoted its energies to opposing the proposed union with Hartwell. (fn. 365) Ashton then had services morning and evening and a children's service every Sunday, with an average attendance of 40 in the morning and between 80 and 110 in the evening. Opinion in both parishes was hostile to the union, in Ashton partly because of an unhappy experience during a vacancy when the incumbent of Hartwell had done duty in both parishes and services had been held at irregular hours. There was also strong opposition to the plan to sell Ashton parsonage and make the more modern, but poorly situated, vicarage at Hartwell the incumbent's residence. The union went ahead, Ashton parsonage was sold and, to the further annoyance of the P.C.C., the proceeds went to the diocese, not the parish. Plans to build a new house came to nothing and considerable illfeeling towards the diocese continued into the early 1930s. (fn. 366)
In 1932 there were 52 names on the church roll, 37 Easter communicants and 30 children in the Sunday school. Holy Communion was celebrated weekly. By 1940 the number on the roll had risen to 85, although the number of Easter communicants had dropped to 24. (fn. 367) When a new rector arrived in 1948 he was concerned at the 'seriously low state' of church life and was told that the parish had never recovered from a sense of grievance and neglect dating from when it lost its resident rector in 1925. The previous rector had not helped by his poor handling of the choir and reluctance to attend fund-raising events. (fn. 368) The rector sought the support of Bernard Sunley in raising money to repair the church but Sunley wished to see all parishioners playing their part. In contrast to Sir Cyril Cripps's unstinting support for Roade church, he would only help on a pound for pound basis. (fn. 369) Money was raised to pay for repairs but the rector continued to lament the small attendance at church, even though there were 53 names on the electoral roll. (fn. 370) In 1954-5 there was difficulty finding two people to serve as churchwardens. (fn. 371) When Mrs. Fisher canvassed support for a free-will offering scheme, she found that there would be more support if the rector was seen more in the village. (fn. 372) In 1966 there were 52 communicants in the parish but only 12 at most services, which had an average attendance of 24. The Sunday school had 22 children and there were 48 names on the electoral roll. (fn. 373)
The parish church.
The church, dedicated to St. Michael, consists of a nave, north aisle, chancel, west tower and south porch. The earliest feature is the plain 12th-century tub font. The nave evidently pre-dates the aisle: its abnormally thick north wall has been pierced by the thinner arcade, necessitating the corbellingout of the nave roof. The aisle, which is very wide, has a simple two-bay arcade and standard Curvilinear windows, and is evidently of the mid to late 14th century. Many of the other windows are Perpendicular replacements.
The chancel, which has Curvilinear and Perpendicular windows, was heavily remodelled in 1843 at the expense of the rector, John Risley, by a local builder, William Shakeshaft. (fn. 374) Much of the later work on the church was also carried out by the Shakeshafts, including the restoration of 1892 and the construction of the new arch for the organ in 1909. (fn. 375) In 1848 the tower was substantially rebuilt, to the design of R.C. Hussey of Birmingham, and paid for by a rate and donations. (fn. 376) The south wall of the tower was also strengthened with three buttresses. (fn. 377)
The church was repaired and renovated again in 1853-4 to the design of E. F. Law. (fn. 378) Andrew Neely, the new incumbent, moved the 17thcentury pulpit from the north to the south side of the nave. (fn. 379) At the same time the nave was reroofed and a new chancel arch built. (fn. 380) In 1868 the chancel and north aisle were restored and reroofed, new floor tiles were put in, and new oak seats installed. (fn. 381)
In 1883 the choir was moved from under the tower to the chancel, with new seats made by Shakeshafts. (fn. 382) In 1888 the pulpit was restored and placed on a new stone base. (fn. 383) A few years later the interior of the west end was restored, again by Shakeshafts, and a new organ installed. (fn. 384) In 1931 the four existing bells were repaired and rehung. (fn. 385) A fifth bell was cast and, along with the newly rehung bells, was consecrated by the bishop of Peterborough in November that year. (fn. 386)
The oldest monument, now on a plain tomb in the south-west corner of the north aisle, is a wooden early 14th-century effigy, traditionally ascribed to Philip le Lou. (fn. 387) In the north-west corner is a freestone tomb-chest with arcaded sides, bearing an alabaster military effigy with marginal inscription in French for Sir John de Hartshill, Lord Hatch (d. 1367). (fn. 388) In the late 18th century both the tomb and effigy were under an arch near the pulpit, on the north side of the church. (fn. 389) At the east end of the aisle, on a plain tomb, is a brass with figures for Robert Marriott, his wife and their fifteen children, with a long verse inscription. Several slabs are dedicated to members of the Marriott and Goldsmith families. In the chancel are monuments to John Whitford, rector of Ashton in the mid 17th century, and Captain Richard Lestock (d. 1713).
