Ashford in the spotlight

Surrounded by lovely countryside, with a fascinating history and architecture, Ashford is on the cusp of a tremendous future: quite simply, it's a great place to visit and a wonderful place to live

Ashford in the spotlight

Surrounded by lovely countryside, with a fascinating history and architecture, Ashford is on the cusp of a tremendous future: quite simply, it’s a great place to visit and a wonderful place to live

Right now Ashford is on the brink of a rollercoaster future. It’s a town where, quite literally, history is in the making, because it’s being redeveloped and expanded in tandem with radically improved transport links.

Improvements began in 2003 when it was earmarked for government funding and are roaring ahead, despite the chancellor’s cuts, demonstrating Ashford’s irrepressible ‘can do’ spirit.

Ashford quality of life is rated by MORI as among the best in Kent, and while council tax is the lowest; it has the most listed buildings and conservation areas in the county, plus one of the lowest crime rates, and in 2005 was voted to be the fourth best place to live in the UK.

Around town

Most Read

The centre of town is fully pedestrianised and there are five convenient car parks and no steep hills. Start at the Tourist Information Office in the Church Yard, next door to which is Ashford Borough Museum. Church Yard is in fact a quartet of brick-paved alleys joined as a square, surrounding 13th-century St Mary the Virgin Church.

As you follow the path along you pass a number of small houses with some shops, mostly white-painted brick below tiled upper storeys. Particularly striking is an attractive row of pure white cottages, whose front doors are all of brightly painted contrasting colours. Don’t miss The College, a timber-beamed medieval building, set back from the road.

Leave Church Yard via Middle Row, one of a network of streets, once the medieval area known as Butchers Shambles. To your right is a long row of shops which were once one building, The Six Bells Inn, one of the oldest constructions in Ashford.

Then go past the white, Man of Kent pub (notice its attractive external plasterwork and badges), and now you are in the High Street. This is the large trading area where markets are held three times a week – originally the market encompassed an even wider space than this.

Turn right and go down the High Street and towards the end is the Friendship Stone (commemorating Twinning with other towns) and a fountain with a pavement caf� beside it. Turn around and go back up the High Street and on the left you’ll see a beautiful white building with elaborately plasterwork on its facade: this used to be the town Gaol, called The Cage.

Turn right up the relatively wide North Street (once a highly fashionable residential area) and you’ll see medieval, Georgian and Jacobean buildings; notable is the Raj Indian restaurant, dated 1571. On the right is a medieval frontage on a building that houses the Masonic Lodge – the birthplace of Sir John Furley, founder of the St John Ambulance Association.

Return to the High Street and turn right, and on your right is The George, the oldest pub in continuous use since the 16th century. Go back to the High Street, turn left and you come to the main ‘shopping’ centre of town, with Park Mall on the right and County Square to the left and eventually to Castle Street; at the top of this road you will find a First World War tank on display.

Major attractions

•           St Mary the Virgin church, with its interesting four-turreted tower and lovely old churchyard

•           Tourist Information Office, tel 01233 629165

•           Ashford Borough Museum, tel 01233 631511, in the ancient building that was the first grammar school in Ashford. 


•           The Stour Centre, tel 01233 639966, swimming pools, health club and spa, sauna, steam room.

•           AMF Bowling, tel 0870 1183010, 18-lane bowling complex

•           Ashford Indoor Bowls Centre tel 01233 650760

•           Great Chart golf and leisure, tel 01233 645858, golf course, pitch-and-putt, archery, paintball

•           Julie Rose Stadium, tel 01233 613131, fantastic sporting and athletic facilities

•           The Oranges, tel 01233 611950, live music every weekend 

•           Eureka Leisure park, tel 0871 200 2000, Kent’s largest combined leisure complex with a 12-screen cineworld cinema


•           Park Mall Shopping centre, High Street

•           County Square shopping centre, High Street

•           Ashford Designer Outlet Centre, tel 01233 895940, more than 70 High Street and designer brands at discount prices

•           Market in the High Street, Tue, Fri and Sat


•           Willesborough Windmill, tel 01233 661866, one of the largest smock mills in the south of England

•           Godinton House and gardens, tel 01233 620773, Jacobean house set in 12 acres

•           Agricultural Museum at Brook, tel 01304 824969, Grade 1 Medieval barn, with ancient farm equipment

•           Singleton Environment Centre, tel 01233 666519, environmental, conservation and education activities in a woodland setting

•           St Mary the Virgin church in Eastwell. A ruin in peaceful surroundings with a beautiful lake.

