A Brief History of the Ashford Arms
The ford over the River Wye at Ashford has been used since time immemorial as a convenient place to cross the river, and an Iron Age north-south route called the 'Portway' probably crossed the river here. The village first appears in recorded history in the Domesday Book of 1086, where it was called 'Aisseford', later corrupted to 'Askeford' - the meaning being 'Ash-tree ford', as it was frequently referred to in Medieval times.
In 1550 the manor of Ashford was sold to Sir William Cavendish, the founder of the line which are now the Dukes of Devonshire. The Cavendishes have been closely associated with Ashford ever since and the current Lord of the Manor is the Duke of Devonshire.
It was the opening of the Marble works in 1748 by Henry Watson which made the village famous. Ashford 'black marble' is a local limestone which volcanic activity has coloured with bitumen-like deposits millions of years ago. It was prized for chimneypieces, tombs, columns, table-tops, floor tiles, vases and many other items. The quarry was at the bottom of the Sheldon road opposite the village, with a cutting works nearby, and what was the owner's house now lies on the other side of the A6 - now called River Lodge.
The increase in trade led William Cockayne to open an inn in 1764, known as the Stags Head. This became a coaching inn and in 1811 it changed its name to the Devonshire Arms. The hosts were John and Fanny Frost and this era before the advent of the railways was the heyday of coachs, which had colourful names such as 'Defiance', 'Peveril of the Peak', 'Lord Nelson' and the 'Royal Mail'.
The Smithy and Miners Arms - late 19th C
John Frost died in 1834 and his widow ran the business thereafter. In the census of 1841 she is shown as living here with her four children: Fanny, Eliza, Henry and William, plus four servants who she employed. Like many local inns of the time, it was also a farm. The village at this time also had 50 stocking makers, (a cottage industry which employed both men and women), 13 people employed at the Marble works, 2 blacksmiths and a wheelwright. As well as the Devonshire Arms there was the Bulls Head (which still survives), the Thorn Tree and the Turks Head - along with four beerhouses, the last of which (the Miners Arms) closed in 1892.
In the census of 1851 Fanny Frost was aged 57 and is described as an innkeeper and farmer. Her daughters Eliza and Fanny still lived here along with a granddaughter called Alice, aged 5.
Lead mining was an important local industry until the late 19th century and the Barmote Court (which dealt with mining issues and disputes) for the Liberty of Ashford, Tideswell, Peak Forest and Hartington was held annually every April in the Devonshire Arms at this time. Joseph Hall of Castleton was the Steward and James Longden the Bar Master. The Lord of the Liberty was of course the Duke of Devonshire.
In May 1856 we find that a Great Court Baron was held by His Grace, and when the court closed at 3pm the Steward, Jury and Solicitors dined together at the Duke's expense.
In 1861 Fanny Frost was still here with her daughter Eliza. The inn had a Club Room, Coach House, 5 stables, yard, barn, shippon, 14 rooms, 2 gardens and a farmyard. An ostler called William Wright lived in the Tap Room adjacent to the inn and there were 19 marble workers in the village plus 20 frame knitters - most of whom were over 60 years old.
The back garden of the Devonshire Arms
The redoubtable Fanny Frost died in 1870 and was succeeded by John Cawkwell Frost, aged 41 and a native of Ashford-in-the-Water. He lived here with his wife Frances and six children but his tenure was not long as he died in 1874 - his ghost is said to haunt the inn.
Frances succeeded her husband and in 1881 she is shown as living here with her five children along with a House Maid called Elizabeth Owen and a Kitchen Maid called Jemima Meakin. A policeman now lived in the village. In 1891 Frances is described as a farmer and hotelkeeper.
There is no longer a farm attached to the inn and the change of name from Devonshire Arms to the Ashford Arms occurred in 1988 - but there is one thing that has not changed - our warm and friendly service.