Two private houses in Ashton were certified as dissenting meeting houses at the beginning of the 19th century, one, occupied by William Fearn, in 1803 and the other, on the Green, occupied by James Lambert, in 1820. A third house, in the occupation of Benjamin Mills, was certified in 1835. (fn. 390)
The earliest purpose-built chapel in Ashton appears to have been that erected by the Baptists on Stoke Road, on a parcel of freehold land between the Old Crown Inn and Home Farm, in 1824, when it was said to belong to Phoebe Peasnall, in trust for her son William Dumsby. (fn. 391) In 1840 the Baptists had a Sunday school in Ashton with 25 pupils, the same number as the Anglicans, (fn. 392) whose school had apparently lapsed by 1851. The Baptists reported an attendance of 58 at evening service on Census Sunday, compared with an average of 80; their chapel had 150 sittings, all free. It was served by the minister from the long-established Baptist congregation at Roade, (fn. 393) from which preachers had visited several neighbouring villages, including Ashton, in the early 19th century. (fn. 394) There were said to be only three Baptist families in Ashton in 1853 (fn. 395) and the cause seems to have gone into decline later in the century. The chapel was closed in the early 1880s, sold for £15, (fn. 396) and later demolished.
The Wesleyan Methodists.
On various occasions in the 1830s the rector of Ashton buried children after their parents had certified that they had been baptised by the Wesleyan minister in the village. (fn. 397) In 1851 the Wesleyans merely stated that their preaching house at Ashton had been erected 'before 1830' and was 'separate but not exclusive', with 60 free sittings. An attendance of 60 was claimed for the morning service on Census Sunday, 40 in the evening. (fn. 398) Two years later, the newly installed rector noted three families in the village as Methodists and commented that Methodist meetings were held at a cottage in Little Ashton. (fn. 399)
The Wesleyans built their own chapel in 1858 on Stoke Road at the western edge of the village. (fn. 400) It was a plain structure, measuring 30 ft. by 20 ft., of stone with a slate roof. A gallery was added in 1860. (fn. 401) After this the chapel had about 120 sittings, (fn. 402) of which a diminishing number were let privately. In 1897 a special effort raised enough to buy an organ for the chapel. The chapel's trustees in 1913 were mainly small tradesmen and artisans, of whom only five lived in Ashton. (fn. 403)
Two single women, the Misses Mills of Vine Cottage, Ashton, seem to have been the mainstays after the Second World War of what was by then a very small congregation. (fn. 404) As the Towcester superintendent minister between 1934 and 1952 remarked, 'Things never seemed to get going at Ashton'. (fn. 405) Although afternoon and evening services, and a Sunday school, were still being held in the early 1950s, (fn. 406) no income from collections was recorded after 1955, (fn. 407) and in November 1957 the Methodist Church gave consent for the sale of the building. (fn. 408) The final blow came with the death of one of the Misses Mills early the following year. (fn. 409) Some of the furnishings were given to Hartwell chapel (fn. 410) and in 1962 the building was sold to an adjoining householder for conversion to a garage and workshop, (fn. 411) which remained its use at the time of writing.
