Harry Rutherford's
Festival of Britain Mural

Thursday 13 September 2012

The Murder of Mr Thomas Ashton

On January 3rd 1831 Thomas Ashton was shot dead as he made his way from his home at Pole Bank to Apethorn Mill. This was a story I vividly remember reading in 'The History of Hyde' when I was very young.

Pole Bank

Location of Apethorn Mill at the bottom of Apethorn Lane

The gate posts are just about all that's left now of the mill

'The History of Hyde' contains a chapter on the murder of Thomas Ashton and the subsequent efforts to bring the persons responsible to justice. The following report is from the Stockport Advertiser of January 7th, 1831 headed 'HORRIBLE MURDER':

'On Monday last one of the most cruel and sanguinary murders which ever disgraced a civilized people, was perpetrated on the body of Mr. Thomas Ashton, eldest son of Samuel Ashton, Esq., of Pole Bank, Werneth, in this parish, so early as seven o'clock in the evening. The victim of this cold-blooded and diabolical act of assassination, who was in his 24th year, and remarkable for his kind and conciliating disposition and manners, had the management of a new mill belonging to his father at Woodley, from whence he had just returned and was on his way to the other mill at Apethorn to superintend for his younger brother, James, who had just left home to spend the evening with a family near Stockport. The father and mother were in the house at the time waiting the return of the carriage to join the brother and the other part of the family who had gone with him, and the effect of so distressing a communication may more easily be imagined than described. It appeared on the examination of the witnesses before the coroner that the unfortunate gentleman had not proceeded on the public highway, after quitting the private road, which leads from Pole Bank to Apethorn Mills, more than 30 yards, before he was shot; and it would appear on examination of the premises about the fatal spot that 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 from his father's house down the private pathway. The breast was perforated at the edge of the bone by two bullets from a horse pistol or blunderbuss, which had passed out at the left shoulder blade , having taken an oblique direction upwards. His death must have been instantaneous, for when found his right hand was in his greatcoat pocket – a manner of placing it quite usual with him when walking. He was lying in a shallow ditch on the contrary side of the road to the one generally taken by the family when going to the mill, and this is accounted for by the supposition, that he must have retreated to the other side when approached by the assassin in order to avoid him. The muzzle of the weapon appears to have been placed close to his breast, as the wadding perforated his garments, and part of it – some coarse blue paper – had entered his body, and was concealed in the sternum. Other parts of it – some white adhesive plaister – which had covered the balls, having been folded four times, had not entered the body, but was removed with the clothes; and the use of this extraordinary material will, in all probability, lead to the detection of the villain.'

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'.

Picture from 'The History of Hyde'

The scene as it is today

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 gaol made statements likely to throw light upon the matter. The statements led to the arrest of two men in Marple and on May 5th, 1834 three men – James Garside, Joseph Mosley and William Mosley were commited for trial. Before the day of the trial arrived it became known that William Mosley had turned King's evidence.
At the trial William Mosley had this to say about the murder:
'A short space afterwards there came a man down the footpath towards the clap gate. The man was in the footpath leading from Mr. Ashton's. Garside got up, and met him in the field before he got through the gate, and pointed the piece at him. He gave way. Garside fired. When Mr. Ashton gave way he only went a little out of the way. Garside met him, and he went back. He had got through the clap gate when he fired, and was going along the road to the mill. The man who was shot fell across the road, with his head towards the right hand side, opposite to where I was. We immediately ran away, and I made the best of my way across the fields to the second canal bridge.'
Despite Garside trying to throw the blame onto Joseph Mosley, and Joseph Mosley denying any knowledge of the crime they were both found guilty and sentenced to hang. Garside had been the man in Derby gaol who gave the information hoping to blame his accomplices, but the judge and jury chose to believe William Mosley's account. The execution took place on November 25th, 1834 at Horsemonger Lane gaol in London.

