It lies on the River Great Stour at the south edge of the North Downs, about 61 miles (98 km) southeast of central London and 15.3 miles (24.6 km) northwest of Folkestone by road. The name comes from the Old English æscet, indicating a ford near a clump of ash trees.
It has been a market town since the 13th century, and a regular market continues to be held.
Ashford has been a communications hub and has stood at the centre of five railway lines since the 19th century.The arrival of the railways became a source of employment and contributed to the town's growth.The town has been marked as a place for expansion since the 1960s and appeared on several Government plans for growth.Changes have included the County Square shopping centre, the redevelopment of the Templer Barracks at Repton Park, and the award winning Ashford Designer Outlet.Two axes from the Lower Paleolithic period have been found near Ashford.
During the construction of the Park Farm estate in the late 1990s, excavation in the area revealed tools from the Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic period dating back to the 7th century BC.