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Ashby-de-la-Zouch in 1833

ASHBY-DE-LA-ZOUCH (in ancient writings called ASCEBI and ESSEBY), a market town in the hundred of West Goscote, in the county of Leicester. It is on the little river Mese, or Mease, a feeder of the Trent, and on the road from London to Burton-upon-Trent ; 115 miles from London, and 17 from Leicester, the county town. Its original designation was simply Ashby : the distinctive addition of De la Zouch, it received from the Zouches, who were lords of it.

This town consists chiefly of one street, in which stands a neat market-cross, and was nearly surrounded at one time by three parks, now no longer existing, viz. Prestop park, the great park, and the little park, of which the last was the homestead to the castle. The situation of the town obtained for it from Camden the character of Villa Amoensis (a most delightful town). The land around is chiefly pasture.

The church, dedicated to St. Helen, is a handsome and lofty ancient structure. It is of stone, and the tower contains six large bells and a set of chimes. The body of the church is well pewed ; and the chancel was fitted up with pews for his own family by Francis, Earl of Huntingdon, who died in 1790. On each side of the chancel is a large chapel, projecting considerably beyond the side of the church : that the north side is converted into a vestry-room, and that the south side is the burial place of the Hastings family. In the latter is a sculptured monument of Francis, Earl of Huntingdon, and his countess, who both died in the sixteenth century. In this church there was, in 1804, when Mr Nichols’s History of Leicestershire was published, a singular instrument of punishment called the finger pillory. It consisted of a horizontal beam divided lengthways into two parts ; the upper part turned on a hinge at one end, and was fastened by a lock at the other end, after the manner the stocks. In this machine are different-sized holes for containing the fingers of the disorderly. The beam is supported by two upright posts about three feet high.

In an open pasture on the south side of the town, on a gentle eminence, stand the ruins of the castle of Ashby. This castle seems to have been of vast extent and very lofty. We can trace out the great hall, kitchen, various chambers of state, the chapel, &c. ; wherein are found, in good preservation, rich doorways, chimney-pieces, arms, devices, and other ornamental accompaniments. (See Nichols’s Leicestershire, vol. iii. p. 612.) It was built by Lord Hastings, a nobleman of great power in the time of Edward IV, and who was beheaded by order of the Duke of Gloucester (afterwards Richard III), shortly after Edward’s death. It was one of the places in which Mary Queen of Scots was confined.

The ‘Ivanhoe’ baths, erected within the last few years, are supplied from the collieries with water impregnated with muriate of soda, or common salt, to a greater degree than sea water. There are a small theatre, a handsome hotel, and lodging-houses.

There is in Ashby a free school, founded in 1567 by Henry, Earl of Huntingdon ; also a school for educating and clothing twenty-six boys, founded in 1669 by Mr. Isaac Dawson, and a small foundation for the instruction of twelve girls. Another charity-school has been lately founded by Alderman Newton, of Leicester.

Woollen and cotton stockings, and hats, seem to be the chief articles of manufacture in Ashby ; but the manufacturers suffered materially during the war which followed the first French revolution. The market is on Saturday, and is well supplied. There are four fairs in the year, besides a statute for the hiring of servants on the 22nd September.

Coal and ironstone are worked in the neighbourhood of the town, and there is a canal from the Coventry canal navigation, near Bedworth in Warwickshire, to the neighbourhood of Ashby (see Bradshaw’s Map of Canals), and a railroad from this canal to the town. The elevation of this canal is 315 feet 5 inches above the base assumed as the general level in Bradshaw’s Map. It runs for 18 miles direct distance from Bedworth without any lock.

The living is a discharged vicarage with the chapel of Blackfordby, in which the vicar performs service once a fortnight. It is in the deanery of Ackley, archdeaconry of Leicester, and diocese of Lincoln. There are places of worship for Presbyterians, Wesleyan and Calvinistic methodists, and, according to some late accounts, for Independents.

The parish is extensive, and includes the hamlets of Blackfordby and Boothorpe. Kilwardby, and the Calais, which now form parts of the town, were once distinct hamlets. The population was, in 1831, 4,727, of whom 327 were in the chapelry of Blackfordby.

Ashby was the native town of the eminent Bishop Hall. In the civil war, in the time of Charles I, Ashby was garrisoned for the king, but evacuated and dismantled by capitulation.