The village of Ashford in the Water, which stands on the river Wye, was an ancient settlement which appears in the Domesday Book as “Aisseford”, a pure Saxon word meaning “the ford of the ash”.
Part of the present church at Ashford in the Water dates to around 1205, though there was probably an earlier wooden church on the same site. The local congregation is proud of its church and pleased to welcome visitors; the church is open most days during the hours of daylight.
The oldest part of the church is the 12.2 metre high, Norman tower, the walls of which are up to one metre thick at the base. Housed within the tower are a total of 7 bells, the oldest of which is the sanctus bell which was dedicated before the reformation. This is used each week during the consecration of the Holy Communion. The Tower Arch is from the Decorated Period of 1370-1440.
Above the Tower Arch is the Royal Coat of Arms of George 1, dated 1724, which was restored and rehung in 1985. Below it stands the octagonal, chalice-shaped font which was sold by the churchwardens in the 18th century, and used in a local garden as an ornament.
When it was restored to the church the lower part of the shaft was found to be damaged and this was replaced by a new piece of stone. The body of a dragon can be seen ‘embedded’ in the shaft, with the head and tail emerging from either side, symbolising the influence of the sacrament of Holy Baptism over sin. The font also dates from the Decorated Period of 1370-1440.
The three arches and the octagonal pillars of the north aisle date from the late 16th century. The four maiden's garlands hanging there are a touching reminder of an old English custom, when a garland was carried before the coffin of a young girl, in the funeral procession, and afterwards displayed in the church – a privilege given only to virgins.
Ashford is one of only a few places which have preserved these relics which are also known as crowns or crants. Each garland is composed of a wooden frame with white paper rosettes fixed to it. A glove or handkerchief belonging to the young girl was hung from the centre, and on it was written her name, age and date of death.
The oldest garland in Ashford is said to be in memory of Anne Howard, who died on the 12th April 1747 aged 21. Originally there were seven garlands, but by 1900 only five remained, and in 1935 one fell and could not be replaced. In 1987 the four surviving garlands were expertly cleaned and conserved before being suspended inside perspex covers for protection.
The windows in the north wall of the aisle are both modern; St. Nicholas, Patron Saint of children, was installed in 1951, and Our Lady with the Infant Christ in 1960. The large window, nearest to the oak screen was installed in 2001, in memory of William and Kitty Olivier, who were long standing members of the church and who resided at Ashford Hall. The window was designed by Flore Vignet and reflects the Olivier family motto: ‘Sicut olive virens, laetor in aede Deí’ – As the olive tree flourishes, so shall I in the house of God. The design is of olive leaves floating in a space of ascending golden light; the olive representing here the traditional biblical symbol of peace and hope. These three windows contrast vividly with the composite Victorian window, installed in1880, at the back of the aisle. This depicts St. John the Evangelist and Pope Gregory the Great, in copies of works by Burne-Jones and The Annunciation by William Morris. All the other stained glass in the church dates from the late 19th century.
The wooden cross, which stands in front of the ‘Olivier Window’, was made from charred beams which survived the fire in York Minster’s south transept in 1984. The base shows the original shape of the beams and traces of medieval paint can still be seen.
A rood-screen and loft once separated the chancel from the nave, but this was later removed. Parts of the arch between the chancel and the organ chamber are late 16th century. Six corbels in the chancel wall support the main roof beams. The fleur–de–lys, a symbol of the Trinity, is carved on one of them, whilst a second represents a head supported by hands. The stones probably date from the Norman period. The choir stalls are 20th century.
The organ, a modern two-manual instrument, was rebuilt from an older one by Adkins of Derby in 1925, overhauled in 1966 by Henry Willis & Sons Ltd, who added an extra stop, and overhauled again in 1983 when two further stops were added.
The altar came from Heanor Parish Church, replacing an older one which included some Jacobean work, which now stands by the door of the church.
The pulpit and hexagonal sounding board on the right of the nave are made of fine old oak. The Jacobean panels date from c1620, and in 1843 were made by local joiners into a pulpit with a reading desk below. The sounding board was restored in 1996.
It was an early Norman custom to fill the space between the square head of the church door and the top of the arch with a stone slab or tympanum, in Ashford’s case with a carved design showing boars and other wild animals. During the rebuilding of the church in 1869-79 this stone was found in the south wall and restored to its original position over the main door.
The main pathway through the churchyard is flanked on both sides by yew trees, which are thought to be 500-600 years old. To the right of the path is all that remains of the old preaching cross. Dating from the 15th century, it is still used each year on Trinity Sunday when the village wells are blessed. It is made up of three sets of octagonal stone steps and the base of the shaft into which a wooden cross may once have been set.
To the left of the main door, by the war memorial, is a new 2000AD millennium monument which houses our local time capsule.
The parish church has stood at the centre of Ashford village for many centuries bearing witness to the living faith of the Church of England. It is preserved for all to use and is maintained, in common with all parish churches, entirely by voluntary contributions of its people and the offerings of visitors.
Do come and join us, you will be most welcome. May you leave this holy place refreshed and strengthened, and at peace with yourself and God.
Vicars of Ashford in the Water with Sheldon
1872 John Luxmoore
1912 Henry Sherlock
1940 Reginald Absell
1950 Thomas Morris
1953 Thomas George
1957 John Norman
1964 John Legg
1967 Graham Foster
Priest in Charge of Ashford in the Water with Sheldon
1978 Gerald Phizackerley (Archdeacon of Chesterfield)
Vicar of Ashford in the Water with Sheldon and Longstone
1991 Clive Thrower
Vicar of Ashford in the Water with Sheldon, Bakewell, Over Haddon & Rowsley
2007 Tony Kaunhoven