Ashton-Under-Lyne (St. Michael)

ASHTON-UNDER-LYNE (St. Michael), a market-town, parish, parliamentary borough, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Salford, S. division of the county of Lancaster, 6 miles (E.) from Manchester, 58 (S. E.) from Lancaster, and 197 (N. W. by N.) from London; comprising the parochial divisions of Ashton-town, Audenshaw, Hartshead, and Knott-Lanes; and containing 46,296 inhabitants. The primary part of the name of this place is derived from the Saxon words æyc, an ash, and tun, an inclosed place or town; the adjunct under-Lyne is of obscure etymology, and various hypotheses have been ventured in elucidation of its origin. The most probable seems to be that of Mr. John Ross Coulthart, of Croft House, Ashton, who ascribes the term to the situation of the town near to or under the line or chain of hills which separates Yorkshire from Lancashire, popularly denominated "the back-bone of England." The original proprietors, the Asshetons, a family distinguished in the early period of English history, exercised the power of life and death; and a field on the west side of the Old Hall, through which now passes the Ashton branch of the Manchester and Sheffield railway, was the place of execution, and is still known by the name of the Gallows' Meadow. In the reign of Henry VI., when the feudal system was generally relaxed, Sir Ralph Assheton, still inheriting extraordinary privileges, exercised them with great rigour and exactitude; and in order that no fines or forfeits might be lost for the want of strict supervision, it was customary for him, clad in black armour and mounted on a charger, with a numerous retinue of dependents, to perambulate the manor in person at uncertain intervals, taking cognizance of every infraction of his rights as a baron, levying from his tenants, by force if necessary, all fines for heriots, weifs, strays, &c., and rigidly punishing with the stocks, imprisonment, or death, all offences committed within his jurisdiction. To commemorate the abhorrence in which Sir Ralph's conduct was held, the ceremony of "riding the black lad" was instituted, and is still observed on every Easter-Monday. The effigy of a man of colossal dimensions, clad in black, is placed on a horse, and, followed by a rabble, is led in procession through the principal streets of the borough, while the promoters of the cavalcade beg small sums from door to door; at night, the effigy is dismounted at the old market-place, and after being torn to pieces, the fragments are usually burned amid the execrations of the populace.

The Town is situated on a gentle declivity, on the northern bank of the river Tame, above which it is elevated from 30 to 40 feet; the old streets are narrow and irregular, but those recently formed are remarkably spacious, and consist of substantial and handsome houses. It is well paved, lighted with gas, cheaply and abundantly supplied with water, and is rapidly improving under the management of local commissioners of police. A mechanics' institution was founded in 1825; the present commodious premises are situated at the top of Church-street, immediately adjoining the western gates of the parish church. The reading-room of the institution is well supplied with periodicals, and the library contains upwards of 1200 volumes of standard works: the number of subscribers is 164. In 1846, a Floral and Horticultural Society was formed for the purpose of promoting, by means of prizes to exhibitors, the general cultivation of tulips, herbaceous plants, fruits, &c. The Barracks, which are capable of accommodating a small battalion of infantry and a troop of cavalry, are eligibly situated on the road to Mossley, at a distance of about a mile from the town; they were erected in 1843, at a cost of £42,500, and are fitted up with baths and every convenience for both officers and men. The site, occupying six acres, was given by the lord of the manor.

The principal Trade is in spinning, power-loom weaving, and other branches of the cotton manufacture; and there are few instances on record of a town making such rapid progress as this in wealth and population. In 1775, the population of the town was only 2859; in 1801, 6500; in 1811, 7800; in 1821, 9222; in 1831, 14,671; and in 1841, 22,689. In 1750, the inhabitants were humbly engaged in spinning and weaving cotton by hand, in their cottages: in 1785, Arkwright's machines gave an impetus to the trade; but even so late as 1794, there were only eleven spinning-rooms or small factories. At present there are in active operation within the borough, 77 large factories; and within a radius of two miles from the parish church are 160, of 5199 horse-power, consuming weekly upwards of 2,000,000 lb. of raw cotton, employing on the average nearly 23,000 workpeople, representing a capital of not less than £4,000,000, and sending out of the district yarn and power-loom cloth of not less value than £4,500,000 annually. Formerly, ginghams, muslins, and shawls were manufactured to a considerable extent; but the profit arising from spinning and manufacturing cotton being greater, those branches have fallen into decay. Wool and beaver hats, also, were a few years ago extensively manufactured in the neighbourhood; but the preference recently given by the public to silk hats, has nearly ruined the trade, and produced great distress among the workmen engaged in it. The whole district abounds in excellent coal, which, after supplying the home consumption, is conveyed in large quantities to Manchester and other parts by means of a branch of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire railway, by a branch of the Manchester and Leeds railway, and the Ashton, Huddersfield, and Peak-Forest canals; which all touch here.

