"Ashby" is a word of Anglo-Danish origins, meaning "town of the ash [tree]". The Norman French addition dates from the years after the Conquest, when the town was given to the Zouche family in the reign of Henry II.
It has an historic 15th century castle which was formerly owned by the Hastings family. It was one of many sleighted by Cromwell's forces in the English Civil War. Underground passages run beneath its grounds. It is now managed by English Heritage.
Mary, Queen of Scots is said to have been temporarily kept in the castle.
The castle area was the setting for Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. A local high school is named after the book (Ivanhoe High School, for 11 to 14-year-olds). The local upper school, Ashby Grammar School (no longer a grammar school), which is a mixed, comprehensive school for 14 to 18-year-olds, has its roots in the 16th century.
The parish church, St Helens, houses a rare 300 year-old finger pillory, which apparently was used to punish people misbehaving in church.
Many of the buildings in Market Street, the town's main thoroughfare, have timber framing, but most of this is hidden by later brick facades. The "Bull's Head" pub retains the original Elizabethan half-timbering. There are also Regency buildings in this street.
Bath Street has a row of Classical-style houses dating, as the name suggests, from the time that the town was a spa. The demolition of the public baths is now a matter of some regret.
The town itself has been one of the fastest growing in the Midlands in recent years, and the historic centre is now surrounded by executive housing.
The heavy traffic which previously passed through the town has been substantially relieved by the A42 and A511 bypasses.
By far the largest employer in the town is United Biscuits, which provides about 2000 jobs. One of its production plants will close in 2004 with loss of 900 of these posts.
Other employers in Ashby include Standard Soap, Calder Colour (paint) and Phillip Harris (laboratory supplies). There is also a concentration of high-tech employers.
An ironic popular song known to older people is entitled "Ashby-de-la-Zouch By The Sea".