This parish lies at the south-western extremity of the county of Lancaster, and is bounded on the north by the parish of Prestwich-cum-Oldham; on the east and south by the parishes of Mottram-in-Longdendale and Stockport, in the county of Chester, from which it is separated by the river Tame; and on the west by the parish of Manchester. The parish, which is in the Hundred of Salford and diocese of Manchester, contains 9,494 statute acres, and its population in 1422 was 1,380; in 1618, 3,300; in 1775, 7,956; in 1801, 15,632; in 1831, 33,597; in 1841, 46,304; and in 1851, 56,951 souls. The amount of assessed property is £150,935, and the rateable value £122,304. The soil is generally clay and loam, with an occasional admixture of sand and gravel; but agriculture is very much neglected, and few of the scientific improvements successfully introduced by the husbandman in other parts of Great Britian have been put into operation here. The farms are generally very small, and principally used for dairy purposes, the excellent demand for milk and butter by the town population rendering the profit therefrom much more remunerative than that obtained by the cultivation of wheat, barley, or oats. The rental of land has recently diminished to the extent of about 15 per cent., and now averages somewhere near £3 per acre; but as it is mostly in the occupation of persons connected with other employments who do not look to their farms for a livelihood, an artificial price is often attached to it which its intrinsic or market value would not justify. The chief cause of the neglect of agriculture in the parish, however, is the great success which has attended the cotton trade, by which large fortunes have in numerous instances been rapidly realised, and the general prosperity therefrom disseminated throughout the community has in a short time enormously increased the population. Perhaps there are few parishes in England better adapted for manufactures than this, the great Lancashire coal-field lying under every acre of it, and the fine streams of water that meander in the vallies of its beautifully undulating surface, combine, with its clay for bricks, and its ironstone for machinery, at once a greater number of manufacturing requisites within itself than usually fall to the lot of an area of the same dimensions. It is difficult to estimate with precision the existing magnitude of the cotton trade within the parish, but it has been calculated by a gentleman well circumstanced for forming a correct opinion on the subject that there are in all 154 factories, possessing 6,158 horse-power, which consume weekly upwards of 2,400,000lbs. of raw cotton, employ nearly 26,00 work people, representing a capital of upwards of £4,000,000, and sending out of the parish yarn and power-loom cloth, exceeding £5,000,000 annually. Collieries are also worked extensively in the parish, and not less than 2,000 persons are constantly engaged in mining operations. The parish is well supplied with the means of conveyance, having four railway and three canal companies competing for its traffic, namely, the Lancashire and Yorkshire, the Manchester and Huddersfield, the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire, and the London and North-Western Railways, and the Manchester and Ashton-under-Lyne and Huddersfield, and the Peak Forest Canals. The Earl of Stamford and Warrington is, with very little exception, the proprietor of the entire parish, and has a seat near the ancient parish church, which he generally visits annually.
We do not find the manor of Ashton-under-Lyne, which is co-extensive with the parish, mentioned in the Doomsday survey, but there can be no doubt that it was given with all the other manors between the Ribble and Mersey, by William the Conqueror to Roger de Poictou, by whom it was forfeited to the Crown, and subsequently passed into the possession of Thomas de la Warre, lord of Manchester. In the Testa de Nevill the manor is repeatedly mentioned, where it appears a carucate of land in Ashton was given by Albertus Gredle, senior, as a marriage portion with his daughter, Emma, to Orm Fitz-Ailward, of which land the descendants of the said Orm were in possession when the inquisition was taken prior to the Testa de Nevill being compiled. Orm Fitz-Ailward had two sons, Roger and Thomas, the eldest of whom is styled Roger Fitz-Orm de Eston (Ashton), in a legal instrument conveying lands in Nuthurst to Cockersand Abbey, from which it is conjectured that Roger Fitz-Orm must have become possessed of the whole of the manor in right of his mother Emma, or by the direct gift of his uncle. This view is supported by Dr. Kuerden, who in his great MS. work, distinctly states that "Albertus Grelle dedit Rog. filio Orm totam terram de Eston." The second son, Thomas, with the consent of his father, Orm Fitz-Ailward, conveys lands to Robert Buron (Byron) "pro homagio et servicio," as is evidenced by a manuscript in the possession of the rector of Middleton, in 1617. The successor of Roger Fitz-Orm in the lordship of Ashton procured for the manor the privileges of a separate parish, and the advantage of having a chapel erected therein for the convenience of himself and his dependants. This chapel is known to have existed prior to 1280 upon the site now occupied by St. Michael's Church. The next recorded owner of the manor is Thomas de Assheton, whose father, according to Kuerden, was named Roger, and whose successor was Sir John de Assheton, Knight. Sir John was summoned to Parliament in 17 Ed. II., was living 16 Ed. III., and married Margery, daughter of Sir John Byron, relict of Sir Edmund Talbot, who died 18 Ed. III.. Some fines relating to the manor of an early date, and very curious description, are preserved in the Chapter House Record Office.