The Market, which, previously to the establishment of the cotton trade, had been discontinued, was restored in 1828 by act of parliament, and a commodious marketplace was formed, the Earl of Stamford and Warrington giving 14,000 square yards of land for a site. This spacious area was opened July 2nd, 1830; and near its eastern extremity is a large quadrangular edifice consisting of 26 butchers' shops, let at rents varying from £10 to £13 per annum. Four and a half per cent. of the gross produce of the tolls is claimed by the lord of the manor, and the remainder, which is very considerable, goes to the Commissioners of Police, and enables that body to carry out many improvements. The principal market-day is Saturday; and in 1846 a weekly cattlemarket, on Tuesday, was established: markets are also held on Monday and Wednesday. By royal grant, dated 1284, two fairs were conferred; and in a confirmation of the grant to Sir John de Assheton in 1413, it was directed that they should be held, one on the eve, feast, and morrow of St. Swithen (July 14th, 15th, and 16th), and the other on the eve, feast, and morrow of St. Martin (Nov. 9th, 10th, and 11th). The present fairs, however, are held on March 23rd, April 29th, July 25th, Nov. 21st; and, for the sale of horned-cattle, sheep, pigs, &c., on the second Thursday in every month. Business is facilitated by the Ashton, Stalybridge, Hyde, and Glossop Bank, founded in 1836; and by branches of the Manchester and Liverpool District Bank, and Saddleworth Bank. There is also a savings' bank.

The town was incorporated in the reign of Henry VI., but is now under the jurisdiction of the county magistrates acting for the division, who hold petty-sessions every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday in the Townhall, a handsome stone structure of the Corinthian order, built in 1840, at an expense of £7500. The building contains a court-room, news-room, prison, police-office, a residence for the principal police-officer, sundry committee-rooms, and a spacious public hall 83 feet by 40, where balls, concerts, lectures, and large public meetings take place. The internal regulation of the town is vested, by an act passed in 1827, in all owners or occupiers of premises within the borough, of the clear yearly value of £35 and upwards, called Police Commissioners, who levy police rates, appoint deputy and other salaried constables, and keep the town properly lighted, cleansed, and watched. Besides the officers appointed by the Commissioners, the Earl of Stamford and Warrington's leet steward annually swears into office at the Michaelmas court, for the service of the manor, a mayor (who acts as returning officer at parliamentary elections), three constables, four assistant constables, from 12 to 24 jurymen, 12 bye-law men, two bailiffs, two pounders, three afferors, an inspector of weights and measures, two market-lookers, three ale-tasters, and two bellmen. A charter of incorporation, however, has just been granted by the crown, under which many changes will take place. Though courts leet have generally fallen into desuetude, the one held here is singularly useful in recovering fines under 40s., and abating nuisances within the manor, which otherwise could only be recovered and abated by tedious and expensive processes at law: the court has been held from time immemorial, every six months, in the ancient manor court-house, a curiously formed structure, erected in 1636, near the old marketcross. The county debt-court of Ashton, established in 1847, has jurisdiction over part of the registration-district of Ashton and Oldham. The inhabitants are empowered by the Reform act to return one member to parliament, the right of election being vested in the £10 householders: the borough is co-extensive with the Ashton-town parochial division, and contains 1319 acres, and 671 registered electors; the entire parish containing 9300 acres. The poor are under the management of the guardians of the Ashton union, which comprises Ashton-town, Audenshaw and Droylsden, Knott-Lanes, Hartshead, Denton and Haughton, Dukinfield, Newton and Godley, Stayley, and Mottram-in-Longdendale, with an aggregate population of 101,598.

