Skip to content

Aston At War

Lying only a few hundred metres from the River Trent the village has, throughout history, been influenced by the proximity of this major water course. The river provided a highway from the sea into the inland regions and Aston, in common with many other riverside communities, was originally settled in Neolithic times. The land was cleared of trees to establish farming and to take advantage of the productive alluvial soils of the river valley. Settlement in the area between the present day village and the river is estimated to have taken place around 2900 B.C. For those early settlers the river was vital to their way of life, providing a plentiful supply of fresh water for domestic and agricultural purposes as well as being a means of access to other areas. 

For many centuries the only conflicts to occur would have been very much of a local nature, family or tribal disputes. Even with the coming of the Romans and their occupation of the land until 400 A.D., followed by periods of domination by Saxons and Vikings, there appears to be no indication of significant local conflict. Contained within the parish church is positive indication of a Saxon presence in the village and the Vikings were present at nearby Repton from 873 A.D. It is always interesting to speculate how these newcomers from foreign shores were received into the local community and whether their integration took place peaceably, or was imposed by superior weight of numbers and weaponry. In the eleventh century came the Normans, and they were not slow to impose their authority. In Aston, one method they employed to demonstrated their power and presence over the local Anglo Saxon population was by construction works at the church, which included the building of the tower, a political symbol of their presence, power and authority. 

Moving forward to the seventeenth century and the English Civil War, Aston on Trent comes very close to its first documented contact with armed conflict. The river Trent had become a natural and strategic barrier between the Parliamentarian forces garrisoned in south Derbyshire, in particular in the town of Derby, and the Royalist forces based on the southern banks of the river. Two military actions took place in 1644 within a few miles of Aston on Trent when Sir John Gell carried out an attack on the Wilne river crossing and overwhelmed a garrison of Royalists. He had, just a few months earlier, disposed of another Royalist garrison based at Kings Mills, barely a mile from Aston. The Civil War did however come very much closer to home, but not in a military sense, In 1644 the Rector of Aston, Richard Clarke, a Royalist sympathiser, became so exposed to harassment, insults and pillaging from the Parliamentarians of Derby and nearby Weston that he saw fit to abandon his Aston on Trent Rectory to seek refuge at the Royalist garrison at Ashby de la Zouch. 

The benefice of Aston, which incidentally provided a very good living, was sequestered to Thomas Palmer, a clergyman with Parliamentarian leanings. The latter clergyman did not immediately take up residence at Aston’s Rectory and by 1646 Richard Clarke had returned, with his wife Beatrice and family, to reclaim his Rectory He was ordered to quit by the Committee for Plundered Ministers but his wife was allowed to receive one fifth of the revenues of the benefice in order to support her family. In 1647 a case between Thomas Palmer and Beatrice Clarke was heard, the result being that the one fifth of the revenues of the benefice would be converted into an annuity of £40 provided that she removed herself from the parsonage. They had not reckoned with the fortitude of Beatrice Clarke who, determined to stay put in the parsonage, had by this time employed the “assistance of divers turbulent persons”. In modern parlance she had enlisted the help and protection of a number of “heavies” who had sympathy with her cause. The dispute with Thomas Palmer rumbled on for several more years until eventually, under the terms of the Restoration Settlement, Richard Clarke was restored to his benefice of Aston on Trent in 1660. So came to an end Aston’s ”civil war”, Richard Clarke remained in office until 1681 when he was succeeded by Edward Holden. As for Thomas Palmer, he was arrested for preaching in Kent in 1662 and at Nottingham in 1663, in which year he was also implicated in a plot against Charles II. He eventually fled to Ireland. 

In 1695 an Act of Parliament was passed to enable William III to raise taxes to support the war against Louis XIV of France. A tax, in the form of a duty imposed on marriages, births and burials, was based on social ranking, the higher the rank the greater the amount of tax to be paid. Although not physically affected by the war against France the citizens of Aston on Trent were subjected to an attack on their pockets. The Act remained in force for five years. 

The Crimean War of 1854 -1856 when British, French and Turkish forces faced the Russian army of Tsar Nicholas I, sees the village’s first documented casualty resulting from a military conflict. This was Lieutenant Edward Shuttleworth Holden of the 23rd Fusiliers who died of wounds received at the storming of Sebastopol in September 1855. He was eighteen years old and the son of Edward Anthony Holden of Aston on Trent Hall. There is a window to his memory in the north aisle of the parish church. 

When the Winterbottom family took over the Aston on Trent Estate from the Holden’s in 1898 there developed a close association between the village and the Leicestershire and Derbyshire Yeomanry, mainly through its association with Colonel William Dickson Winterbottom of Aston on Trent Hall. On the west wall of the parish church there is a memorial to the men of the Yeomanry who lost their lives in the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899- 1902, some of whom would likely have been with the VI Brigade when it camped at Aston. 

The son of Colonel Winterbottom, Major Guy Winterbottom, whilst serving with the Derbyshire Yeomanry in northern Greece during the First World War, was killed in action in August 1917. There is a window in the south aisle of the church dedicated to his memory. A further eighteen of Aston’s men fell in that war, and throughout Aston’s history the village community cannot have undergone more suffering or made more sacrifices than in those years between 1914 and 1919. 

During the six years of the Second World War, as aerial warfare extended the boundaries of conflict, Aston on Trent became more involved than at any time during its long history. There was a decoy site along Derby Road, its purpose was to draw enemy aircraft away from the industrialised districts of Derby. In this it succeeded on one notable occasion. On a night in 1940 several bombs fell on the village. Fortunately nobody came to any harm and minimal damage was caused to properties. A Home Guard platoon was formed which carried out drill and weapon training in the grounds of the Rectory and manoeuvres in the fields around the village. One serviceman from the village lost his life in France in 1940 and his name appears on Aston’s Roll of Honour alongside the men who fell during the First World War. 

Those who gave their lives in the First and Second World Wars are commemorated in the form of Aston’s War Memorial Hall. Opened in 1926 and extended in 2006, it serves as a constant reminder to all who use it that those men of the village who made the ultimate sacrifice in order to preserve our way of life should never be forgotten.