The History of Hyde:
'The exact spot where Mr. Ashton fell was kept visible for years by the workpeople scraping their feet over it when passing, and thus preventing the grass growing there. Mr. Samuel Ashton subsequently had a number of stones embedded in the ditch to mark the place, and also planted over it an ash tree, to stand as a memorial of the tragedy.
A hundred years have rolled by since the murder, and the loneliness of the spot where the crime took place has now disappeared. Mr. Samuel Ashton erected two cottages close to the spot where the private path from Pole Bank joined Apethorn Lane. In the second decade of the 20th century Miss Ethel Dowson erected two other cottages on the opposite side of the lane, and the garden gate of the one nearer Gee Cross is within a yard of the place where the murdered man fell. The exact spot in which Mr. Ashton's body was found is now marked by a grid. When the property higher up the lane was erected in 1927-8, the hedge and ditch with the memorial stones and the solitary ash tree, were removed, and the land added to the road.'

The cottages erected by Samuel Ashton

The cottages erected by Ethel Dowson. The grid on the corner in front of the green bins is, if its position has not been altered in the intervening years, where Thomas Ashton's body was found.

As to the reason for the shooting, 'The History of Hyde' says: 'The crime was rightly regarded as an attempt, on the part of the extremists in the trade union movement, to terrorise the employers', and in his evidence William Mosley says that when they met up again he asked Garside which of the Ashtons he had shot and was told that: 'it didn't matter which it was; it was one of them.'

Thomas Ashton is buried, together with both his parents, in Hyde Chapel graveyard.

The Ashton Family grave

Thomas Ashton, died 3 January 1831 aged 23

Mary Ashton, his mother, died 2 July 1835 aged 55

Samuel Ashton, his father, died 13 March 1849 aged 75


Marjorie said...

An excellent an interesting account.

William Joyce said...

Another dreary space filler for the blog, I think every one in Hyde must know about the Thomas Ashton murder, so how many more times do we have to have the same old story rehashed time and time again. Doesn't anyone on this blog do research of their own, do we have to keep picking pieces from Thomas Middleton book? We've had pictures of churches and pubs you can walk and look at any day of the week, surely there must be something more interesting about Hyde than all this drivel.

Gerald (SK14) said...

excellent documentation - as I type this I see that the previous commentator disagrees - but your modern photos put the history into some perspective and make it available online for those who don't already know the story - and there are lots who don't.

Tom said...

Cheers Dave, never tire of seeing pictures of Pole Bank and its history as always been of interest to me.

Now William.....
Oh! dear... Seems we can't please everyone.... but then we never set out to please anybody only ourselves. If others liked what we showed then all the better.
I for one is no historian nor am I part of any club or history societies. We do what we do... if you don't like it don't waste your time viewing the site... if you have nothing to say of interest then please don't leave a comment. If you would like to offer advice on what we do drop me a email... other wise go away and be sad somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dave, excellent account, I was aware of the crime, but not the details.

The accompanying photos add superbly to the post.

William Joyce said...

If you want to keep on the right side of Dave, Nancy, Gerald, and the rest of the blog clique, don't write anything which might up-set them, they can't stand the contents of the blog coming under criticism.

Anonymous said...

@ William Joyce (AKA, Lord Haw Haw, so original, yawn)

....and where are your dazzlingly informative posts??

Or are you more of an expert on Berlin (?)

Susan Harrison said...

Thank for the photo's of Hyde Chapel, they are like a breath of fresh air. The way the grass grows around the stones and the graves falling apart are really something you don't often see. I also like the writing on the stones which tells you who is buried at that particular spot. The whole content of the pictures make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. But I've always liked grave stones they put me in contact with the past.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article Dave, thanks. I'm from Hyde and of course remember the factory "Ashton Bros" but never knew of the tragedy that befell the family. Thanks for sharing.

As for Lord Hee Haw I have yet to read anything of interest from you.

Tom said...