The Living is a rectory, valued in the king's books at £26. 13. 4., and at £1409 in the parliamentary return of 1833. The Grelles, as lords of Manchester, were the earliest owners of the advowson; but in 1304, William de Merchia, parson of Manchester, usurped the patronage, which he retained until the De la Warres, by right of relationship to the Grelles, recovered it in 1339. In 1427, Thomas De la Warre, baron and rector of Manchester, conveyed the advowson to Sir John de Assheton, whose descendants possessed it for upwards of a century; at length, through the Booths of Dunham-Massey, it became heritably vested in the earls of Stamford. The church, which is a handsome structure in the later English style, standing on elevated ground near the south-eastern extremity of the town, was at one time a chapel of ease to the church of Manchester; the date of its foundation is not known, but it clearly appears by the Taxation of Pope Nicholas IV., 1291, that the living was then one of considerable importance. During the lifetime of Sir Thomas Assheton, who died in 1516, the church was extensively repaired, and was enlarged; but for several generations afterwards, the fabric underwent few changes: in January, 1791, however, it was so severely damaged by a thunder storm, that in the following year it was wholly repewed at the cost of the seatholders, and the belfry and roof repaired at the expense of the parishioners. The present lofty square tower (which contains a clock, and an excellent peal of ten bells), and the whole of the north side of the church, were built in 1820-21: while these improvements were in progress, a fire broke out which destroyed the principal timbers of the west end, and consumed a nobletoned organ, with many curiously-carved antique embellishments. From 1821 to 1840, the edifice was in a very dilapidated condition, and no steps were taken during that period to rebuild the ruined south wall and renovate the interior: on the 18th of May, 1840, however, the foundation stone of a new south wall was laid, and in the course of four years from that time, the whole fabric underwent such complete restoration that, for correct architectural design, harmonious distribution of ornament, and elaborate carving in oak, there are few churches of the same size in the north of England comparable with it. The expense of the renovation, which amounted to £6849, was defrayed proportionately by the patron, the rector, and the seatholders; by general voluntary contributions; and the proceeds of a bazaar. The east window is of beautiful design, and the walls within the communion rails, to the height of eight feet above the encaustic pavement, are lined with rich tabernacle stone-work; the gilded recessed compartments being interspersed with sacred mottoes and emblematical representations. At the west end is an exceedingly fine organ, built in 1845, at a cost of £1155, and which was presented by Mr. Edward Brown, of The Firs. A short distance to the south of the church, is a school, rebuilt in 1827 at a cost of £800, which is occupied on Sundays by upwards of 1400 children, and on other days of the week as a school in connexion with the National Society.

