Sunday, 22 December 2019

(269) Ashton of Soulton Hall

This family is a branch of the Ashton family which was settled at Darwen and Blackburn (Lancs) from the 17th century onwards. In the early 19th century, William Ashton (1798-1835) joined the booming Lancashire cotton industry, but he died young, and his surviving son, William Thomas Ashton (1832-94) had to make a new start in the trade. He joined the leading firm of Eccles Shorrock & Co. (to which he was connected by the marriage of his uncle, Thomas Ashton) in 1847, and after gaining experience set up his own company in partnership with Samuel Nicholls in 1857. Their partnership was dissolved ten years later, and Ashton continued the business on his own, eventually taking his sons Henry and Sidney into the firm, which traded as W.H. Ashton & Son until the 1960s. Ashton was a Presbyterian and it was perhaps through nonconformist connections that he met his wife, Lydia (1841-1932), the daughter of Henry Deakin (1810-92), a prosperous yeoman farmer who was the tenant of Soulton Hall on Lord Hill's Hawkestone estate in Shropshire.
Ashdale, Darwen in 2019.
In about 1871 the couple built a substantial villa at Darwen, called Ashdale, as their home, but by the 1890s, W.T. Ashton was in failing health and spent increasing amounts of time at Soulton, where the pure country air suited him better than the heavy pollution of industrial Lancashire. After his father-in-law's death in 1892 he seems to have lived mainly at Soulton, and when he died in 1894, it became his widow's home, where she remained until her death in 1932. The family's tenure of the house was, however, threatened by the parlous financial position of their landlord, Viscount Hill of Hawkestone Hall, who hovered on the verge of bankruptcy. In 1899 his mortgagees foreclosed on their mortgage on the Hawkestone estate and put Soulton and other properties up for sale, and Soulton, with some 500 acres, was bought by W.H. Ashton's sons, Henry Deakin Ashton (1861-1925), Sidney Antrobus Ashton (1868-1953) and William Ashton (1870-1947), the last of whom seems to have farmed the land. It was, however, Sidney Ashton who made most use of the house after his mother's death. It was let in the 1940s but then taken over by his son, Mark Ashton (1908-94), who farmed here in the 1950s and 1960s. However, after Mark's eldest son, John Sidney Ashton (b. 1944), married in 1968, he handed the property over to him. In order to make the estate an economic proposition, John and his wife Ann have made the house into a family run hotel, which has received warm reviews over several decades. The farm is now run by their son, Timothy John Ashton (b. 1986), who has adopted a 'no-till' approach to arable farming in the interests of soil conservation. He has also further diversified in an unusual way by constructing an architecturally satisfying and atmospheric long barrow on the property, to be used much as such structures were in Neolithic times, as a place for the storage of cremated remains and the commemoration of the dead.

Soulton Hall, Wem, Shropshire

Soulton Hall: the house from the north-east, 2008. Image: Rgbnht at English Wikipedia
An attractive square late Elizabethan house, rising abruptly out of the landscape in the flat pastures east of Wem, which makes a curiously cuboid impression because it has a flat roof concealed behind a parapet and tall facades of three storeys above a full basement. The east and west sides are treated as four bays and have rectangular corner turrets at either end rising the full height of the house, containing closets; while the entrance front and rear elevation have just two larger five-light windows on each floor. The house is built of red brick, with some diapering, and liberal use of Grinshill stone dressings for quoins, window surrounds, and the continuous string courses which separate the floors, adding tension to the design. The four prominent brick chimneystacks with their tall clustered shafts rise symmetrically from the wall-head on the east and west sides.

Soulton Hall: the upper part of the doorcase and the pediment added in 1668. Image: 1086day. Some rights reserved.

In the centre of the north front is an elaborately carved doorcase with fluted Doric columns carrying an incorrectly decorated entablature, all probably of the late 16th century. On top of this is a broken semicircular pediment enclosing an achievement of the arms of a member of the Hill family, which must have been added later, probably at the same time as the door lintel with swags and strapwork, and the prominent date 1668. Other changes were no doubt made at the same time, probably including the construction of the terrace before the north front, and the steps up to it between stone panels, again carved with swags and strapwork.

Shropshire is notable for having a small group of Elizabethan houses with either a square footprint or a double-pile plan, or both.
Whitehall, Shrewsbury: the house in c.1905.
The earliest in the sequence is likely to be Whitehall, Shrewsbury, built between 1578 and 1582, which is the earliest datable example in the country of a double-pile plan (in which rooms face outwards in both directions from a spinal wall). Whitehall and Acton Scott Hall (of c.1580-90), are both square and double-piled, but both have traditional gables, unlike Soulton, which has a flat roof concealed behind a parapet. This is unlikely to have been the original arrangement, but there seems to be no evidence that the house was formerly gabled, so perhaps the original form was a low hipped roof behind the parapet, as at Verulam House (Herts) a generation later. 

