At Home in Ashmead

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I travel. Sometimes I travel by boat, plane, or automobile. Sometimes I travel by book. This week I rambled through Miles End and Kepple Street in London with a brief foray to Kilmorgan Castle in Scotland. However, I spent most of my time at home in the midlands with my own characters in the village of Ashmead, a distance from Nottingham.

When Sir Robert Benson comes home at long last in The Wayward Son, he pauses on a hill above the village. This is what he sees.

Satisfied with his decision, he rode on, only to pause at the turn in the road just before it descended to a bridge, reluctant to continue. He gazed down at the swift flowing Afon River, spring lining it with a riot of glorious foliage, and the village beyond. Nothing had changed—the spire of Saint Morwenna still pointed skyward at the far end of a village arrayed along the river as it had been for centuries. The coaching road meandered through the houses and businesses that constituted Ashmead on Afon as it had for almost as long.

At the near end—just across the bridge and close enough that he could see comings and goings from where he paused— the inn dominated the approach to town. It also appeared little changed. Two great willow trees still towered above the roof between the inn and the river. Warm brick still glowed in the sun.

He couldn’t see the Tudor half timbers and multi-paned windows but he knew they still stretched along the road like welcoming arms. Too many battlefields lay behind him, however, and neither the inn nor the village beyond it promised him rest.

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Alas, I never sketched a map of the village, but if you are going to visit Ashmead, you might benefit from my longer description.

The town of Ashmead on Afon meanders along the river Afon in an uneven line, bending with the waterway. The river itself is a well-behaved stream most of the time, tree-lined and shallow, moving at a determined pace over rocks until it meets the Midland canal some miles northwest of the town.

The coaching road from Nottingham to places northwest passes through Ashmead and constitutes its major thoroughfare. No one ever thought to name it other than “the road.” It is cut in irregular intervals by:

  • Butcher’s Lane
  • Goose Run
  • Tom’s Lane
  • Bridge Street

Saint Merwynna’s Church dominates the north end of the village with a cemetery spilling out behind and around its far side. No one has ever adequately explained how a Cornish saint came to have a church dedicated to her in the Midlands, but there you have it. The Reverend Arthur Styles simply says. “It was God’s doing.” He lives with a wife and large brood of children in a crowded vicarage, made of grey stone, sturdy rather than large, and given to no airs or elegance. The vicarage is set a bit off the road below the church in what the locals call “Church Close.”

The residences intersperse with businesses along the road, with residences generally lying closest to the church. The green grocer comes first as you walk south. It lies cheek by jowl with the bakery at the corner of Butcher’s Lane. The green grocer, Warner Simpson is the cousin of Harold Clarke the baker, though it must be noted that the baker’s wife Marion is the heart of that business. A tea room next door serves mid day beverages and offerings from the bakery.

The butcher as you might guess lies at the far end of Butcher’s Lane near the river, separated from the road by a prosperous looking residence belonging to Alfred Tubbins, the butcher himself. The Simpson home across the street is significantly more modest.

Goose run leads in the opposite direction toward the meadows beyond town, and is graced with a number of snug residences. Past the run there are a few residences and the expected line of businesses, a tailor and dressmaker, a draper, a printer, a stationary shop, until one arrives at the village hall, a square building, the largest in town, accommodating as it does offices below and a commodious assembly room above. A Tavern south of Goose Run competes with the inn to offer meals for locals and travelers, but offers no overnight accommodations. 

Construction thins out below Tom’s Lane, named for some long forgotten sire of the Headly family, a few of whom still live along the lane which stretches on both the meadow and the river side of the road. Between the lane and the Bridge street the blacksmith and  the livery stretch out, servicing residents, farmers from around the shire, and the never-ending stream of coach traffic alone the road. The livery belongs to the Ellis Corwin, whose wife Emma is the daughter of the innkeeper.

Bridge Street, a bit wider than the lanes, leads to an arch bridge over the Afon. The road forks on the other side, with one road leading up the rise toward Clarion Hall, the seat of the Earls of Clarion, and the Clarion dower house currently occupied by the earl’s sister, the Dowager Duchess of Glenmoor. The other road bends northward toward Willowbrook and a series of prosperous farms.

Past the livery and the bridge, south of the village lies the inn, premises of the Benson Family.  A welcoming place made partially of native stone, the inn stretches a distance along the road, with a half timbered facade. Its single sashed, dozen paned windows look out at passing traffic on one side and the river on the other. The substantial inn yard situated on the south side of the inn is somewhat inconvenient to the livery and blacksmith premises, but in placing it so the view of the bridge and river was preserved for visitors. Storage sheds and stables line the riverside and south end of the yard, creating an ell shaped enclosure. The family keeps a private bower under willow trees along the river.

From the inn the road continues away from the river and uphill over a gentle rise in the land. The river veers northeast.

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