Historic Ashley

Photographs of Ashley taken by Owen Halliday in 1929

The place-name Ashley is thought to have been derived from the earlier Assle, Assele or Esselie, noted in the Doomsday Book, meaning the lea or field of ash trees. The two ancient parishes of Ashley and Silverley were economically integrated by 1300: the ecclesiastical parishes were united around 1500. In 1086, Silverley had 23 families, Ashley about 12. The total population in 1600 was about 160. From 1700, this increased slowly, falling back in the 1870s; by 1901 it had reached 584. By 1945, it stabilised at about 480: today, it is approximately 600.

In 1801, there were only 38 houses: by 1851 this had increased to 100, rising to 129 in 1901. Many old thatched cottages, including a former Chapel dating from 1277, were demolished between the 1930s and 1950s and have been replaced by modern houses.

By 1991, the number of houses was 220: after 1945, several council houses and prefabricated houses were built. Some were replaced by sheltered housing in the late 1980s. Present local authority policy is for infill only, not major development.

Following the establishment of school boards in 1870, Ashley school was built in 1874 in Mill Road, and continued in use until the late 1970s. In the 1880s, the school was used for concerts and other events

The present St Mary’s Church, the only surviving church of at least five previously in the parish, was built in 1845, and extended in 1872. It replaced a much older church, on the Dalham Road. When this fell into disuse, parishioners worshipped in the chapel until the new church was built. A Methodist Chapel, built of corrugated iron, was also in use from 1891 until it closed in 1980.

Ref: Parish Plan 2005

The following story is by former Ashley resident Owen Halliday, on how he came to produce the photographs of Ashley in 1929 (shown below). The story was first published in the 1993 ‘About Ashley’ magazine.
“When I left Ashley School in 1929, work was very scarce. I started as a messenger boy at Boots the Chemists at Newmarket. On a shelf, half-way down the cellar steps, there was a box plate camera and I used to wonder if I would ever be able to afford one like it.

After leaving Boots I was helping a man, who had just started a haulage business. One day we were taking a lorry load of ashes to the Council dump in Newmarket, when I spotted a camera at the bottom of the pit. Scrambling down I retrieved what turned out to be an ‘Ensign’ magazine camera, taking twelve quarter plates.

Taking it home, I lovingly cleaned and reassembled it. I borrowed a book on photography from a friend and studied exposure, developing and printing. I then begged an unexposed quarter plate from the pharmacist at Boots and bought a two penny packet of developer and two ounces of hypo-sulphate of soda.

I blacked out the lean-to wash house for a dark room and loaded the plate into the camera, biting the plate to first find out which side was sticky! The sticky side bore the emulsion and had to face the lens. Then I went to the pond, and standing in front of the chapel I took a photograph. The camera had a wide angle lens, so that the photograph included the fir tree over Charlie Mayes’ house and the shop on the right of the pond.

Back in the wash house I installed a red cycle rear lamp, a luminous alarm clock and a bowl of water for rinsing. I mixed the developing powders with water at the right temperature and placed them in a glass container (my Mother’s cooking dish) and did the same with the hypo-sulphate of soda, for fixing the plate.

Closing the door and switching on the lamp I removed the plate and placed it in the developer for six minutes, Nothing appeared, so disappointed, I placed it in the fixer until the white disappeared. When I took the result out side, to my surprise there was a perfect negative! I later found out the the cycle lamp glass being frosted prevented the image from being visible.

Delighted with the negative, I took it to show Mr Finch at the village shop. He suggested that I should do a series of photographs of the village, and gave me 7/6d with which I bought a dozen plates and the necessary powders and gas light printing papers. I took a series of photographs and Mr Finch, I believe, sent them to a firm in Ipswich asking if they could be made into postcards. They then suggested that, in order to retain my copyright I should repeat the series using their equipment.

Their photographer, an elderly walrus moustached individual, made an appointment to meet me. He cycled over to Ashley with his equipment and instructed me in the art of using a standard camera with a hood, in which the image is appeared upside down! This involved taking the picture by removing and replacing the lens cap at a speed required for the light available (No such luxury as a light metre or a variable speed shutter!)

I repeated the series, the plates were used by the firm to make sets of postcards and sold by Mr Finch in the village shop.

Photographic equipment and methods have made great strides since those days, but I have always enjoyed improvising with what was available, and I am proud that those postcards, which are a record of Ashley as it was, are still being used today.

Old Ashley, kindly donated by Olive Oakervee