Ashbury is a hill settlement on the northern slope of the Berkshire Downs, said to be have been continuously inhabited for 5,000 years. The Ridgeway passes through the parish along the ridge which in the Dark Ages served as a barrier between the West Saxon and Mercian kingdoms.
Idstone, a hamlet based around three farms, lies to the south west of the village. Other local names are Ragnall, Odstone, Kingstone Winslow and Chapelwick in the north-west of the parish. Ruffinswick is to the east of Chapelwick. Swindon lies seven miles to the east of the village.
Since 1974 Ashbury has been in Oxfordshire.
There is also a parish named Ashbury in Devon.
5,609 acres (2.271 hectares) in 1924
785 in 1851; 506 in 2011
Poor law union
Present-day local authority
SU 27 84
Adjoining parishes in 1851
See Berks FHS Books for coverage of this parish in the society’s range of CDs.
www.ashbury.org.uk includes a listing of all the surnames recorded in the village 1841-91.
See also Berkshire Record Office holdings.
Published local history
- David and Edna Disbury History of Ashbury (1966)
- Henry Miller Some account of the parish of Ashbury (James and Parker, 1877)
Anglican church and parochial organisation
Ashbury lies within the archdeaconry of Berkshire, which transferred from Salisbury diocese to that of Oxford in 1836. The church of St Mary is twelfth-century in origin. There was once a chapel at Chapelwick.
A Methodist chapel used to exist in Chapel Lane. It is now a private house.
Ashbury Mission Hall was a corrugated iron building opened in 1908, and replaced around 1972 by the Evangelical Free Church.
Wiltshire Record Office holds records (excluding registers) for the Partridge Memorial Methodist chapel for 1832-38. Oxfordshire record Office holds records excluding registers for the Primitive Methodist Chapel.
Ashbury claims the first Sunday School in the UK – founded at Ashbury in 1777 by the Rev Thomas Stock in collaboration with Robert Raikes.
A National school was built in 1864. It is now the village hall, the building having been replaced in 1961. Today’s primary school also serves Compton Beauchamp.
Other local history
The parish abounds with sarsen stones, which are blocks of sandstone pre-dating the Ice Age; they were reputed to be sheep petrified by Merlin the magician, this being the origin of the stones’ alternative name of Grey Wethers. The local earthwork known as Alfred’s Castle is in fact much older. Wayland Smithy is one of several neolithic long barrows in the Downs.
Ashdown House (below), the largest in the parish, was built around 1665 by William, first Earl of Craven, about two miles south-east of the village. The park spread over 100 acres. At the end of Queen Anne’s reign the house is thought to have been used as a retreat by Lord Bolingbroke when in political disgrace, and Jane Austen believed a later Lord Craven to have kept a mistress there. In the nineteenth century it became the family home of the earls of Craven, who used it as a base for hare-coursing, fox-hunting and horse-racing. The house was given by the Cravens to the National Trust in 1957, much of the estate having been sold off. It is now privately let on successive 25-year leases, but the staircase and cupola are opened to the public on limited days in summer time.
The old manor-house of Ashbury, now known as Chapel Manor House, dates from the fifteenth century.