Norman Ashby was born in Scarborough in 1881. He was the second son of Richard Ashby, a Dental Surgeon, and his wife Rosina. Norman entered St John's College, Cambridge and was awarded the degree of B.A. in 1907 and that of M.A. in 1910.
Norman was ordained Deacon in 1908 and Priest in 1910. He served as Curate of St Leonard's, Bootle from 1908 to 1911. On leaving Bootle, he went to Canada, where he was instituted as the Incumbent of Radisson in the Province of Quebec. He then moved to that of Alberta, where he was the first Priest-in-Charge of St Mary's, Edmonton from July 1913 until October 1914.
Norman then enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corp, serving during and after the First World War, from 17 March 1915 until his discharge on 31 March 1920. He was subsequently Chaplain of Parkside School, then in East Horsley, from 1921 to 1923, of Elstree School from 1923 to 1926 and of Barnsted School from 1926 to 1929. Norman then became a Tutor, first at Oak Hill Theological College in East Barnet, and then, from 1930 to 1931, at Knutsford Test School for prospective ordinands in Hawarden, North Wales.
In 1935 Norman was appointed Curate in Charge of St Nicholas', Swineshead in Bedfordshire, where he served until 1937. The following year he was instituted Rector of Thorley, holding the benefice until 1940, when he was succeeded as Rector by George Harding Wood.
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