The interiors of Soulton Hall were so much altered in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries that their original form is not easy to discern.  However, it would seem that the internal partitions were at least partly timber-framed (as they were at Whitehall): one room has exposed square panels and close studding with incised decoration in the rendered infill. On the ground floor, one room preserves an original square-headed stone fireplace with a moulded mantel-shelf, but otherwise all the chimneypieces and doorcases were replaced in later centuries. The main staircase is 19th century but a surviving fragment of the back staircase between the first and second floors has a moulded handrail and pointed finials and may be original.

Descent: Edward Twynnhoe sold 1549 to Sir Rowland Hill (c.1495-1561), who settled it on his cousin, William Hill of Bletchley (Bucks); to son, Rowland Hill (1558-1639); to son, Rowland Hill (1601-67); to son, Thomas Hill (fl. 1681); to son, Thomas Hill (d. 1711); to son, Thomas Hill (1680-1722), who sold 1716 to Richard Corbet (1649-1718) of Shawbury; to son, Andrew Corbet (d. 1757); to son, Andrew Corbet (1720-96); to nephew, Sir Andrew Corbert (1766-1835), 1st bt., who sold 1802 to Sir Richard Hill (1732-1808), 2nd bt., of Hawkestone; to brother, Sir John Hill (1740-1824), 3rd bt.; to grandson, Sir Rowland Hill (1800-75), 4th bt. and later 2nd Viscount Hill; to son, Rowland Clegg-Hill (1833-95), 3rd Viscount Hill; ; to son, Rowland Richard Clegg-Hill (1863-1923), 4th Viscount Hill; seized by mortgagees, 1899 and sold 1900 to Sidney Antrobus Ashton (1868-1953) and his brothers; to son, Mark Ashton (1908-94); to son, John Sidney Ashton (b. 1944). The house was leased to Henry Deakin (d. by 1836) and his son, Henry Deakin (1810-92), and in the 1940s to L.W. Chesters, as a farm.

Ashton family of Soulton Hall

Ashton, William Thomas (1832-94). Youngest son of William Ashton (1790-1835), cotton manufacturer, and his wife Susannah (d. 1871), youngest daughter of Joseph Barker of Beardwood Fold, Blackburn (Lancs), born 1 January 1832. Educated privately at Blackburn. Manager for Messrs. Eccles Shorrock, 1847-57; cotton manufacturer from 1857 (in partnership with Samuel Nicholls, 1857-67), then on his own, and finally with his sons Henry and Sidney (as W.T. Ashton & Son). He was a nonconformist in religion and a Liberal in politics until the Home Rule crisis of 1885, when he joined the Conservatives. He played a prominent role in local Blackburn affairs, and was instrumental in securing public access to Darwen Moor. JP for Darwen Borough from 1881. He married, 30 May 1860 at Chapel St. chapel, Wem (Shrops.), Lydia Grace (1841-1932), daughter of Henry Deakin of Soulton Hall (Shrops.), and had issue:
(1) Henry Deakin Ashton (1861-1925), born 8 April 1861; cotton manufacturer with W.T. Ashton & Son; JP for Darwen (from 1905); married, 24 February 1886 at Bethel Chapel, Belmont, Bolton (Lancs), Louisa (1857-1911), daughter of Edward Deakin of Belmont, and had issue one son and one daughter; died 4 July 1925; will proved 10 October 1925 (estate £132,248); commemorated by a public garden in Wells (Somerset), a city which he visited frequently as 'a place of tranquillity';
(2) Grace Ashton (1863-1903), born 23 February 1863; died unmarried, 23 August 1903; will proved 16 September 1903 (estate £1,716);
(3) Lucy Ashton (b. 1864), born 28 October 1864; married, 10 September 1896 at Clive (Shrops.), Edmund William Abram (1869-1929), journalist, inventor and colliery manager (bankrupt 1923), son of William Alexander Abram of Blackburn, and had issue two sons and two daughters; death not traced;
(4) Alice Ashton (1866-1956), born 19 August 1866; married Dr. Herbert John Hickin (1861-1943) of Wolverhampton (Staffs) and later of Weston, nr. Wem (Shrops.), but had no issue; died 21 March 1956; will proved 12 June 1956 (estate £12,471);
(5) Sidney Antrobus Ashton (1868-1953) (q.v.);
(6) William Ashton (1870-1947), born 3 June 1870; farmer at Brockhurst, Wem (Shrops.); married, 14 October 1897 at Garstang (Lancs), Evelyn (1867-1932), daughter of John Edward Simpson of Garstang and had issue four sons and three daughters; died 30 July 1947; will proved 19 November 1947 (estate £61,058);
(7) Rose Ashton (1872-75), born 13 March 1872; died young, 13 September 1875;
(8) Clive Ashton (1873-75), born 26 December 1873; died in infancy, 13 September 1875;
(9) Muriel Ashton (1880-90), born 1 June 1880; died young, 25 August 1890.
He lived at Blackburn, but in his last few years spent increasing amounts of time at Soulton Hall for health reasons. His widow lived at Soulton Hall with her unmarried sister.
He died at Soulton Hall, 3 September 1894 and was buried at Darwen Cemetery, 7 September 1894; his will was proved 9 October 1894 (effects £18,790). His widow died at Soulton Hall, 7 August 1932; her will was proved 2 November 1932 (estate £1,704).

