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