Ashby-De-La-Zouch (St. Helen)

ASHBY-DE-LA-ZOUCH (St. Helen), a market-town, parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of West Goscote, N. division of the county of Leicester, 18 miles (N. W. by W.) from Leicester, and 115 (N. W. by N.) from London; containing, with part of the ecclesiastical district of Woodville and part of the chapelry of Blackfordby, 5652 inhabitants. The name appears to be derived from the Saxon Asc, an ash, and bye, a habitation: it received the adjunct by which it is distinguished from other towns of the same name, from the family of La Zouch, in whose possession it continued from the latter part of the twelfth to the close of the fourteenth century. Sir William Hastings, created Baron Hastings by Edward IV., and who was beheaded by Richard III., built a strong castle here in the reign of the former monarch, in which Mary, Queen of Scots, while in the custody of the Earl of Huntingdon, was for some time kept in confinement; and in this castle also Anne, consort of James I., and her son Prince Henry, were magnificently entertained by the fourth earl of Huntingdon, on their journey from York to London in 1603. At the commencement of the parliamentary war, the fifth earl was one of the first that appeared in arms for the king in Leicestershire, and Ashby Castle was garrisoned for his majesty by the earl's second son, Col. Henry Hastings, who was made general of the king's forces in the midland counties, and, for his services to the royal cause, was in 1643 created Baron Loughborough. The king was here, on his march to and from Leicester, in May and June 1645. After sustaining a siege of several months from the army under Fairfax, Lord Loughborough surrendered the castle to Col. Needham, in February 1646, on honourable terms, the garrison being allowed to march out with all the honours of war. The castle was one of the fortresses demolished by order of a committee of the house of commons, about the end of the year 1649: the remaining portions form an extensive and interesting mass of ruins, consisting of the great tower, the chapel, the kitchen tower, and apart evidently of much earlier date than the tower, as some portion of it was standing in the time of Richard I. The late Marquess of Hastings expended a considerable sum in repairing parts of these ruins, and arresting the progress of decay; and on the site of a building which stood to the north of the castle, and at right angles with it, erected for the accommodation of the suite of James I. when visiting the Earl of Huntingdon, he raised a handsome structure in the later English style, designated the Manor-house.

The town, a great part of which was destroyed by fire in 1753, is pleasantly situated on the banks of the small river Gilwisthaw, at the north-western extremity of the county; and consists principally of one very spacious street, with two smaller streets extending in a parallel direction, and containing several substantial and well-built houses. It is lighted with gas, and measures have been lately taken for supplying it with water. South of the town stand the Ivanhoe Baths, a handsome structure of the Doric order, erected in 1826. The building consists of a centre, containing a spacious pump-room, surmounted by a lofty dome with rich architectural decorations; and of two wings, in each of which are six baths provided with every accommodation. The water is furnished from an adjacent mine, and contains, according to a recent analysis by Dr. Ure, larger proportions of the salts of chlorine combined with bromine than any other mineral water in the kingdom; it is employed both internally and externally, as a remedial agent in many chronic diseases, with great advantage. Commodious pleasure-grounds are attached to the baths; and the town contains lodging-houses, a handsome hotel, a theatre, and other sources of attraction requisite in a place of fashionable resort.

Ashby is situated in an extensive carboniferous district; the principal collieries are at Moira, and are the property of the Marquess of Hastings. The coal is worked at a thousand feet from the surface, and is of a superior quality; large quantities are transported to the southern and western counties, and it has been recently introduced in London with great success. The neighbouring wolds, which are now inclosed and populous, abound with minerals, particularly ironstone; there is also found an excellent clay, used for making yellow ware, extensive manufactories of which are carried on at Woodville and Gresley. A canal passes within three miles south-westward of the town, with which it is connected by a railroad; and after continuing a course of more than thirty miles, unimpeded by a single lock, it forms a junction with the Coventry canal. The market is on Saturday; and fairs are held on Shrove-Monday, Easter-Tuesday, Whit-Tuesday, the last Monday in Sept., and the 10th of Nov., for horses and cattle: this is stated to be the best market for strong horses in England. A constable and two headboroughs are appointed at the court leet of the lord of the manor. The powers of the county debt-court of Ashby, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Ashby.

The parish comprises about 7000 acres. The living is a discharged vicarage, valued in the king's books at £14. 10. 4.; net income, £417; patron and impropriator, the Marquess of Hastings. 150 acres of land belong to the living in this parish, and 33 in that of Whitwick. The church is a spacious structure in the decorated English style, and contains, in an adjoining sepulchral chapel, several monuments of the Huntingdon family, among which is one to the memory of Francis, Earl of Huntingdon, and his countess, deserving particular notice. A church dedicated to the Holy Trinity was erected at an expense of £3000, on a site given by the late marquess, and was consecrated on the 13th of August 1840; it is a handsome structure, and contains 900 sittings, of which 600 are free. The cost of the building was defrayed by subscription, aided by the Incorporated Society, the Church Commissioners, and the Board at Leicester. The living is a perpetual curacy, in the gift of the Vicar of Ashby: towards the endowment the Additional Curates' Society granted £500, and the fund for the purpose now amounts to £1950, the interest of which and the pew-rents constitute the income of the minister. At Woodville is a district church: in the township of Blackfordby is a chapel of ease; and there are places of worship in the parish for Baptists, the Connexion of the Countess of Huntingdon, Independents, and Wesleyans.

The free grammar school was founded in 1567, by Henry, Earl of Huntingdon, and others, and endowed with 120 houses and 75 acres of land. It provides instruction to upwards of 100 boys; and has three exhibitions of £40 a year to either of the two universities, and ten exhibitions of £10 per annum to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, founded by Francis Ash, merchant, of London, together with a lectureship of £20 a year from the same foundation. A Blue-coat school was instituted in 1669, and endowed with £25 per annum, by Isaac Dawson; and a Green-coat school was established and endowed by Alderman Newton, of Leicester: they are now united, and contain about 50 boys. The Rev. Simeon Ash, a native of Ashby, gave £50 per annum, directing that £10 should be appropriated to the apprenticing of two boys yearly in some corporate town, and that the remainder should be distributed among the poor. The union of which Ashby is the head comprises seventeen parishes or places in the county of Leicester, and eleven in the county of Derby, and contains a population of 14,234. A great number of Roman coins has been found here. Bishop Hall, an eminent divine and satirist, and Dr. John Bainbridge, a celebrated astronomer and mathematician, were born in the town, the former in 1574, and the latter in 1582.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.