Description of Ashton-under-Lyne 1795

The following is an extract taken from Aikin's Book "Forty Miles around Manchester", 1795

This parish is situated in the south-eastern corner of the county (Lancashire). Ashton itself is a small but populous town, which has received a great increase of late years, and now consists of several streets of well-built commodious houses. It stands on a rising situation on the north side of the Tame. There was formerly a market hear held every Wednesday, at a place where an ancient cross is still standing, but has been discontinued avove thirty years, though such a convenience is now particularly wanted from the augmented population. (not neccessarily true, the Court Leet papers for this period still indicate some revenues from a market, perhaps it was a smaller affair at a different venue).

The Earl of Stamford, to whom the town and the principal part of the parish belongs, holds a court leet here yearly, where his agent presides as a judge, and all disputes, breaches of trust, rights of tenants, together with actions of debt under forty shillings, are cognizable. It appears from a very ancient manuscript, now in the possesion of Joseph Pickford Esq. of Royton, containing the rent-roll and several very curious particulars concerning the estate, drawn at a very remote period, to have been a borough; but why the charter was withdrawn, or by what means the privilege was lost, there is no account; yet the custom of yearly nomination, and the insignia of office, are still kept up by the inhabitants.

Ashton has a large and ancient church, furnished with a fine ring of ten bells, and a large organ erected by the subscription of the inhabitants. Under the seats of some of the pews are rude carvings on wood, relating to different families in the neighbourhood, of a very old date. Several of these are preserved, though the church has been newly pewed. A popular tale is current concerning a supposed ace of spades cut upon the south side of the steeple. This has been found by Mr. Barritt to be an old triangular shield charged with a mullet, the arms of Ashton, impaling the arms of Stealey , of Stealey (Stayley or Staveleigh), in that neighbourhood, which seems to denote that a lady of that family married to an Ashton was a liberal contributor towards the building. The living is a valuable rectory in the gift of The Earl of Stamford, now in the possession of the Rev. Sir George Booth, Bart. Near the church is a building of great antiquity, called the Old Hall, which is supposes to have been built in theyear 1483, at present occupied by Mr Brooke. Adjioning to this is an edifice which had the appearance of a prison, and till of later years has been used as such; it was formerley regarded by the inhabitants as a sort of Bastille to the place. It is a strong rather small building, with two round towers overgrown with ivy, called the dungeons, but which appear to have been only conveniences for the prisoners a they have door places, a flag for the feet, and a rail to prevent them from falling backwards, with the drains from the bottom; and they are not large enough for a person to live in. The prison is now occupied by different poor families. It has two courtyards, an inner and an outer, with strong walls. Over the outer gate was a square room ascended to from the inside by a flight of stone steps, and very ancient. It has always gone by the name of the Gaolor's Chapel, as it was supposed that prayers were occasionally read in it to the prisoners. The house of the inner court is still standing, and in a tolerable repair. It is inhabited by a venarable and very aged man, who remembers the gate being open through the house about sixty years ago. At a short distance from the hall is a meadow well known by the name Gallows-field, doubtless the place of execution when the Lord of Ashton had power of life and death.

Ashton is joined by two very considerable hamlets of houses, built in the beginning of the American war, and called Boston and Charlestown, after the places of that name in New England. It also extends in every direction towards the neighbouring towns. It is well supplied with water, except for two months in the summer, when the inhabitants are obliged to fetch their soft water in carts from the Tame. this river abounds with trout. It is also of the highest utility to the machinery of the woollen and cotton factories of the neighbourhood; it being reckoned that within the space of ten miles from Ashton there are near 100 mills upon this stream and its tributory branches.

Coals are got at the very edge of town in abundance, whence they will be conveyed to Manchester by the canal which is now nearly finished. Its advantages to the town and neighbourhood will be inestimable, particualrly in the improvement of the soil by lime and other manures. At a short distance from Ashton, on the Manchester Road, is an extensive moss, from the edges of which the surrounding poor cut turf, which supplies them with fuel. The turf is cut away till the diggers come, at about ten feet depth, to a tolerable soil of loam, which on proper improvement becomes good meadow land. The moss itself is a shaking bog, which nevertheless can be crossed in any season, and probably might be solid ground by means of judicious draining. Red fir trees are frequently found in it, which, being fresh and full of turpentine, serve, when split, the purpose of candles to the poor; also numbers of large oak trees perfectly found and as black as ebony.

Ashton and its townships have rapidly increased in population, with the increase of manufactures. From an enumeration made in 1775, it appears that there were:

In the Town553 houses599 families2859 inhabitants
In the Parish941 houses971 families5097 inhabitants

The following list of houses in the several districts, paying the Window Tax, was taken in 1793:

Ashton Town279Mossley65
Audenshaw including Hooley Hill238Luzley and Souracre40
Knott Lanes202Ridghill Lane of Staley-Bridge112

It is certain, however, that this is very short of the real number, as evidently appears by comparison with the return of houses in the town of 775, since which period it had manifestly received a great increase.

The town of Ashton, including Boston, Charlestown, Botany Bay, Hurst, and the adjoining buildings on the Manchester, Mossley,. Staley-Bridge roads, with the new street etc., near the church, cannot be much short of 1,600 houses. In this town five inhabitants may safely be reckoned to a house, making in all 8000 souls. Staley-bridge, Oldham, Dukinfield, Hooley Hill, Audenshaw, Openshaw with other towns and villages in this neighbourhood, have increased nearly in the same proportion as Ashton.

With respect to the school, the appointment of a master is jointly betwixt the Earl of Stamford and the Rev. George Booth, Rector. The inscription is as follows:- "Given by the Right Hon. George, Earl of Warrington, and rebuilt by the parish anno Domini, 1721." The salary is three pounds per annum with a small house over the school; three pounds paid from the Crime estate.

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