Ashwell is a large village with many attractive, well preserved, mainly timber-framed buildings. Its name is derived from the spring which surfaces in a dell, surrounded by ash trees, at the eastern end of the village. The spring feeds the River Rhee, which later becomes the River Cam.
The importance of the village is demonstrated by the size of the church. St. Mary's Church is a 14th century building, with a high tower, topped by a leaded spike, reaching 176 feet. The tower bears a scrawled Latin inscription which translates as, "miserable, wild and distracted, the dregs of the people alone survive to witness". This is a reference to the Black Death, a plague which killed one third of those who contracted it. Many victims lie in the churchyard. The lychgate, at the entrance to the church, dates from the 15th century.
The Town House, itself an ancient monument, is the Village Museum, containing exhibits showing the history of Ashwell from prehistoric times to the present day. The Rose and Crown pub dates from the 1540's. In Mill Street, the Merchant Taylors' Company established a school in 1681. The Old Mill, restored as a miller's house, but now a private dwelling, has retained an ancient water wheel turned by the stream.