Past and present

 ‘Essetesford’ is thought to derive from either ‘ash trees growing near a ford’ or ‘a ford over the river Eshe’, and it seems that the first recorded inhabitants were given the land by a grateful Saxon Lord as a reward for their resistance to the invading Danes, in 893 AD. After the Norman conquest Ashford was largely given to Hugh de Montfort, a Norman commander, the remainder owned by St Augustine Abbey, of Canterbury. In 1243 it became officially a market town, and its importance as such grew in the next few centuries, since important roads linked it to other notable settlements. In 1600 Ashford consisted of a cluster of buildings surrounding the church, and the present Middle Row was a market place for fish, corn, butter, meat and livestock, known as ‘Butchers Shambles’. There was a mill and tannery beside the river.

The railway and the railway works’ arrival in the 1840s transformed the town’s fortunes and boosted its population. With its own shops, schools and pubs, the latter became a self-contained town, called Alfred Town, later New Town. The Works closed in 1981 and the Wheel Shop ceased production in 1993. However, just three years later Ashford International station opened, a section of the high-speed rail connection between Britain and Europe. Then in 2009 the high-speed train link joined London to Ashford in just 37 minutes, using new Japanese ‘bullet’ trains. Since 2003, Ashford has been one of four designated growth areas in the South East, attracting government investment (see below). The railway works has been reborn as Ashford Designer Outlet Centre.



•           Ashford is twinned with Bad Munstereifel (Germany), Foug�res (France) and Hopewell, Virginia, USA.

•           Has one of the largest cinema complexes in Kent.

•           Surroundings include an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

•           Is the biggest borough in Kent, and the population has trebled over the last 40 years.

•           Quality of life is rated by MORI as the best in Kent – in 2005 it was voted the fourth best place to live in the UK.

•           Has the most Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas in Kent, and also one of the lowest crime rates.


•           Sir Malcolm Sargent (conductor)

•           Frederick Forsyth (author)

•           John Wells (actor/comedian)

•           Bob Holness (TV presenter)

•           Paul O’Grady (comedian)

•           Julian Clary (comedian)

•           Sir Paul McCartney (lives nearby)

•           Simone Weil, French authoress, philosopher and heroine of the Spanish Civil War (buried there)

•           Dr John Wallis , one of the world’s greatest mathematicians

•           Sir John Furley, founder of the St John Ambulance


Since 2003, Ashford has been one of four designated growth areas in the south east, attracting significant government investment. The body coordinating the plans is called Ashford’s Future, and is a partnership of Kent-based and public sector organisations, including Ashford Borough Council and Kent County Council. It’s anticipated that by 2031 the town will have grown to provide 28,000 additional jobs and 31,000 new homes.

Achievements and plans

•           Twice-hourly rail service to London, taking only 37 minutes 

•           In 2008 an area of traffic ‘shared space’ was opened up in the centre of town. Essentially this means that cars, bicycles and pedestrians all have equal use of the highway, with low kerbs, minimal street furniture and road markings and traffic lights removed, and a speed limit of 20mph. Despite initial criticism of this approach on safety grounds, during the first year of operation no personal injury accidents were recorded 

•           Modernisation of the Stour Centre

•           County Square Shopping Centre doubled in size, including a new Debenhams

•           Waitrose store opened

•           Significant expansion of Eureka Business Park, recent additions include Smiths Medical, which has moved its operations from Hythe to a new head office building at Eureka

