It is quite hard to work out precisely when Ash Church was built, mostly because the Royal Manor of Wingham, given by King Athelstan to the Bishop of Canterbury in 850, contained several closely linked parishes (Ash, Goodnestone, Nonington, Wingham, Staple and Womenswold as well as “de Raette” and “Fleota” in antiquity) and the history of the various churches is so interwoven as to make it hard to discern which information is talking about which church.
For instance, in 1071 a church at “Aesce” – probably Ash Church – is referred to as belonging to Wingham, at the same time mention is made of a more important church. Now, either of these two could be Ash Church and either of these two could be Wingham Church. Another possibility is that the “more important” one could be “de Raette”, often ascribed to being the church inside the ruined Roman walls at Richborough Castle… or is it the so-called Chapel of Fleet which also existed at Richborough and was in use until the 16th Century.
If this wasn’t bad enough, in the 13th Century a chapel is mentioned at “Overland” which was mentioned in 1294 as being taken away and replaced by one at “Esse”… is this then referring to Ash Church?
In 1282 Ash parish was established, and from this point you would think things would become clearer, but a document in a deed founding Wingham College of Canons, Archbishop Peckham of Canterbury assigned the Chapel of Overland to Wingham and the Chapel of Fleet to Ash… in 1535 the parishoners of Ash complained “there has always been a vicar here to cure ‘til the last 22 years when the Canons have usurped the vicarage for their own use”.
In 1547 Wingham College was shut down by Henry VIII and its possessions forfeited to the Crown. Even then, in 1549, there is reference to “Richborough Chapel in Ash and the Chapel of Overland in Ash parish” both being sold to William Hyde and Hugh Cartwright. So it is still not clear which church is which!
From this point on, the situation is simpler, the Church of St. Nicholas at Ash becomes the parish church, and although the parish fluctuates the church has remained at its heart. The building today is a mix of various styles all heavily augmented by Victorian restorations. It stands on rising ground, dramatic from the westward approach to the village, and is a handsome if very confusing building.
Photo - Andrew J. Müller
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