ASHTON UNDER LYNE, a parish and market town, parliamentary and municipal borough, in the hundred of Salford, in the county palatine of Lancaster, 6 miles to the E. of Manchester, 60 miles from Lancaster, and 194 from London.

It is a station on the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire, the London and North Western, and the Lancashire and Yorkshire railways.

Although the name of this place does not occur in Domesday Book, it is mentioned in other ancient records, and appears to have been given by the Conqueror, with other manors in this part of the country, to Roger de Poicton. At a later period it belonged to the family of the Asshetons, several of whom were distinguished men. One of them was Sir John de Assheton, a statesman of great ability, and held in high honour by Edward III. About the commencement of the 16th century the manor passed to the Booths, one of whom was created Baron Delamere by Charles II. and his son was created Earl of Warrington, by William and Mary. In the middle of the 18th century the manor came, by marriage, to the Earl of Stamford, whose descendants still hold it.

The parish derives its present importance and prosperity chiefly from the cotton manufacture, which was introduced towards the close of the 18th century. It is situated in a hilly district, with several rivers flowing through fertile and well-wooded villages, and contains within it important elements of manufacturing prosperity, abundance of coal, plenty of water, and clay for brick-making. The town stands on the northern bank of the river Tame. It is well built, with spacious streets, good shops, and several handsome mansions. There is a good supply of water, and the streets are lighted with gas. The townhall, which was built in 1840, is of stone, and of the Corinthian order of architecture. It comprises police offices, committee-rooms, court-rooms, and a large hall for public purposes. It is situated in the market-square, a spacious and convenient place given by the Earl of Stamford. There are three banks, one a local, and two branch banks, and a savings-bank. The Mechanics' Institute and the Church of England Institute have libraries, reading-rooms, and classes for instruction.

There are now about 180 cotton manufactories in the parish, in which above 10,000 persons are employed. The collieries give occupation to about 2,000 persons. Other important branches of industry are those of iron-founding, silk-weaving, hat-making, &c. The numerous streets of the parish are said to equal a length of 14 miles.

Ashton was made a borough by the Reform Act, in 1832, and returns one member to parliament. It became a municipal borough under a charter granted in September, 1847, by which it was divided into 4 wards, and is governed by a mayor, 8 aldermen, and 24 councillors, with the style of the “mayor, aldermen, and borough of Ashton.” The boundaries of the parliamentary and municipal boroughs are not conterminous, the latter being the more extensive; accordingly, the municipal borough comprises 6,665 houses inhabited by a population of 34,894, while the parliamentary has only 6,478 houses with a population of 33,925, against 29,791 in 1851, showing an increase of 4,134 in the decennial period. There are 4 divisions of the parish which have been recognised from time immemorial: Ashton, Audenshaw, Knott Lanes, and Hartshead. For local purposes there are many subdivisions. In the Knott Lanes district is the village of Lees; in Hartshead, the borough of Staleybridge, and the growing villages of Mossley and Mossley Bottoms. Polling for the county takes place here, and petty sessions are held.

A union workhouse, large enough for 500 poor, was erected in 1850. There are now three churches and eight chapels of ease comprised in Ashton:-St. Michael's, St. Peter's, and Christ Church. The original parish church, dedicated to St. Michael, was built before the close of the 13th century. The present structure is almost entirely new; the tower and one side of the church being rebuilt in 1821, and the other side being rebuilt, and the whole fabric completely restored, in 1844. It is in the perpendicular style, richly ornamented with carved oak and brass work, and having a beautiful stained east window. The living is a rectory value £900, in the diocese of Manchester, and in the patronage of the Earl of Stamford and Warrington. St. Peter's church, erected in 1821, is in the decorated style, having a handsome embattled tower and a circular east -window of stained glass. The living is a perpetual curacy, value £150, in the patronage of the rector of Ashton. Christ Church, erected in 1847, is a cruciform building. The living is a perpetual curacy, value £150, in the patronage alternately of the crown and the Bishop of Manchester. The eight chapels of ease, or district churches, as most of them have lately become, are named after their respective districts, Audenshaw, Bardsley, Hurst, Leesfield, Lees or Hey, Mossley, Staleybridge, also called Old St. George's, Staleybridge New St. George's. These will be described under their several headings. There are three places of worship of the Methodist New Connexion; two each for Independents, Wesleyan Methodists, Baptists, and Roman Catholics; and one each for Independent and Primitive Methodists and Israelites. The charitable endowments for education and relief of the poor amount to £92 per annum.

The old Manor Hall seat of the Asshetons, is the most ancient building in the parish. It stands near St. Michael's church, and was certainly in existence before 1380. No races of its fortifications remain. The field in front of it, called Gallows Meadow, was the place of summary execution by the feudal lords, who had power of life and death over their serfs. Railway trains now run across this meadow, and warehouses are built on it. Not far from the Old Hall are the old corn mills of the manor. A curious ceremony of unknown origin, called “the riding of the black lad,” is still observed here. On Easter Monday the figure of a man in black armour is carried on horseback through the streets, taken down at the Old Cross and shot at. Some suppose the black lad to be a tyrannous Sir Rauf de Assheton, whose name is commemorated in a rude rhyme soil familiar to the common people. According to a less popular opinion, the custom was designed to celebrate the valour of Thomas de Assheton, who, at Neville's Cross, in 1346, captured the royal Scotch banner.

The Huddersfield canal, part of the inland line connecting the Irish Sea with the German Ocean, passes through Ashton. Two other canals, one 8 miles, the other 6 miles in length, connect the town with Manchester. There are branch canals to Stockport and Oldham.

There is an extensive moss or quaking bog near the town, in which whole oaks and fir trees are found deposited. The bed of moss is ten feet thick, and rests on a loamy soil capable of cultivation. It is under process of drainage and reclamation by the lord of the manor.

Ashton supports a newspaper, called the Weekly Reporter, and two magazines. It is the seat of a County Court and a Poor-law Union. The market is held on Tuesday and Saturday. Fairs are held on the 23rd March, the 29th April, the 15th July, and the 11th November.

Transcribed from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland 1868

©Antony Lambert