The following brief history has been reproduced from the Ashdon Parish Plan, April 2007
The Ashdon landscape was created during the last ice age, from materials deposited at the southern extremities of glaciers. The parish is bisected north to south by the valley of the River Bourne, a tributary of the River Granta, which it enters at Bartlow. The village of Ashdon lies partially within the valley formed by the Bourne whilst areas of newer development lie on a moraine above the valley.
At the time of the Roman occupation the land, a mixture of woodland and cleared arable land, was already settled by the Britons. The Romans established wealthy communities in the area in the 1st to 4th centuries with a large military camp at what is now “The Camps”. A series of seven Romano-British burial mounds were constructed at Bartlow with four now remaining. (one on private land, the others being referred to as The Three Hills). An excavation in the 19th century found high-grade burial offerings and an altar in the largest of the mounds.
Ashdon probably remained a relatively untroubled place during the Dark Ages and Christianity came some time in the 7th or 8th century with the construction of a Saxon church. The area became subject to the control of the Danes in the 9th century and Ashdon is one of the possible sites of the final and decisive battle between the last Saxon chieftain and the victorious Danes.
The original village grew around what is now All Saints Church and was known as “Ascenduna”, being the place of the Ash trees. The village had its own entry as a manor in the “Little Doomsday Book” of 1085 and was the wealthiest of 3 manors, which were eventually to form the Parish of Ashdon. Under the Normans more of the land was deforested and drainage introduced to allow greater use of land in the lower parts of the Bourne valley. Ashdon grew to encompass not only the manor of Ashdon Hall but also the manors of Newnham (now Newnham Hall) and “Steventuna” (now Steventon End).
In the 13th century the parish suffered, as did the whole of Europe, from the Black Death with bubonic plague reducing the population by at least one third. In the case of Ashdon, the many dead were buried in communal pits sited to the south of the church. This event caused the remaining population to migrate into the Bourne valley with Crown Hill becoming the new village centre. In the 14th century All Saints Church was built on the remains of the Saxon church and in the 15th century the Guildhall of St. Mary was erected to the south of the church.
During the Civil War the area was predominantly pro-Parliament supporting Cromwell. It is reputed that the then recently constructed inn, the Rose & Crown, was used to imprison some of the monks attached to the Abbey at Bury St. Edmunds; they are reputed to have painted the walls of their prison with simulated panelling and religious texts.
During the Tudor and Stuart periods the village grew and by the time of George I, when the Living of All Saints was in the gift of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, it was a prosperous place, evidenced by the size of the Rectory that was constructed in the 17th and 18th centuries.
In the 1841 Census Ashdon had a population of 948 and occupied 4,045 acres of land. The population was, to some extent, self-sufficient having two working windmills to grind locally-grown wheat. There were two butchers, a baker, three blacksmiths and farriers, a boot and shoemaker, four shopkeepers, two brick makers, a carpenter and a wheelwright as well as a saddler. All of these were listed in Pigot & Co.s Directory of September 1839. The wealth of the village was based entirely on agriculture. Between the early Victorian period and the end of the 19th century the village grew in population. The landowners benefited from the growth of the major cities during the Industrial Revolution and the increase in their populations. Whilst the landowners became wealthier, the lot of the farm labourer became worse with wages constantly being reduced and no tenure for either their jobs or their accommodation. By 1913 the situation had become so intolerable that the agricultural workers, for the first time in history, became organised in a Union. This led in 1914 to the first agricultural strike in Britain, which encompassed much of East Anglia. This placed Ashdon at the forefront of the struggle and eight striking labourers were jailed for a month in Cambridge Jail.
Transportation was entirely by road and track until 1866 when a railway branch line was built between Saffron Walden and Bartlow. It was, however, not until 1911 that a stop was constructed at Ashdon.
Very few of the pre-1900 buildings in the village remain in the form in which they were originally built. The majority have been substantially extended with increases in both the footprint of the buildings and their rooflines. Examples of properties that are substantially in their original styles include: The Guildhall, the only medieval building left in the village; Tudor Croft and Clayes, both built in the Tudor period; The Rose and Crown built in the 1630s and a few of what were the outlying farmhouses. Originally a medieval hall house, Ashdon Hall is thought to be the oldest property in Ashdon.
The current stock of houses in Ashdon is a result of the changes in employment and the greater willingness of people to travel distances that would not have been dreamt of in the 19th century. In the 20th century the increasing mechanisation in farming saw an ever-accelerating reduction in available work on the land. This in turn led to much of the older stock of farm labourer housing becoming untenanted and falling into disrepair.
Some new development occurred, during the interwar years, primarily at Rogers End, whilst post WWII many of the surviving labourers’ row-houses were converted into single occupancy properties. In the post-war era, there was pressure for more acceptable accommodation and “Social Housing” which led to the development of Guildhall Way.
In the post war period social housing was constructed in the village at Carters Croft to provide accommodation for primarily retired members of the community. By the late 1980s the price of a significant proportion of the housing stock had risen to an unaffordable level for younger people, who were therefore forced to move out of the village when leaving their family home. The first “Affordable Housing” project in the village was created on land provided by the Vestey family where 14 houses were built in a cul de sac named Tredgetts. In 2000 a further 13 houses were built at Church Fields at the southern end of the village. In 2006 an additional 19 homes were completed on an adjacent site now called All Saints Close.
The Parish of Ashdon contains a number of community based properties on which are centred the religious, secular and educational activities of Ashdon.
The religious needs of the parish are concentrated in three locations: All Saints Church has been the Parish Church for Ashdon since medieval times; Ashdon Baptist Church was built in 1835; Marpa House, originally built as a Boys Home in the interwar years, has been used since the late 1970s as a Buddhist retreat.
Free education was conducted, from 1836, in a flint built schoolhouse at the top of Church Hill, constructed under the provisions of the National School Act of that year. In 1874 the newly formed National School Board purchased land in the centre of the village, from Mascell, the owner of the Rose and Crown. A new and larger brick built school was erected and opened in 1877 and has flourished ever since.
The main centre for secular activities is the Village Hall, a converted barn occupied from the beginning of the 20th century by the Conservative Club. The hall was transferred to the Parish Council in the 1970s to become a community asset. Local funding and grants enabled it to be extended, with the construction of a purpose built hall serving both the community and a pre school group.
The village boasts its own museum which moved from an old railway carriage into the Labour Hall in the early 1990s. The Labour Hall itself was built in 1927 with the support of the Countess of Warwick. Despite being a member of the aristocracy she was an early and active supporter of Keir Hardie and the young Labour Party.
The final building to be vested in the community is Haylock’s Mill, built in 1757 as a post mill and used until the first decade of the 20th century as a flour mill. The mill, a listed building lying on land owned by the Vestey family, was gifted to a charity created in 2001 to take ownership of the mill and restore it. With local donations and regional, national and European grants the fabric of the mill is being restored and was made accessible for public viewing in 2006.
Ashdon Village today is spread primarily out and along its main roads. This linear development has resulted in three major and distinct areas of population; Steventon End, Church End and the lower village. Social cohesion and the viability of retail services, clubs and societies are all dependent upon safe, free movement between these communities. Many of the features described and issues tackled in this Parish Plan have important roles to play in keeping all areas of Ashdon together and accessible by all.