History of Ashen
In Prehistoric times Ashen has an itinerant populations. Since the Stone Age traces of tracks and flint works by Hollow Road indicate this, as do flint arrowheads found in the parish. Later from the Bronze Age, a bronze axe head has been excavated. Crop marks, pits, a barrow and ditches have been identified from these times. The find of a Roman reverse fantail brooch, circa late 100AD, to the north east of the parish, could lead one to bellieve that Romans traversed the area. Two nearby Roman roads and a villa at Ridgewell would suppport this.
The present settlement is confirmed on the Domesday Map of 1086, under the spelling of Asce,with the manor of Claret Hall spelt Clare. Ashen not being a manor was an area or estate that was assigned to a single priest to whom the tithes were paid. From the Domesday records the combined population of the parish, Ashen and Claret Hall, would have been around 150 people.
It is likely that Ashen would have been established earlier in the Saxon era, with wooden huts and a church, be it pagan or Christian, sited probably where the current church is situated. The present attracive church of St Augustine partly dates back to the 12th century. In the tower two of the bells were cast in 1330, the third cast in the 15th century.
The powerful de Clare family who held the estate of Clare, Suffolk from William the Conquer, were influential in Ashen. 1090 Ashen church was granted by Gilbert Fitz Richard de Clare to the monks of Stoke College. In circa 1240 a Richard de Clare bought the "little manor" of Claret Hall.
Ashen, an agricultural village, has grown, a 1770 map shows a cluster of 12 dwellings around the church in the centre of the village. By 1880 inthe same area there were 28 dwellings, currently in that area there are around 83 dwellings. The population has not greatly increased; in 1801 it was 217, in 1831 a high of 375, then down to 168 in 1931, the depression times. In 2001 it stood at 315, only just doubling the population from 1086!
There are a number of old houses in Ashen, two dating back to the 15th century, and a few old cottages with some retaining thatch. Many of Ashen's inhabitants these days are commuters or retired people. The old days when the vast majority were agricultural workers have gone. In 1801 85% of the males were locally invovled in agriculture. The now highly mechanised local farmers growing arable crops do not require a large labour force.
In the war the former airfield was created to the east of the village to host the 381st Bomb Group of the USAAF. The tarmac runways and buildings have since been removed. Ashen has a royal link in that King Edward III's third Son Lionel lived in Claret Hall, Ashen, which is still standing. For an account of the former archbishop and rector of Ashen Matthew Parker please see the church page. Edith Cavel the celebrated nurse who was executed by the Germans in First world war for helping British and Allied soldiers to escape is also connected to Ashen.Her cousin, Eddie, had a cottage next to Rose Cottage in The Street and bequeathed it and the garden, orchard and driveway to the Chelmsford Board of Finance. The cottage was subsequently demolished and the new driveway to the Old Rectory now runs through it.
Among notable people who have had involvment with Ashen, but not necessarily lived here, are:
Matthew Parker, Rector of Ashen in 1552, later Archbishop of Canterbury
Samuel Fairclough, preacher and later influential rector at Keddington, Suffolk
John Elwes, the British miser who held the estates of Stoke College and Claret Hall
Samuel Pepys, whose cousin Richard lived in Ashen circa 1660
Edith Cavell, who cousin Edward lived adjacent to the church.