Now now William.. keep your hair on.... the decision to remove your second comment was mine... and I will exercise that right when ever I think a comment needs removing...
I have left your comment now as I need to make a point here.. Your first comment above is not criticism it is insulting.... Dave would have put a lot of time into the post by taking the pictures and typing the information... then working on the post, so to then see a comment that says 'Dreary' popping up is an insult in my book.
Now we are accused of being a 'Clique' when all we are really is a team of four giving time freely to anyone who might find what we do here of interest.
You also dragged poor Gerald into this who as nothing to do with this blog, but as been a welcome supporter from the start.

Any more comments I deem unworthy will be removed and go unanswered as my time is more valuable than to waste in on the likes of you William. Any more contact you wish to have.. be it an apology or insult will have to be by email.

To others who have had to waste time reading this please forgive me... it will not happen again


Anonymous said...

Excellent article Dave, thanks. I'm from Hyde and of course remember the factory "Ashton Bros" but never knew of the tragedy that befell the family. Thanks for sharing.

As for Lord Hee Haw I have yet to read anything of interest from you.

Hydonian said...

@ William.

I just thought I'd offer my take on the situation.

We never remove comments that are constructive. We do, however, remove comments that we deem racist, sexist or, in your case, boreist.
We do the blog for our own enjoyment and if we happen to interest other good folk then all the better.
Posts like yours are just downright rude.

As my dear old grandma used to say "If you dont have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all"

Good day to you.

Hydonian said...

ps @ William

You say "We've had pictures of churches and pubs you can walk and look at any day of the week.. "

The readers from the other 137 countries that have viewed the blog would have a long walk to do this.

Hyde Lad said...

I don't normally make comments on other peoples's comments, but I think that Mr Joyce's opinions are totally out of order. This blog has now been going for over 2 years, with a new post every day, so it must now be increasingly more difficult to find material for original articles about Hyde. I think that the latest post by Dave is excellent. A lot of time and effort has gone into it. Don't forget not everyone has a copy of Middleton's book.
Keep up the good work Dave.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post Dave.I like the up to date photos too.Methinks Mr Joyce is a tad jealous of the blogs success.

Keep up the good work !


Anonymous said...

Is Polebank still standing?

Dave Williams said...

Yes, Pole Bank is still there and is now a residential care home. The photograph of it was taken in June last year.

Anonymous said...

As a student of 19th century literature and currently writing an essay in relation to Elizabeth Gaskells 'Mary Barton' I found this information riveting as the murder was her inspiration and reflects the issues of industrialisation and Capitalism at the time. Thank You!

SJ Kennedy said...

I completely agree with the previous comment! It is a fascinating insight into the context of Gaskell's Mary Barton and on the strength of feeling among workers at that time against unfair wages and conditions. It offers a real life situation around the social history with regards to Chartism, religion and industrialisation in the North West.
Thank you
SJ Kennedy

Anonymous said...

this is amazing, i work at polebank hall and the house in amazing would love to know what it looked like inside back in the days

Stuart Redfearn said...

I live in one of the 5 cottages on Stockport Road next to Pole Bank and am desperately trying to obtain some history or even better old photos of
them. Any assistance will be greatly appreciated, Stuart Redfearn.


Tom said...

I hope some info comes in... I recall you contacting me a while back... I have not come across anything but will check up on some maps to see what turns up. I've always like those cottages... love the chimney's, but did notice a week or two back they were leaning for more than I recall from my last visit there.

Anonymous said...


Jeff said...

This is fascinating. I had a relative, a great (or twice great)-uncle I believe, who was born on May 27, 1831 in Apethorn. His name was Joel Wainwright, and he became a fairly well-known person in Marple. He owned a home, Finchwood, in Marple Bridge. I've actually been trying to find out our precise relationship.

Tom said...

Jeff just a thought, I wonder where Joel Lane, Gee Cross got it's name.. it must have been named after someone later, if not the Joel you mention it might have been his father or grandfather. I will see if I can find out.

Tom said...

JEFF this might be of interest to you