An infants' school was erected to the north of the church in 1854 by the 5th duke of Grafton at a cost of £60; (fn. 412) before that children from the parish could attend the free school at Courteenhall. (fn. 413) There was also a lace school in the village, taught by Mrs. Fearn. (fn. 414) By the 1860s the village school was under diocesan inspection but had not received any financial assistance from the local branch of the National Society. (fn. 415) In 1870 it was a mixed day school, still under diocesan rather than government inspection, with accommodation for 63 children in a building with an area of 510 sq. ft. There were 16 boys and 11 girls on the books aged between five and twelve (and also eight infants under five); the average attendance was 23. The school had a single mistress and its income consisted of £11 10s. in voluntary contributions and £9 in school pence. Some children from Ashton went to schools at Stoke Bruerne or Roade, each about a mile away. There were no children over 12 at the day school but the rector taught a night school two days a week (held, unusually, in the summer rather than the winter), which claimed an attendance of 25 pupils aged between eight and twenty. (fn. 416)
In the 1880s the day school had about 50 children on the books; (fn. 417) the mistress was helped by a monitress for the infants from 1887 (fn. 418) and by a salaried teacher from 1892. (fn. 419) The school received mixed reports from H.M.I., including one in 1891 so unfavourable that the grant was partly withheld, (fn. 420) but after the appointment of a certificated mistress in 1895 (fn. 421) standards improved. (fn. 422) In 1891 there were 60 children on the books and an average attendance of 40. (fn. 423)
The original building was still in use in 1903, comprising a single room 30 ft. by 18 ft., approved for 50 pupils, with an attendance of 15 infants and 24 older children. (fn. 424) In 1903 the Grafton estate leased the building at a nominal rent to the managers. (fn. 425) Probably c. 1912 a large porch, with cloakrooms, was added. (fn. 426) In 1920 the school had 52 pupils (fn. 427) but from 1923 children from Ashton over 11 attended the larger school at Roade, (fn. 428) reducing the numbers by more than half. (fn. 429) In 1938 the archidiaconal education committee secured the conveyance of the freehold from the Grafton estate to the rector and churchwardens. (fn. 430) The head continued to teach all the children in a single room, helped only by a monitress. (fn. 431)
Ashton received about 30 evacuee children in September and December 1939 from Hampstead and Islington. (fn. 432) Between 1940 and the early months of 1944 as many again arrived from various London schools and also Ilford (Essex). (fn. 433) The parish recreation room was requisitioned to provide additional accommodation and, after a period in which the two groups were taught separately in shifts, they were merged into much enlarged infant and junior classes. (fn. 434) In 1942 the school had 81 pupils. (fn. 435) Some of the evacuees gradually returned home, but in July 1944 a further group of 22 arrived from Welling (Kent), although since most were 11-year-olds they were transferred almost at once to Roade. (fn. 436) Another dozen juniors from various London and Essex schools were evacuated to Ashton over the next few weeks. (fn. 437)
Once the evacuees had gone home, Ashton was left with fewer than 40 pupils. (fn. 438) The building of council houses in the early 1950s raised numbers and for a time the recreation room had again to be used, (fn. 439) until in 1958 a prefabricated wooden classroom was erected in the playground for the infants. (fn. 440) By then numbers had risen to over 60 and were only held at this figure by raising the age of admission. (fn. 441) The school, which became a voluntary controlled primary in 1952, (fn. 442) acquired its first headmaster in 1956. (fn. 443) From 1979 falling numbers threatened the survival of the full-time assistant's post, which was briefly lost and reinstated in 1984-5, by which date numbers had recovered to 25. (fn. 444) In 1998, after a few new houses had been built in the village, (fn. 445) there were 42 children on the roll, taught by the head and 1.2 assistants. (fn. 446)
CHARITIES FOR THE POOR
Charity of Catherine and Elizabeth Chivall.
In 1708 Catherine Chivall of Ashton, relict of John Chivall of Ashton, surveyor, and Elizabeth Chivall, their daughter and heiress, settled the house in Roade in which John had lived, together with land there and in Ashton, Stoke Bruerne and Alderton, and another house and 1 a. in Ashton, in trust for sale after their deaths, the proceeds to form a stock for an annual payment to the poor of Ashton. John Chivall's personalty was also settled on the same trusts. (fn. 447) The entire capital, £50, was lost in the 1750s through the insolvency of a borrower. (fn. 448)
In the earlier part of the 18th century 12s. was paid annually towards the repair of the church, but from about 1785 the money was given to the poor. (fn. 449) At inclosure, 5½ a. was awarded to the minister, churchwardens and overseers, in lieu of land said to have been held immemorially for the poor, which in 1825 was let for £6 a year, compared with 12s. before inclosure. (fn. 450) The latter figure suggests that the land was the endowment of the former church repair charity. In the 1830s the income was distributed in coal to the poor, (fn. 451) as it was in 1874, when the rent was only £2; (fn. 452) by 1894 the income had risen to £9 10s. (fn. 453)
In the 1780s the parish had another small charity, of unknown origin, with an endowment of £3 10s., which produced an annual income of 3s. 6d., used to buy bread for the poor. (fn. 454)
Salcey Forest Charity.
Under the Salcey Forest Inclosure Act of 1826 the poor of several adjoining parishes, including Ashton, were compensated for the loss of their traditional right to collect firewood in the forest by an allotment of former forest land. (fn. 455) Ashton was awarded 2½ a., vested in the minister and churchwardens, from which the income was to applied in the manner judged most beneficial by the vestry, although it was not to be used in aid of the rates. (fn. 456)