Education and early life
Maurice Anthony Ash was born at Hazaribagh, India on 31 October 1917. His father, Wilfred Cracroft Ash, was a successful civil engineer in British India who also made a large engineering contribution to the 1939-1945 War against the Nazis. He was a co-founder of the construction company Gilbert-Ash and is noted for technological inventions in pre-stressed concrete. Ash's grandfather, Gilbert Ash, was a property developer who left him a large fortune.
Ash was educated at Gresham's School, Holt, the London School of Economics (where he read economics) and at Yale. At LSE, he met Michael Young, later Lord Young of Dartington, who became a lifelong friend.
After the war, his friend Young introduced him to the Dartington Hall Trust. The rundown 1,000 acre (4 km²) estate of Dartington, near Totnes in Devon, had been bought by Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst in the 1920s. With ideas from the philosopher Rabindranath Tagore and money Dorothy Elmhirst inherited from her family (the American Whitneys) the Elmhirsts rescued a medieval hall and developed the estate, creating craft workshops and founding a famous design school.
After farming in Essex, Ash was interested in the postwar plans for new towns such as Welwyn Garden City and joined the Town and Country Planning Association, becoming its chairman and later its vice-president. The TCPA published the influential magazine Bulletin of Environmental Education. Ash promoted enlightened development.
Ash also became chairman of the Dartington Trust. While some Dartington activities were given up, others started. Dartington glass and the Schumacher College continued. Ash also backed a magazine called The Vole.
In writing about the great private estates which followed the dissolution of the English monasteries, Ash argued that they had been failures in any civilising sense. Monasteries had been centres of learning and innovation. He argued for re-establishing such communities. Broadly, his philosophy followed Wittgenstein and rejected Descartes.
Books by Maurice Ash
His published books include -
- Regions of Tomorrow: Towards the Open City (1969) ISBN 0-238-78935-7
- A Guide To The Structure of London (1972)
- New Renaissance: Essays in Search of Wholeness (Green Books, 1986) ISBN 1-870098-00-5
- Journey Into the Eye of a Needle (1991) ISBN 1-870098-35-8
- The Fabric of the World: Towards a Philosophy of Environment (Green Books, 1992) ISBN 1-870098-42-0
- Sharpham Miscellany: Essays in Spirituality and Ecology by John Crook, Maurice Ash, and Stephen Batchelor (1992) ISBN 0-9518298-0-7
- Beyond the Age of Metaphysics: and the Restoration of Local Life (Green Books, 1998)
- Where Division Ends: On Feeling at Home in Chaos (Green Books, Totnes, 2001) ISBN 1-903998-06-9
- Chairman of the Town and Country Planning Association Executive 1969 to 1983
- Chairman of the Dartington Trust 1972 to 1984
- Chairman of the Green Alliance (an all-party environmental lobby group) 1978 to 1983
Ash met the Elmhirsts' daughter Ruth and in 1947, they were married. They had a son and three daughters.
In 1962, the Ashes bought Sharpham House, Ashprington, near Totnes, in Devon, a large Palladian house designed by Robert Taylor. A 100-acre (400,000 m2) farm there was run on Rudolf Steiner principles, and also vineyards, a Buddhist community and college, and the Robert Owen Foundation, a charity which provided agricultural experience for people with mental disabilities.