At the western extremity of the town is St. Peter's Church, a rich specimen of the decorated style, erected in 1821 at a cost of £14,000, of which sum £12,688 were given by the Parliamentary Commissioners, and the remainder by the inhabitants. It is internally 142 feet long by 65 wide, and is capable of seating 1821 persons; the galleries, which have 800 sittings, being entirely appropriated to the poor: the western gallery contains a fine-toned organ, erected in 1831 at an expense of £600. The eastern elevation has a spacious circular window; the western is characterized by a remarkably fine tower, 128 feet in height, ornamented with buttresses at the angles, and surmounted with a perforated parapet and crocketed pinnacles. The living is a perpetual curacy in the gift of the Rector, returned in 1833 as being worth £137 per annum: by an order in council, in 1840, an ecclesiastical district was annexed to it, in pursuance of the 59th of George III., cap. 134. To the east of the church is a school, a spacious building, erected in 1836 at a cost of £1400, partly defrayed by public grants and partly by subscription; the number of Sunday-school children in attendance exceeds 1350, and the number of infants and other week-day scholars, in connexion with the National Society, is about 500. Attached to this school is a library of 360 volumes. The district of Christ Church was constituted in March, 1846, and became an ecclesiastical parish in 1847, under the act 6 and 7 Victoria, cap. 37; it comprises about 1000 acres of level land. The church, situated in the Charlestown suburb, was built in 1847, at a cost of about £3000, and is a cruciform structure in the early English style, containing 852 sittings, mostly free: connected with it is an excellent school for boys, girls, and infants, with a house for the master. The living is a perpetual curacy; net income, £150; patrons, alternately, the Crown and the Bishop of Chester. Other churches are described under the head of Audenshaw, Hurst, Mossley, &c. There are places of worship, and, generally, schools also, belonging to the Independents, Wesleyans, Independent Methodists, Primitive Methodists, Methodists of the New Connexion, Baptists, Stephenites, Latter-day Saints, and Israelites: the last-named sect, who are understood to hold the doctrines promulgated by Joanna Southcott, have a chapel or sanctuary in Church-street, built in 1825, at a cost of £9500, entirely defrayed by Mr. John Stanley. The British school, near Ryecroft, built in 1846-7, cost nearly £3000, and will accommodate 1000 children. There are several charitable institutions; and the working classes maintain 20 sick and burial societies, having in the aggregate 14,500 members. Mr. Coulthart states in his report on Ashton, published by Her Majesty's Commissioners for inquiring into the state of large towns, that the operatives have also three boards of health or self-supporting medical associations; that the aggregate number of members belonging to them is 5600; and that the average annual number of cases treated is 6650.

Among the Antiquities is the Old Manor-House, situated on a promontory near the parish church, grimly overlooking the adjacent country, and the numerous factories on the banks of the Ashton canal and the river Tame. It is a large irregularly-constructed pile, having underground cells, spacious galleries, massive doorways, and round towers at the corners, which last peculiarity is considered to be indicative of a very remote origin; the moats, court-yards, and drawbridges, however, have all disappeared, and scarcely any thing remains to attest that it was at one time the fortified baronial residence of the Asshetons. The date of its erection is unknown, but title-deeds satisfactorily prove that it existed in a style of feudal grandeur in 1380; it is now used by the agents of the Earl of Stamford and Warrington as a place of business when collecting rents, and is also occasionally occupied by his lordship when visiting the town or shooting in the neighbourhood. The Manorial Corn-mills, on the north bank of the Tame, at a distance of about 400 yards from the Old Hall, are very ancient, though the date of their erection, and the changes they have undergone, are not recorded; it appears, however, by the rent-roll of the manor, dated 1422, that the mills were in existence at that time, that the milner was "John of the Edge," and his annual rent, 16s. 4d., the mills being kept in repair by the lord. The dates discoverable in the buildings are comparatively modern. One of the mills has recently been appropriated to cotton-spinning, but the other is in full operation as a soak-mill, the tenants of the manor being still obliged to grind their corn here, though the ancient custom of taking the sixteenth measure as toll, has been discontinued, and in lieu a scale of charges in money has been substituted. The parish Workhouse and Almshouses, which are situated on the east side of the market-place, occupy a site of 1562 square yards: the date of these buildings must be very remote, but that of 1684, on the lintel of a door, is the only one now visible. Druidical basins, hollowed out of the solid rock, and used by the Druids in rites of purification, exist in the bottom of the Medlock, in Rocher Vale; but a weir having been thrown across the river a few yards above the basins, they are covered with a stratum of debris many feet in thickness. At Park Bridge, also, are a very ancient hand-millstone, and a curiously sculptured block of granite, dated 1496, which were found in 1845 at the bottom of an old draw-well belonging to Mr. Samuel Lees. There are chalybeate springs near Waterhouses, and at Lees; lime-springs at Bardsley brewery, and at Lime Hurst; and in 1845 a strong chalybeate spring was discovered when sinking a pump at Mr. Richmond's residence, in Bardsley Vale. None of the springs in the neighbourhood indicate the presence of sulphur, but so strongly impregnated with iron is the water last referred to, that it is wholly unfit for any but medicinal purposes. Vegetable fossil remains are found in great abundance and variety in the coal-pits and stonequarries of the parish; and occasionally, specimens of the animal kingdom are met with.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.