Ashford couldn't be more central in Kent, and is one of the main towns in the county. Situated just 20 miles from the channel port of Dover and 50 miles from the centre of London, it is possible to be in the heart of the capital by high speed train in less than 40 minutes.
The origins of the town can be traced back to as early as the Iron Age and a barrow from 1500 BC is still marked at Barrow Hill on the outskirts of the town. A Roman settlement was also in existence to the north of the current centre, and one of the earliest houses in the area still stands at Eastwell Park, north west of the town itself.
Ashford is most probably best known for being a market town and a central hub for rail travel. In fact, in 1243, King Henry III granted the town a charter to hold a market for livestock and regular market days have been held in the town since the 1780s. The town has been at the centre of five railway lines since the 19th century, today with connections to London, Sussex, the North Kent coast and mainland Europe. The army first established a presence in Ashford in 1797 and during World War I, its central location made it a target for enemy attacks.
Little is left of the old Ashford town centre today, apart from a cluster of medieval half-timbered buildings in Middle Row and around the churchyard in the town centre. A number of old buildings were removed to make way for the controversial ring road around the centre, including four public houses. Further demolition was required to build Charter House, an eight-story office building for Charter Consolidated, that opened in 1975 and has today been converted into flats. St Mary's Church is the centrepiece of Ashford and now houses both religious ceremonies and various arts events as a multi-purpose venue. The town is also home to two grammar schools, two secondary schools, 12 primary schools and a college.
Industry in the town is varied - the railway works is still in existence but today no longer produces new trains but rather offers basic maintenance. Premier Foods, the manufacturers of Batchelors Soups, maintains a factory on the outskirts of the town, next door to perfume manufacturer Givaudan. The wholesale frozen food firm Brakes is also based in Ashford, alongside make-up manufacturer Coty UK. A designer outlet shopping centre is an imposing sight near to the railway station.
Ashford can lay claim to a number of famous inhabitants, including Commonwealth gold medallist Lisa Dobriskey, guitarist and country singer Josh Doyle, author Frederick Forsyth, television presenter Bob Holness, comedian Vic Reeves and French philosopher Simone Weil.