•           Thousands of residential homes built

•           Advertising campaign ‘Kent is closer than you think’ spearheaded, to encourage investment and business

•           Improvements to junction 9 of the M20 started 2009, including a new bridge over the motorway, due to be complete spring 2011

•           Victoria Way, a new road near the town centre linking the station to the A28, is under construction. Once completed, the area south of it, called the ‘Southern Expansion Quarter’, south of Ashford International station, will be developed, the intention being to ‘unlock’ this southern half of town. Plans have been prepared for this. Proposals include a new public square with seating, public art displays, shops and restaurants

•           St Mary’s church redevelopment, to create a more flexible performance space in the body of the nave for sermons, drama concerts, exhibitions and wider community use, augmenting its primary function as a place of worship

•           Homes and Community Agency funding for new and affordable homes has been subject to a spending review, but in August the money was released for homes at Park Farm and Repton Park – 150 new and affordable homes are to be built

•           A further grant released to Ashford Borough Council for 78 new homes, under the local authority New Build programme

•           Redevelopment of derelict buildings on the corner of Elwick Road and Station Road

•           Charter House office bock redevelopment

•           A detailed Area Action Plan for the town centre has recently been completed and is being considered by the council. This includes a new commercial quarter, between the station and town centre. Its detailed masterplan includes offices, riverfront town houses, shops and restaurants

•           Construction of a new Ashford Gateway Plus, including an extended library

•           Elwick Place: expansion of the ‘shared space’ traffic area, opposite Debenhams, which is also to be redeveloped, a joint venture between SEEDA and Stanhope PLC, for shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, offices and houses.


Prices are currently much lower than those in London, but many believe they’ll soon rise. A one-bedroom flat can be yours for just �86,000, while a two-bedroom one costs about �122,000. A two-bedroom house is priced at approx. �164,000 and a three-bedroom semi is about �208,000. A four-bedroom detached house would be upwards of �350,000.


Ashford is close to junctions 9 and 10 of the M20, around 12 miles from Maidstone and Canterbury and 44 from London. Ashford International Station, close to the town centre, has twice-hourly high speed links (37 minutes) to London, plus Eurostar services to the continent. Call Traveline 0871 200 2233 for rail and coach details. Satnav postcode: TN23 1YB.


Judith Armitt, managing director of Ashford’s Future

How do you see your role?

Ashford’s Future is a company formed to drive forward the growth and regeneration of Ashford and my job is to lead it, and make sure those things happen.

What do you like about your work?

Lots of things, but chiefly I love to start changes and see them take shape. This morning I’ve been looking at our project to improve Junction 9 at the M20, and it’s tremendous to see those diggers getting stuck in. It’s all about delivery, being able to get things done.

How do you see Ashford in five years’ time?

Junction 9 will be complete and we’ll have another junction by then, 10a, so there’ll be absolutely superb access to the motorway, and thus to all parts of the UK. Combined with the rail links we’ll have transport connections parallel to none, plus plenty of new homes, businesses and jobs.

Why move to Ashford?

Now is definitely the time to come here. We’ve got a phenomenal quality of life – I’m sitting here and looking out at the North Downs, the green space and the river, and just outside is the station, barely half an hour’s travelling time to London. Combined with the facilities, ease of transport, lower council tax and low crime, what more could you want?

What message do you want to put across?

To point out to individuals and businesses the fantastic opportunities that Ashford has to offer. There’s still a long way to go before the real opportunities we can provide are fully understood. For instance I think everyone in Kent should be given one free ticket to travel on the new High Speed trains, just so they can experience how brilliant and efficient they are.

Do you have hobbies relating to the town?

Yes, I like cycling and running with colleagues and friends – Ashford’s fairly flat, making it ideal for both activities.

Your favourite place?

Quite a few. There’s a very nice cycle way and footpath that runs up from the station and underneath the motorway, one of my favourite running places. I just love running along by the Stour.

Ashford in a sentence?

It’s a brilliantly connected town that offers a high quality of life.