Ashton, Sidney Antrobus (1868-1953). Second son of William Thomas Ashton (1832-94) and his wife Lydia Grace, daughter of Henry Deakin of Soulton Hall (Shrops.), born 1 June 1868. Educated at Tettenhall College (Staffs). Cotton manufacturer (W.T. Ashton & Son) at Darwen (Lancs). JP for Lancashire and Darwen; Trustee and Governor of Blackburn Royal Infirmary. He married, 1 June 1905, Janet Emily (1878-1948), daughter of Dr. George Hindle, of Holker House, Darwen (Lancs), and had issue:
(1) Clive Ashton (1906-84), born 14 March 1906; educated at Sedbergh Sch.; chairman of W.T. Ashton & Son, cotton manufacturers, at Darwen (Lancs) and Irvinestown (Northern Ireland); JP for Lancashire and for Co. Fermanagh (from 1961); married, 20 October 1938, Nora Eileen (1915-2003), daughter of Horace Grime of Cheadle Hulme, Stockport (Cheshire) and had issue two daughters; died 26 December 1984;
(2) Mark Ashton (1908-94) (q.v.);
(3) Oliver Deakin Ashton (1911-2002), born 12 July 1911; educated at Charterhouse; an officer in the Royal Artillery in the Second World War; director and secretary of W.T. Ashton & Son, cotton manufacturers; emigrated to Canada before 1963; married, 9 April 1942 at Whalley (Lancs), Isabella (1917-2008), daughter of Roger Green of Whalley, and had issue two sons and two daughters; died in Orangeville, Ontario (Canada), 5 June 2002 and was buried in St John's Cemetery, Mono, Dufferin County, Ontario.
He lived at Ashdale, Darwen but in 1900 bought Soulton Hall with his brothers from the trustees of the Portland Marylebone estate, who had acquired it by foreclosing on a mortgage to Lord Hill.
He died on 7 January 1953; his will was proved 7 August 1953 (estate £30,516). His wife died 7 March 1948; her will was proved 22 July 1948 (estate £6,504).

Ashton, Mark (1908-94). Second son of Sidney Antrobus Ashton (1868-1953) and his wife Janet Emily, daughter of Dr. George Hindle of Holker House, Darwen (Lancs), born 28 October 1908. Educated at Charterhouse. Managing director of W.T. Ashton & Son, cotton manufacturers. He married, 30 April 1942, Winifred Lamont (1909-75), daughter of Albert Bone, and had issue:
(1) John Sidney Ashton (b. 1944) (q.v.);
(2) Peter Mark Ashton (b. 1946), born 12 March 1946; married, 1970, Angela M. Cooper and had issue;
(3) Richard Adair Ashton (b. 1948), born 29 May 1948; married, Jan-Mar 1971, Josephine G., daughter of David Spier.
He lived at Ellerslie, Darwen and Soulton Hall.
He died Jul-Sept. 1994. His wife died 21 June 1975; her will was proved 14 November 1975 (estate £14,614).

Ashton, John Sidney (b. 1944). Eldest son of Mark Ashton (1908-94) and his wife Winifred Lamont, daughter of Albert Bone, born 8 July 1944. Farmer and hotel proprietor. He married, 1968, Ann P. Hadley (b. 1946), and had issue:
(1) Carol Ann Ashton (b. 1970);
(2) Katharine Margaret Ashton (b. 1973); married, September 2005, Martin S. Edwards, younger son of Kenneth Edwards;
(3) Elizabeth Helen Ashton (b. 1975);
(4) twin, Fiona Lamont Ashton (b. 1986); educated at Edinburgh University;
(5) twin, Timothy John Ashton (b. 1986); educated at Shrewsbury School, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford (MA) and Harper Adams University, Newport (Shrops.); farmer at Soulton Hall.
He took over the running of Soulton Hall from his father in about 1970 and converted it into an hotel.
Now living.

Principal sources

Burke's Landed Gentry, 1952, pp. 64-65; J. Newman & Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Shropshire, 2nd edn., 2006, pp. 35, 677-78; A. Maguire & A. Gomme, Design and plan in the country house, 2008, pp. 199-201, 311. 

Location of archives

No significant accumulation is known to exist.

Coat of arms

None recorded, although another descendant of the Ashtons of Darwen received a grant of arms (Sable, on a pile argent, between two bezants each charged with a rose gules, barbed and seeded proper, a pierced mullet of the first).

Can you help?

  • I should be most grateful if anyone can provide photographs or portraits of people whose names appear in bold above, and who are not already illustrated.
  • As always, any additions or corrections to the account given above will be gratefully received and incorporated.

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 22 December 2019.

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