The Registers of the Duchy of Lancashire, which commence 25 Ed. III., contain the records of sundry suits relating to the Manor of Ashton, that were instituted in that court; among others, that of John de Radcliffe, plaintiff, versus Hugh de Toft and his wife Alicia, deforceants of lands and messuages in Ashton. The rolls of Pedes Finium also show that a final agreement was made in the Duke of Lancaster's Court, at Preston, between Roger la Warre, Knt., and Alionora, his spouse, plaintiffs, and John la Warre, Knt., and John Wyke, deforceants, of the Manor of Manchester, and of the advowsons of the churches of Manchester and Ashton. Sir John de Assheton was succeeded by Sir Robert de Assheton, who was returned to serve in Parliament in 1324, when he soon afterwards became a Privy Councillor, and one of the most distinguished men at the Court of Edward III. In 1359 he was appointed Governor of Guynes, near Calais; in 1363, he was Lord Treasurer of England; in 1368, Governor of Sandgate; in 1369, Admiral of the Narrow Seas; in 1372, Justiciary of Ireland; and in 1373, Lord Chamberlain and Chancellor of the Exchequer. So exalted was the opinion entertained by Edward the Third of the judgment and integrity of this statesman, that he consulted with him on all matters of importance affecting his public and private affairs, and in his last will and testament appointed him one of his executors. From the death of this accomplished man, in 1384, to that of his last lineal male descendant, Sir Thomas de Assheton, in 1516, the affairs of the manor seem to have been strictly administered in accordance with the feudal form of government; and the "Custom Roll and Rental" of Sir John de Assheton, an intermediate proprietor, affords an instructive insight into the early manners and customs of the parish. According to that curious document, which bears date A.D. 1422, all the socage tenants, or tenants-at-will, of the Lordship of Ashton, took their tenements for twenty years, subject to conditions; as, 1st. to render certain services to the lord; 2nd. to contribute a prescribed sum towards a Yule-feast, to be held in the lord's mansion, and at which they and their wives were guests; 3rd. to plough and harrow in the lord's land a certain number of days in the year; 4th. to lead a fixed quantity of turf from the moss to the baronial residence; 5th. to grind their corn at the lord's soke mill, subject to a toll of 1-16th part of the grain so ground; 6th. to pay their rents half-yearly; and, 7th. to pay for heriot the most valuable animal in their possession at the death of the head of the family. The freeholders of the manor, or frankpledgers, as they were then called, were not required to render any servile service, but to pay an annual acknowledgement for their lands and tenements to the lord, varying in amount from 7s. 1d., the sum paid by John of the Heghrode for his tenements, to "a rose," the acknowledgement made by Richard of Bardesley for Bardesley.
