Ashbourne is the most backwards town in the country
It’s far from normal
Welcome to my town, Ashbourne. Idyllically known as the gateway to the Peak District, it is a little town in Derbyshire.
Although Ashbourne isn’t shockingly tiny in terms of population, with a little over 7,000 people, in terms of mindset it’s completely backwards: think Hot Fuzz crossed with Footloose. It wasn’t until I left to go to university I realised how weird it was.
Friends always say how white my school pictures are, and how coo-inducing the quaint little town is. The streets are adorably decorated with eight miles of bunting for any remotely patriotic or summery event. It’s very cute, people buy local produce, everyone knows everyone and actually, it’s a really nice place to live – as long as you don’t think about it too much.
As a small town in the countryside, Ashbourne is also really rural. Just last week I scrolled past a wedding photo on my newsfeed of the bridal party stood in front of a tractor. My neighbour has a chicken called Chairman Mao, and it’s normal for kids to be late for school with the excuse of “sorry sir, it’s lambing season”, or “sorry miss, the cows got out”.
Like most small towns, there isn’t really much to do, so kids who live in nearby villages learn to drive as soon as possible, otherwise they’re stuck relying on village buses which run every few hours. Even the bus from the town centre to Derby only runs once an hour. It’s a pretty cute bus to be honest, everyone knows everyone and some people greet the bus driver by name, although I once sat opposite a man in waders and gardening gloves.
Probably about two thirds of my year went to sixth form, and out of that, probably about 95 per cent went to university and most likely won’t ever go back home. The people who go to college or leave school altogether generally don’t go to uni, and generally don’t leave the town. It’s pretty well known some families stay in the town forever. There are even families still in the area from plague times.
When people brag about how great their hometowns are, it’s kind of hard to rival. All I can brag is Ronnie the Ugliest Man in Britain lives here, although he was arrested a few years ago for threatening to kill his wife and strangle her. We also have Shrovetide football: it’s like football, rugby and brawling all in one, but there aren’t any rules, and the goals are three miles apart. We all got the week off school for it. People have died some years, but apart from that it’s great. Everyone stands in the car park in their wellies getting pissed while we all watch some sweaty men run after a ball. I hadn’t been to school on Shrove Tuesday or Ash Wednesday until I came to university.
Local OFSTED reports in various years have picked up on the lack of cultural diversity here, with them concluding “the vast majority of students are from white British backgrounds”. Another report on Street Check said: “Ashbourne can be considered less ethnically diverse than the UK average. As a whole, the UK population claims itself as approximately 86 per cent white, with residents of this area being 99 per cent so.”
As a result, racism and slurs were normal growing up here. The only non-white people I can think of are Mr and Mrs Dayal the greengrocers, who luckily told me they’d only experienced any racism once, and the one Asian teacher and the Filipino girl in my year.
Alice, a local and recent uni graduate, revealed how children would tease people with olive skin as being black. She said: “Because everyone in the school was white, people didn’t have any targets for their racism. So they would just decide kids who had olive skin were black, and make fun of them. Our P.E. teacher had a bit of a tan and ‘Mr. is a Paki’ got spray painted on a wall in the park.”
Recently, a friend confessed she’d only ever spoken to her second black person at her university interview. Even the fact she could count it was weird, but the first black person she met was Devoney, who was popular in school because he was a “novelty”. He was only there for a little while, and didn’t return one day. Apparently he’d been beaten up.
As you enter Ashbourne, on your left you can see the Green Man and Black’s Head Royal Hotel. Watch out for the oh-so-tastefully painted black head dangling in the middle of the main road. It’s a conversation starter for sure, but it gets a little old when you’re called over to a group at a party with: “Hey, tell them about the lynched head in the middle of your farmer village”. It’s also tough to explain it’s not lynched, it’s just hung in the middle of the road – and for the 10th time it is NOT a village – without seeming like you support it.
Young people in the town have now started a petition to get the caricature head removed from the high street. Sign it here.
It’s definitely improved in recent years, and there have been a few changes in the town. It’s getting more diverse and hopefully will continue to, but it’s still far from normal.