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History of Ashton under Lyne

There was a settlement of some kind at Ashton long before the Norman Conquest of 1066. A small hillock on the north bank of the River Tame, overlooking a good crossing-point on the river, became a fortified position guarding the boundary between the ancient kingdoms of Northumbria and Mercia.

St Michael's Parish Church, Ashton under Lyne
The parish church of St Michael and All Angels, Ashton under Lyne.

A village developed just to the north of this, around the area where St Michael's Square is today. The fortification eventually became the Old Hall. A church was built and a market developed which served the surrounding areas.

Over the centuries Ashton developed into a small market town. Wool spinning was a traditional cottage industry in the surrounding hilly areas, which were particularly suitable for rearing sheep. A small amount of coal mining took place nearby.

A major turning-point in the history of the town was the coming of the canals (and later the railways). Ashton became the junction of three canals, the Manchester and Ashton canal, the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and the Peak Forest Canal.

The coal mines of the area began to supply the new factories in Manchester. The canal enabled the coal mines to increase their output. Tram roads ran from mines at Hurst, Smallshaw, Dukinfield, etc. to take coal to the canal to be loaded onto narrowboats.

The canal meant that the coal and other raw products and finished goods could be transported easily and cheaply. The damp climate in the area to the west of the Pennines made the area suitable for the spinning of cotton and the whole area to the north and east of Manchester became the world centre for the manufacture of cotton goods.

Ryecroft Mills
Rycroft Mill, in Ashton's West End, built in 1837.

The town expanded rapidly during the Victorian period with many rows of red brick terraced houses being built to house the influx of workers for the cotton mills.

A century ago there were dozens of mills in the area. Most have been demolished so that the sites could be re-developed. Very few of those remaining are still used to manufacture cotton products, due to the cheapness of goods made in the far east.

The coal mines continued to develop and as the mines to the north and east of the town became exhausted, new pits were developed to the west. In 1882 Ashton Moss Colliery became the deepest pit in the world. The colliery is now closed and its site is part of the Snipe Retail Park on the boundary with Audenshaw.

Ashton developed a thriving engineering industry. More recently textile manufacture and engineering have given way to a wide range of modern industries, including computer technology.

The town's location next to the new M60 motorway will help to ensure a promising future.

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