Select Ashton Miscellany


Here are some Ashton stories accounts over the years:


Sir Ralph Ashton and His Ashton Tenants

At the time of Sir Ralph Ashton in the 15th century, corn marigold was said to grow so extensively in the low wet land about Ashton as to be inimical to the crops.  The lord of the manor would have an annual inspection and levied fines on those tenants on whose lands it was seen.This power, delegated to Sir Ralph and his brother Robert, is said to have been made the pretext of such tyrannical exactions that on one of these visitations the tenants rose in desperation and the “Black Knight” was slain.  Others hold that it was whilst exercising in the northern parts his despotic powers as vice-constable that he excited the terror expressed in the legendary rhyme:

“Sweet Jesu, for thy mercy’s sake  
And for thy bitter passion, 
Save us from the axe of the Tower,  
And from Sir Ralph of Ashton.” 

The effigy of the Black Knight is still paraded through the town of Ashton on Easter Monday


Ashtons in Lancashire

There were six towns and villages in Lancashire with Ashton populations over 200 in the 1881 census, including Ashton under Lyne where the Ashton name originated.   All of them are in reasonable proximity to Ashton under Lyne.

Town/village Ashton numbers Distance from Ashton
Ashton under Lyne    375
Oldham    454    6 miles
Chadderton (nr.
   204    6 miles
Heap (nr. Bury) 227    15 miles
Blackburn    262    30 miles
Preston    235    40 miles


The Murder of Thomas Ashton

On the evening of January 3, 1831 Thomas Ashton was shot dead as he made his way from his home at Pole Bank to Apethorn Mill. He was heading there to superintend for his younger brother James who had just left home to spend the evening with a family near Stockport.

Apparently the assassins had awaited his approach, sitting behind a hedge bank on the road side, which situation gave them the best opportunity of seeing or hearing the approach of their victim.

A reward of £500 was offered by his father, Samuel Ashton, together with £500 by other relatives of the deceased, £500 by the Master Spinners of the district, and ‘a promise of a pardon from
the King, to any one of the three suspected persons who would give evidence; unless such person was the one who actually fired the shot.’

Despite a confession from ‘a mad Scotsman’ and a statement of complicity from another ‘foolish individual,’ the mystery continued to defy solution until in April 1834 a man in Derby jail made statements that could throw light on the matter.  These statements led to the arrest of two men in Marple and on May 5, 1834 three men – James Garside, Joseph Mosley and William Mosley – were committed for trial.  Before the day of the trial arrived it became known that William Mosley had turned King’s evidence.

Garside tried to throw the blame onto Joseph Mosley and Joseph Mosley denied any knowledge of the crime. However, they were both found guilty and were sentenced to hang.  The execution took
place on November 25, 1834 at Horsemonger Lane jail in London.

What was their motive?  As to the reason for the shooting The History of Hyde stated:  “The crime was rightly regarded as an attempt, on the part of the extremists in the trade union movement, to terrorize the employers.”  In his evidence William
Mosley said that when they met up again he asked Garside which of the Ashtons he had shot and was told: “It didn’t matter which it was.  It was one of them.


Philip Ashton’s Sensational Capture and Escape

There appeared in 1725 from a Boston publishing house the following sensational account – a history of the strange adventures and signal deliverances of Philip Ashton who, after having made his escape from pirates, lived alone on a desolate island for sixteen months.

On July 15, 1722 Philip Ashton’s fishing boat was captured off Nova Scotia by pirates.  He was kept in the hold of the vessel for nine months while the pirates voyaged to Newfoundland, the Azores, the Canary Islands, and ending up near Roatan Harbor in the Caribbean.  There he was able to make his escape.

“I went into the boat with only an Onasburg frock and trousers on and a milled cap upon my head, having neither shirt, shoes, stockings nor anything else about me.”

He came to an island where there was plenty of water, fruit trees, and tortoise eggs to drink and eat.  But he remained there alone and ailing for nine months.  Then an elderly Scotsman, fleeing from the Spaniards, arrived with a canoe.  He left Philip with some pork, a knife, a bottle of powder, tobacco, tongs and flint so that Philip could make fire.  But the Scotsman had disappeared.

In June 1724 Philip finally had some new company on the island. They nirsed him back to health.  They then met up with a fleet of vessels heading to Jamaica for trade.  One of these vessels was from Massachusetts and offered him a passage home.

“Two years, ten months and fifteen days after I was first taken by the pirate Lowe and two years and near two months after I made my escape from him upon Roatan Island, I went the same evening to my father’s house where I was received, as one coming to them from the dead, with all imaginable surprise of joy.”


Ashton’s Circus

In 1854 James Ashton formed Ashton’s Royal Olympic Circus and for the next thirty five years toured eastern Australia with his grandly titled circus.  His name became a household word in the country areas of New South Wales and in Queensland as far north as Rockhampton. He acquired a reputation for developing Australian talent.  The Wirth family joined his troupe for a while.  He often featured Aboriginal performers such as the acrobatic rider Mungo Mungo.

After World War One Frederick Ashton, known as “Flash Fred,” became the sole proprietor.  He was a fine circus bandsman, small and dark and was an immaculate dresser.   He continued to take the circus into the outback until his death in 1941.

Ashton’s Circus has now featured seven generations.  In recent years Phyllis Ashton at eighty has been the driving force of the circus.  It is said that Doug Ashton at seventy nine knows Australia like the back of his hand.  He has been finding towns to play every night for the past sixty years.



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