Amongst the tenants-at-will are found rustic names, or appellations, showing the origin of many of the surnames of the parish; these names are - "William the Walker," "Roger the Smith," "Nan of the Windebank," "Syssot, that was wife of Thomas the Cook," "Roger the Baxter," (or baker) "William the Arrowsmith," "Jack the Spencer," "Elyn the Rose," "Jenkyn of the Wood," Jack the Mercer," "John the Slater," "Roger the Cropper," "Robert the Wright," "Robin the Cropper," and "John the Byron, Knight." The Yule, or Christmas hospitality of the lord of the soil, when the tenants were required to pay for their own dinners, resembled the hospitality of the landlords or inkeepers of the present day, though no doubt the former presided at the elevated dais in the baronial hall with much more dignity and authority than the latter now preside at their own tables. It also appears by this "Custom Roll," now in the possession of the Scottish Society of Antiquaries, Edinburgh, that the lord of the manor settled the degree of precedence to be observed among his tenants' wives, daughters, and women servants, when at church on Sunday, and for that purpose a rude drawing of the church was taken, the forms being all numbered, and the names of the authorised occupants written upon them. On the first form from the altar, on the north side of the church, are written "Uxor Thomæe de Claydon," Uxor Radulphi de Wood, and their servants, and other Gentils strangers." On the second form from the altar, on the same side, occur "Uxor Johannis de Leghes; Uxor Will. de Bardisley de Ha; Uxor Roberti de Wright de Alt Hill; Uxr. Rodi de Hadfield de Aldwinshagh (Audenshaw); Uxor de Soureker (Souracre), and their servants." On the first form from the altar, on the south side of the church, occur "Uxor Hæered Henrici de Moston; Uxor de Shepley : Ux. Joh. de Heghrode (Heyrod); Uxor Rhodi de Hunt, and the servant women of the Hall, and other Gentills strangers." On the fifth form from the altar, on the same side are written "Tenants Wynches of Sir John the Byron that dwellyn with him." The names on the other forms are all very interesting, inasmuch as they clearly demonstrate that a very large number of the existing names of persons and places in the manor have in sound undergone very little change during the last 450 years, though the spelling in almost every instance materially varies. On the death of Sir Thomas de Assheton, the last resident proprietor, who left no male heirs, the name became extinct, the manorial customs' relaxed, and the manor reverted to Sir William Booth, of Dunham Massey, who had married Sir Thomas's eldest daughter Margaret. Sir William Booth was a lineal descendant of John de Booth, lord of the manor of Barton-on-Irwell, and was twice married, first to the heiress of Ashton-under-Lyne and Staley, and secondly to Ellen, daughter of Sir John Montgomery. He left at his death, on the 9th Nov., 1519, a large family, and for five generations the Booths quietly maintained at their manorial mansion of Dunham Massey, in Cheshire, that warmhearted hospitality and neighbourly intercourse which so ordinarily existed in the Cheshire and Lancashire families of Distinction some two or three hundred years ago.
On the death of Oliver Cromwell, Sir George Booth, of Dunham Massey, formed one of a deputation to invite Charles II. to ascend the English throne, and after the restoration, namely, 20th April, 1661, he was elevated to the peerage by the title of Baron Delamere, of Dunham Massey. His son and successor, Henry, second Lord Delamere, was, after being tried for high treason before Lord Chancellor Jeffreys, in the reign of James II., appointed by William and Mary a Privy Councillor and Chancellor of the Exchequer; and by letters patent, dated 17th April, 1689, created Earl of Warrington, in Lancashire. He was succeeded at his death, in 1693, by his son George, second Earl of Warrington, and third Baron Delamere, who died in 1758 without leaving male issue, by which the earldom became extinct, the title of Baron Delamere went to Nathaniel Booth Esq., and the family possessions to his only daughter Mary, who afterwards conveyed them by marriage to the Right Hon. Harry Grey, fourth Earl of Stamford, who thus became possessed of the manor of Ashton-under-Lyne. He died in 1768, and was suceeded by his eldest son, George Harry Booth Grey, fifth Earl of Stamford, who was created, in 1796, Baron Delamere and Earl of Warrington, the honours enjoyed by his maternal grandfather. Since 1796, the fifth and sixth Earls of Stamford and Warrington have been gathered to their fathers without any addition to or subtraction from the family titles or possessions, and their present representative, the seventh earl, now in his 26th year, manifests a wise disposition to transmit to his successors, without diminution, the lucrative manor of Ashton-under-Lyne, which annually yields a rental of £40,000, and which has in a marvellous way remained for upwards of 600 years of the same dimensions, notwithstanding the mutations of fortune, and the frequency of civil commotion. The existing affairs of the manor are managed by a Leet-Steward, who annually swears into office at his Michaelmas Court, a mayor, three constables, four assistant constables, from twelve to twenty-four jurymen, twelve bye-law men, two bailiffs, two pounders, three afferers, an inspector of weights and measures, two market-lookers, three ale-tasters, and two bellmen. These officers have juridiction over the whole of the manor, and, though Courts Leet have generally fallen into disuetude, the one here is singularly useful in recovering fines under 40s., and abating nuisances within the parish, which otherwise could only be recovered by tedious and expensive suits-at-law. The Leet-Court has been held from time immemorial every six months, in the manor Court-House, which is a curiously-formed structure, near the ancient market-cross. It is worthy of remark, that all the local Acts of Parliament affecting Ashton-under-Lyne reserve unimpaired the ancient privileges of the manor to the Earl of Stamford and Warrington.
