Select Ashton Surname Genealogy

The Ashton surname comes from the Ashton place-name, derived from the Old English aesc meaning “ash” and tun “settlement” found in various places around England – for example in Lancashire, Northamptonshire, Somerset, Devon and Wiltshire. However, it was only in Lancashire that the place-name became a surname. There were two Ashtons in Lancashire, Ashton-under-Lyne near present-day Manchester and Ashton-in-Makersfield near Bolton. Ashton-under-Lyne provided the first by the name of Ashton.

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England. The English Ashton history divides into early Ashton history and later Ashton history.

Early History. It is difficult to say whether a Norman lord Assheton gave his name to the place-name Ashton-under-Lyne in Lancashire or vice-versa. In any case the names appear to have been used interchangeably until the 16th century and the Asshetons had been in place at Ashton from the early 1100’s.

The Asshetons distinguished themselves in the wars against Scotland and France in the 14th and 15th centuries. Sir John Assheton attended the grand coronation of Henry IV in 1399. Sir Ralph Ashton rose to high position as a supporter of the Yorkist cause during the Wars of the Roses. He died after their defeat in 1485 in suspicious  circumstances.

“The date of his death is unknown. But he is traditionally said to have been shot at Ashton-under-Lyne. The yearly ceremony known as the ‘Riding of the Black Lad’ is regarded as a commemoration of that event.”

Sir Ralph’s half-brother Thomas experimented in alchemy. 
There were two notable subsidiary Ashton families during this period:

  • Thomas Ashton married the heiress of Croston manor near Chorley around the year 1420. These Ashtons remained Catholic during Tudor times. Roger Ashton died as a Catholic martyr at Tyburn in 1592.
  • Edmund Ashton meanwhile married the heiress of Chadderton Hall near Oldham around the year 1460. The Ashtons held the estate until 1695 when a later Edmund Ashton was killed in a duel and the estate was sold by his brother William, the rector at Carlton-in-Lindrick.

Later History. The Ashton name did not spread that far in Lancashire, The Ashtons in Lancashire in the 1881 census were generally not too far from where they had originally come.

One Ashton family was a family of yeoman farmers that had been long-established at Ashton-in-Makerfield.In the early 18th century John Ashton moved from Ashton to Liverpool and, having accumulated some capital, acquired the Dungeon salt works near Hale. This was to form the basis of his family’s wealth. His son Nicholas expanded into coal mining and grew even more wealthy. He bought Woolton Hall, midway between Liverpool and the saltworks, in 1772 and commissioned Robert Adam to remodel the house.

Another Ashton family was a family of yeoman farmers at Hyde near Stockport in the 16th century. They moved into cotton weaving in the 18th century and then went into business in a larger-scale factory-based cotton-spinning business:

  • by the 1820’s Samuel Ashton had established himself at Apethorn mill and soon afterwards built Woodley mill. He and his five brothers grew rich on the proceeds of the cotton trade and all were able to buy or build gentlemen’s houses.
  • however, tragedy struck in 1831 when Samuel’s eldest son Thomas Ashton was murdered on his way to Apethorn mill.
  • Samuel’s brother Thomas seems to have been the most philanthropic of the Ashton brothers. He built housing and a library for his workers and a school for their children. His grandson Thomas was created Baron Ashton of Hyde in 1911.

There was another Baron Ashton in Lancashire, this one created in 1895 for the linoleum king of Lancaster, James Williamson. His legacy in Lancaster is the Ashton Memorial.

America. Captain John Ashton came to Westmoreland county, Virginia around 1650. Tradition has it that he was from the Ashtons
of Chadderton. John was a well-to-do landowner in Virginia. His wife may have been the daughter of an Indian chief. There were other Ashtons – Peter, James and Charles – in Virginia then or slightly later and they appear to have been related.

Another early Ashton family was at Marblehead in Massachusetts. The forebear here seems to have been John Ashton, possibly from Devon, who arrived there in the 1660’s. His grandson Philip Ashton was a captain of a fishing vessel in
1722 when he was captured by pirates and held captive or marooned for more than two years. His story made sensational reading.

Peter and Mary Ashton were English Quakers who had settled in county Laios in Ireland before coming to Springfield township in Bucks county, Pennsylvania in 1732. Their son Thomas moved to upstate New York around 1800.

Australia. Ashton’s Circus has been one of the longest running circuses in the Western world. It has toured Australia for over 150 years and featured seven generations of Ashtons.

The first of these was Golding Ashton from Colchester in England, a clog dancer, who had arrived in Australia sometime in the 1840’s. Some suspect that his real name was not Ashton but Wild:

“In 1849 Golding Ashton and his troupe sailed from Tasmania to Melbourne to perform in a circus there. However, the authorities there refused them permission to perform and Ashton and the troupe headed northwards, making their way through the bush and the scrub, to the
outskirts of Sydney. Here they gave equestrian exhibitions in a makeshift ring near the present-day Central Station.”

The Ashton family story was told in Natalie Fernandez’s 1971 book Circus Saga – Ashtons.

Born in 1864 to a Geelong coffee roaster, James Ashton left school at the age of ten and followed a diverse and successful career in journalism, commerce and politics. He acquired the Tueila estate on the Sydney waterfront in 1903. This stayed with the family until 1987. His four sons – James, Bob, Geoff, and Phil – became famous when they sailed to England with 25 polo ponies in 1930 and captured the imagination of the sporting world there.

Select Ashton Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

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Sir John Assheton of Ashton was an MP and military commander under Henry IV and Henry V in the early 1400’s.
Thomas Ashton was a Lancastrian mill-owner who in Victorian times built housing and a library for his workers as well as a school for their children.
James Henry Ashton was the founder of Ashton’s Circus in Australia which has now lasted through five succeeding generations for over 150 years.
T.S. Ashton was an English economic historian whose best-known work was the 1948 textbook The Industrial Revolution.

Select Ashtons Today

  • 21,000 in the UK (most numerous in West Dumbarton)
  • 30,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 12,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


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