Ashley (Old English for "ash wood") is not mentioned as
a place in the Domesday Book. It would appear that the settlement
originated later in connection with the castle complex to the
south. The first documentary evidence is a licence given to
William Brimvere in 1200 to "crenallate the Castle", i.e.
to provide fortifications. It seems that this castle was probably
a ring-work, i.e. a mound with a ditch rather than a motte and
bailey. The church is apparently on an older site and excavations
at the south west corner in 1981 revealed a large quantity of
pottery sherds, evidence of previous domestic occupation. Post
holes, which are signs in the ground where scaffold poles had
been inserted, indicate that this was an aisled building. The
church probably originated as a chapel for the castle, the
settlement of which grew up around it. In 1201 William Brimvere
gave this church as part of its endowment to Mottisfont Abbey and
the prior and canons presented the vicars until the abbey's
suppression by Henry VII. The king gave the living to his Royal
Chapel at Windsor.
The population has never been large. It is now about 60. In 1976
when faced with a large repair programme the parish decided that
this was beyond their means and the church was vested in the
Redundant Churches Fund in 1980. Repairs have been carried out by
Mrs Penelope Adamson ARIBA.
The church stands, unusually, in the outer bailey of the castle
and dates from the early 12th century. There are a chancel, nave,
south porch and evidence of a doorway on the north. For their
length, the nave and chancel are very narrow. The fabric is
basically Norman. There are four very small windows, of which
three are in the chancel and one in the south nave wall, the last
being the only original one. The font and chancel arch are of
similar date, though the arches on either side are later, for the
chancel was extended in the late 12th or early 13th century. The
other windows are 15th/16th century.
The walls are mainly of flint rubble with chalk block dressings
and quoins, rendered with lime mortar. There are three headstones
of John Smith and family, set into the west wall, and a mass dial
beside the church porch. The roof was originally of slate with
ceramic crested ridge tiles. Clay tiles were first used in the
late 16th or early 17th century. The present roof dates from the
1950s. The brick porch, 1701, bears the initials of the
churchwardens RL (Robert Linney?) and CW. The two bells,
unusually, hang in openings in the west wall. They are by John
Warner and Sons (I860].
The stone head wearing a close fitting cap, let into the wall
opposite the door, is probably 15th century. The Norman font is
of Purbeck marble. To the right of the door is a holy water stoup.
During the Commonwealth stoups were badly mutilated, and this is
one of the better preserved. Behind the door is a mid 17th
century alms box, cut out of an oak post. This may originally
have had a finial top.
The window over the reading desk is early 19th century and the
two small round windows in the south wall are 18th. All these
windows had been blocked up and were rediscovered during repair
work. The memorial engravings on the glass of the south window
are by David Peace.
On one of the stones on the left jamb of the Norman chancel arch
is a faint Latin inscription; on the right jamb a clear geometric
design, typical of the 12th century. The squints were inserted
during the 16th/17th centuries. The length of the chancel was
doubled circa 1190-1200. It rises gradually eastwards. In the
jamb of the window on the south side of the chancel is a wall
painting, probably of Our Lady, the church being dedicated to her.
The head of this window must originally have been Norman, but was
altered when the chancel was extended, this being close to the
point of the join.
The monuments are to Thomas Hobbs, d 1698, who was physician to
three kings - Charles II, James II and William III - and to his
son, drowned aged 17 in the Rhine; to Abraham Weekes, d 1755. the
great nephew of Thomas Hobbs. William and Leonard Taunton were
brothers and great great nephews of Abraham Weekes.
The church room was built as a vestry and working men's club in
1925, the land donated partly by Herbert Johnson, then Lord of
the Manor. Funds were raised by the collection of belladonna on
Farley Mount. The same donor also gave the extension of the
churchyard in 1924.