From the Past to the Present ....
I had to go through a village called Ashton Keines with which place I was very much smitten. It is now a straggling village but to a certainty it has been a large Market Town. There is a Market Cross still standing in an open space in it and there are such numerous lanes, crossing each other and cutting the land into such little bits that it must at one time have been a large Town ( extract from William Cobbett’s "Rural Rides" 11th September 1826 )
Here is a sample of local history, culled from a number of sources.
Ashton Keynes has been a community down the ages and has seen Ancient British tribes, the Roman invaders and the whole pageant of English history.
The village was known as AESCTUN in 800 AD and appeared in the Domesday book as ESSITONE in 1086 and changed its name 10 times in the next 800 years until its present name was recorded
From Mediaeval times when this whole area was a Royal Forest, through the Civil War when Cirencester was held by Parliamentarians, through to modern times ordinary people have lived out their lives in Gosditch Street.
In 1851 in the 35 homes in Gosditch Street were living a tailor, saddler, tallow chandler, stonemason, many glove makers and a cobbler. The School was built in this street in 1870 and a Primitive Methodist chapel was opened in 1840, but became a baker's shop later.
The Horse and Jockey was a "scrumpy house", selling cider made from the apples from the orchards in the village. The Inn was the social centre of the community where dominoes were laid and gossip exchanged, and the hard times debated.
WORKING TO LIVE
Ashton Keynes has always been a peaceful community living off the fertile land, and had many tradesmen serving the surrounding villages and the travellers on the road from Cirencester to Wootton Bassett, which became a Turnpike in 1810. Most men were labourers on the farms, and Mr Day at the Dairy Farm in Gosditch Street employed 2 men, a boy, a dairymaid and a housemaid in 1851.
Life was hard for the 'labouring classes' and the Workhouse on Park Place in the village was feared by all who scraped a living. In January 1805 the church paid out for "coals, brandy, and beer for John Boulton and the people who laid him out" as well as footing the bill for his coffin. Robert Boulton kept the Horse and Jockey from 1823.
LIFE BY THE RIVER
"Sweet Thames run softly" - this has not always been the case.(1)Ashton Keynes has always suffered from flooding, and the River Thames that flows along beside High Road and crosses under Gosditch Street by the little bridge was prone to washing down to the School and beyond.
Villagers expected to be flooded every winter although the water could be controlled and directed to some extent by opening and closing 'hatches' on the river, People talked of keeping their back door and front door open so the water flowed straight through, and of a foot of water standing indoors for weeks.
As late as 1924 there were 23 children absent from school in June when the houses in the Derry just south of the Horse and Jockey were marooned in their bedrooms after a night of storms.
Ditches all round the village helped to channel the water, but as these were also used as a place to tip household rubbish and the privies drained into them - there was always a serious public health problem in Gosditch Street
During the 19th Century in most poor homes in Gosditch gloves were made by the women, and this continued up until the Second World War. A factory in Cricklade distributed parcels of leather cut to shape for the women to sew. T he gloves were usually sheepskin workgloves, but sometimes it was doeskin, horseskin or chamois, or embroidered silk, which might be trimmed with tassels or fur. The pay was very poor and tales are told of children sewing gloves after school until midnight, and even in their lunch hour.
Many women were ashamed of having to take such badly paid work and kept a cloth at hand to cover the gloves if a visitor came. The thread for sheepskin had to be waxed, or strengthened with pitch, and needles regularly sharpened with a file. The pay as recorded was 2 shillings for 6 pairs, which would represent dozens of hours of work. The cottages smelt of leather as the women bent over their work, their clothes protected from the dye with a cloth.
20th CENTURY DAWN
In February 1900 a torchlight procession through the dark streets celebrated the Relief of Ladysmith. In 1903 Smoking Concerts were held in the School in Gosditch Street with 'free tobacco' and non-alcoholic drinks at cost price in an effort to create some social life away from the Horse and Jockey, but they did not continue for long.
With the outbreak of War in 1914 life changed suddenly and irrevocably in Gosditch Street as young men left to join up, and women took on a lot of the farm work. In 1916 the school holidays were arranged so that there were two weeks off in June for haymaking, and a month for harvesting in August and September. In autumn 1918 a weekly half holiday was given so blackberries could be picked for jam. Two boys left the School at 13 years to work on farms.
SECOND WORLD WAR
The Horse and Jockey, which was just two small rooms. saw service during the war as a watering hole not only for soldiers on home leave, but for the United States and Canadian forces billeted in large houses in the village.
Beer was scarce and when it ran out all had to drink the local cider. The American servicemen often bought cider at the Horse and Jockey by the enamel bucketful. The publican ran a thrift club and a slate club where for a weekly subscription a payment was made in case of sickness.
Evacuee children stayed in Ashton Keynes and 46 of them went to the School in Gosditch along with the 95 children from the village. In 1940 a 1,OOO pounds bomb fell at Rixon Gate across the High Road killing one man as he lay in bed.
The villagers organised dances to entertain the visiting troops, and shows that it is said always ended with black and white minstrels.
GRAVEL AND WATER
At the start of the 20th Century gravel extraction began around Ashton Keynes for use in concrete. Many men who had worked in agriculture went to work on the excavations in the area that is today the Cotswold Water Park. In 1939 there were just 14 acres of water in the neighbourhood, but today after the extraction of 15 million tons of gravel there are 150 acres of lakes.
The Horse and Jockey has reflected the life of the village through the years and In the post war period became a popular country pub serving the new car owning population as well as the villagers. In 1952 Harry and Joyce Sheppard became landlords and kept the pub for 36 years. The Horse and Jockey had only served cheese and raw onion as a basic snack for drinkers, but the Shepherds began serving the Chicken and Mushroom pies made in Gosditch Street by Mr. Gear in his backhouse in the Old Chapel.
The stables were converted into a Skittle Alley in 1953, and the Inn boasted 13 teams in the 1960's. Opponents included USAF personnel from the nearby bases, and they in turn brought the American custom of the summer barbecue to the pub garden. An 18 hole putting green was made on the lawn in the 1960's costing one shilling a round.
There many beautiful houses and some excellent examples of Cotswold stone buildings, especially along Back Street, with some equally impressive abodes along Gosditch and the High Road. Worth a day visit or detour from the standard tourist traps further north.