Ashdon is situated on an ancient road running from Saffron Walden to Bartlow. The village now consists of two distinct parts, the older part by far being the hamlet around the church at the top of the hill. The original settlement there may go back to pre- Christian times and it is possible that a pagan temple once stood on the site of the church. The original medieval village was situated to the east of the church, this being indicated by the ‘platforms’ and ditches in the field immediately to the east of the present chancel.
‘All Saints Church’ Archaeologists have described it as being the most impressive village site in Essex. What is left of the old village is represented by a few cottages and the Guildhall grouped around a small green south of the churchyard. The much larger settlement down in the valley was not established until the 13th or 14th century, and the move down the hill may have been prompted by an attempt to escape the Black Death.
Ashdon is mentioned in the Domesday Book but the village around the church will have been in existence for centuries before 1086. The place in the Book is Ascenduna. The name became Ashdon in about 1375. The meaning is Ash Tree Hill being derived from two Saxon words, ‘Aescun’ (of the ash tree) and ‘Dun’ ( a hill). This was a very wooded area and the ash was a very common tree in Anglo-Saxon England.
How long there has been a church on the present site is unknown, but there was certainly one in existence by the 10th century. It was probably built of wood. There is a reasonable possibility that the church was rebuilt in stone early in the 11th century.
The oldest part of the present church, which is dedicated to All Saints, is the long and spacious chancel which was probably built in the 13th century, flanked by a large chapel on the south side dating from about 1320.
The nave represents a rebuilding of an earlier one in around 1410. The western tower was added in about 1375, and was built clear of the west wall which was only removed on completion. Before it was built there was apparently no tower, the bells, if any, being housed in a turret over the west gable.
Numerous slight irregularities in the layout of the present church indicate that there was an earlier one which influenced the plan, but of which almost all trace has disappeared. For example, the south wall is not a straight line and the chancel arch is set slightly askew. The nave is also irregular in shape and is about a foot longer on the south side than on the north. The pillars in the nave and the chancel arch stand on shallow plinths about 2ft.6in square. Saxon walls were much thinner than those of the Normans and later builders and frequently did not exceed 2ft. 6in in thickness. It may be that these plinths are the remains of a Saxon nave cut down and adapted by later builders.
The walls thoughout are built of flints collected from the fields, a job often undertaken by the women and children who cleared the pebbles from the arable fields. Cut stonework had to be imported and the ‘dressing’ of the windows, doorways, pillars, arches etc. are mostly of clunch (a kind of chalk) and limestone. Brick came into general use about the beginning of the 16th century and became very popular in Essex and East Anglia. The south porch and two of the later clerestory windows are in 16th century brick, while the west end of the south aisle was largely rebuilt and the buttress added in brick in the 18th century. Modern brick has been used in repairs in the north porch.
See also information on Essex Churches website