ANNE Ashby will be remembered well by residents - she co-founded the Chiswick Women's Aid, the first refuge for battered women and their children in the world in the early 1970s along with her friend Erin Pizzey, writes Ruth Inglis.

Erin was the flamboyant one but Anne, who liked staying in the background, was the powerful force behind the scenes - practical, motherly, medically trained as a nurse and midwife and with a steely resolve to protect wives and children who came to the refuge for protection.

The first time the public at large knew that there was a second powerful female force at the refuge was in November 1975, when Anne masterminded the refuge's takeover of the derelict and unoccupied Palm Court Hotel in Richmond. In less than 24 hours of their occupying the former four star hotel, Anne had the kitchen running and was providing full cooked breakfasts for 50 children on camping stoves.

"Aren't we efficient?" Anne proclaimed to the unhappy policemen attempting to remove them, "And we haven't seen a rat yet," she said happily. The group couldn't stay there, of course, but the well-off Richmond council was made to feel the refuge's financial plight (the refuge's funds tended to come from wealthy benefactors such as David Astor over the years and not from the council).

Both Erin and Anne had been divorced and both were strong single mothers. For some observers of the Chiswick Family Refuge, it was tempting to class both women as the Martha and Mary' of the movement, Pizzey attracting the headlines and Ashby seeing to the everyday running of the place. However, this would be too glib an overview of its management.

Anne became director of Chiswick Family Rescue in 1982 after Erin had left to concentrate on her literary career. She had become disillusioned with certain leading feminists who quarelled with her view that men could also be abused. "Well," as Anne told me, smiling, "some of my best friends are men."

This was certainly true, as reflected in her pride in her sons, Mark, a writer, and Edward, a transport manager, and daughter Louise, who works as a development editor for the award winning TV company, Sally Head Productions.

I first met Anne when I was sent to interview her by the Daily Express. She was searching for her natural mother through documents recently made available to the public through Somerset House. As a child in Shropshire, she had been adopted. She was enjoying the search and, as with everything she did, she involved her three children. They were thrilled to track down country cousins. However, Anne's reunion with her birth mother never materialised, her mother shying away from the meeting.

After leaving her job at Chiswick Family Rescue in the mid-1980s, Anne continued to work for women's rights, first as patron of Westminster Women's Aid and throughout the 1990s with the London Emergency Housing Association. After retiring, Anne continued to be involved in lectures concerning domestic violence and in counselling workers in the field.

Anne Ashby was honoured by the Women of the Year organisation in the late 1980s. She was Woman of the Decade' to some and Woman of the Century' to most of us who knew her.

She was born on May 2, 1938 and died peacefully after a long illness on January 26, surrounded by her children and friends.