The Old Hall of the Asshetons, situated on a promontory near the parish church, is, undoubtedly, the most ancient structure in the parish or manor, and it is generally believed to occupy the site of an out-post or rude fort of the kingdom of Northumbria in the Saxon period. The Norman possessor of the manor appears to have erected a tower here; and from the rent roll of Sir John de Assheton, it is evident that the Hall and its yard were in a complete state in the 3rd Richard II., 1380, for in the covenant regarding the swine of the Assheton tenantry are these words - "that the swine are allowed to run in the demesne of the town, excepting only the Little Park and Hall yards." As it now stands, 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 draw-bridges, however, have all disappeared, and scarcely anything now remains to attest that it was at one time the fortified baronial residence of the Asshetons. For many years it was divided and let to different tenants; but in 1838 it was thoroughly repaired, and rendered a suitable temporary residence for the Stamford family.
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 "Custom Roll and Rental" previously mentioned, dated 1422, that the mills were in existence at that time : that the miller 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. A portion of these mills has recently been appropriated to cotton spinning, but the other portion is in full operation as a soke 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 Old 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 puritication, 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.- The Twarl Hill Tithe-Stow, around which for centuries (till tithe was commuted in the parish in 1831) the farmers of Hartshead annually assembled and paid money or tithe, is situated by the side of the road which skirts the farm of Twarl Hill. IT is a thick flag-stone, three feet square, fixed upon strong oaken supports, at an elevation of two feet from the surface of the ground, and firmly secured to the centre support by a strong iron bolt. To preserve the identy of this stone, and save it from being ignorantly removed or destroyed, Mr. Coulthart, of Ashton-under-Lyne, caused it in 1845 to be lettered "Tythe Stone."- On the summit of Hartshead Hill are the ruins of a large tower or "pike," supposed to have been in ancient times a beacon for the guidance of mariners at sea. or for expeditiously conveying by signal important public information at a period when roads were bad and travelling consequently tedious. All that now remains are the large foundation stones, from which it appears that it is exactly circular, and 16 feet in diameter.- At Park Bridge, are a very ancient hand mill-stone, and a curiously sculptured block of granite, dated 1496, which were found in 1845 at the bottom of an old draw-well, belonging to Samuel Lees, Esq. Also at Bardsley, sixty gold coins of the reigns of James I. and Charles I., were found in 1822, in an old stable belonging to Jonah Harrop, Esq.
There are chalybeate springs near Waterhouses and at Lees; lime springs at Bardsley Brewery and at Lime Hurst; and in 1845, a strong sulphureous spring was discovered when sinking a pump, by Mr. Richmond, at Riversvale. It is rather remarkable that none of the springs of the surrounding parishes indicate the presence of sulphur, and yet so strongly impregnated with it is the water last referred to, that it is wholly unfit for any but medicinal purposes.
DIVISION OF THE PARISH, POPULATION, &c.
Ashton-under-Lyne parish is divided into four divisions, of which that called Hartshead is the largest in superficial extent, containing 3,113a. 3r. 9p., and a population in 1851 of 15,079. It occupies the south eastern part of the parish, and comprises several populous places, the ecclesiastical district of Hurst being only about a mile distant in a northerly direction from the borough of Ashton-under-Lyne. This district parish was formed under the provisions of the 6 and 7 Vic. cap. 37 : and in 1847, church was erected at a cost of £2,500, capable of accommodating 600 worshippers. The living is a perpetual curacy, net income £150; and the present incumbent is the Rev. J. H. Greenwood. In connection with the church are excellent national schools, erected in 1848. Near the village of Hurst, the New Connexion Methodists have a handsome chapel, and there is a school belonging to the same body capable of accommodating about 600 children. The village of Hurst occupies an elevated position near the church, and this large cotton factories belonging to Messrs. John Whittaker and Sons, afford employment to a very large portion of the population. At a short distance to the east of Hurst village are the Infantry and Cavalry Barracks, which were erected in 1843, at a cost of £42,500, as a check against breaches of the peace during the "strikes" for higher wages by the cotton operatives - one of the longest in duration and the most widely ramified, having commenced in this neighbourhood on the 8th day of August, 1842. These barracks are very centrally situated for Ashton-under-Lyne, Dukinfield, Stalybridge, and Mossley, and the internal arrangements are replete with every comfort and convenience usually found in such establishments.