Ashton-under-Lyne (pop. 43,200) is a market town in the Metropolitan Borough of Tameside, Greater Manchester, England. Historically a part of Lancashire, it lies on the north bank of the River Tame, on undulating land at the foothills of the Pennines. Ashton (as it is often shortened to) is 3.8 miles (6.1 km) south-southeast of Oldham, 6.1 miles (9.8 km) north-northeast of Stockport, and 6.2 miles (10.0 km) east of the city of Manchester.
Evidence of Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Viking activity has been discovered in Ashton-under-Lyne and its surrounding area. The "Ashton" part of the town's name probably dates from the Anglo-Saxon period, and derives from Old English meaning "settlement by ash trees". The origin of the "under-Lyne" suffix is less clear, and it possibly derives from the British lemo meaning elm or from Ashton's proximity to the Pennines. During the Middle Ages, Ashton-under-Lyne formed a parish and township centred on Ashton Old Hall which was held by the de Asshetons, the Lords of the Manor. Granted a Royal Charter in 1414, the manor spanned a broad rural area consisting of marshland, moorland, and a number of villages and hamlets.
Until the introduction of the cotton trade in 1769, Ashton was considered "bare, wet, and almost worthless". The factory system, and textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution triggered a process of unplanned urbanisation in the area, and by the mid-19th century Ashton had emerged as an important mill town at a convergence of newly constructed canals and railways. Ashton-under-Lyne's transport network allowed for an economic boom in cotton spinning, weaving, and coal mining, which led to the granting of honorific borough status in 1847.
During the mid-20th century, imports of cheaper foreign goods led to the decline of Ashton's heavy industries, but the town has continued to thrive as a centre of commerce, and is "considered the hub of Tameside, providing the perfect setting for the town hall, council offices and 19th-century market hall". Ashton Market is one of the largest outdoor markets in the United Kingdom. The 140,000-square-foot (13,000 m2), two-floored Ashton Arcades shopping centre opened in 1995, and in 2006 IKEA opened what was then the tallest store in the country.
Evidence of prehistoric activity in the area comes from Ashton Moss – a 107-hectare (260-acre) peat bog – and is the only one of Tameside's 22 Mesolithic sites not located in the hilly uplands in the north east of the borough. A single Mesolithic flint tool has been discovered in the bog, along with a collection of nine Neolithic flints. There was further activity in or around the bog in the Bronze Age. In about 1911, an adult male skull was found in the moss; it was thought to belong to the Romano-British period – similar to the Lindow Man bog body – until radiocarbon dating revealed that it dated from 1,320–970 BC.
The eastern terminus of the early medieval linear earthwork Nico Ditch is in Ashton Moss (grid reference SJ909980); it was probably used as an administrative boundary and dates from the 8th or 9th century. Legend claims it was built in a single night in 869 or 870 as a defence against Viking invaders. Further evidence of Dark Age activity in the area comes from the town's name. The "Ashton" part probably derives from the Anglo-Saxon meaning "settlement by ash trees", the origin of the "under-Lyne" element is less clear: it could derive from the British lemo meaning elm, or may refer to Ashton being "under the line" of the Pennines. This means that Ashton probably became a settlement some time after the Romans left Britain in the 5th century. An early form of the town's name, which included a burh element, indicates that in the 11th century Ashton-under-Lyne and Bury were two of the most important towns in Lancashire. The "under-Lyne" suffix was not widely used until the mid-19th century when it became useful for distinguishing the town from other places called Ashton.
The Domesday Survey of 1086 does not directly mention Ashton, perhaps because only a partial survey of the area had been taken. However, it is thought that St Michael's Church, mentioned in the entry for the ancient parish of Manchester in the Domesday Survey, was in Ashton. The town itself was first mentioned in the 12th century when the manor was part of the barony of Manchester. By the late 12th century, a family who adopted the name Assheton held the manor on behalf of the Barons of Manchester. Ashton Old Hall was a manor house, the administrative centre of the manor, and the seat of the Assheton family. With three wings, the hall was "one of the finest great houses in the North West" of the 14th century. It has been recognised as important for being one of the few great houses in south-east Lancashire and possibly one of the few halls influenced by French design in the country. The town was granted a Royal Charter in 1414, which allowed it to hold a fair twice a year, and a market on every Monday, making the settlement a market town.
According to popular tradition, Sir Ralph de Assheton, who was Lord of the Manor in the mid-14th century and known as the Black knight, was an unpopular and cruel lord. After his death, his unpopularity led the locals to parade an effigy of him around the town each Easter Monday and collect money. Afterwards the effigy would be hung up, shot, and set on fire, before being torn apart and thrown into the crowd. The first recorded occurrence of the event was in 1795, although the tradition may be older; it continued into the 1830s.
The manor remained in the hands of the Assheton family until 1514 when the line ended; Sir George Booth later acquired the manor and it descended with the Booth family until 1758 when the Earls of Stamford inherited it through marriage. The earls held the manor until the 19th century. The lords' consistent absence was probably the stimulus for Ashton's growth of a large-scale domestic-based textile industry in the 17th century. Pre-industrial Ashton-under-Lyne was centred around four roads: Town Street, Crickets Lane, Old Street, and Cowhill Lane. In the late-18th and early-19th centuries, the town was re-planned, with a grid pattern of roads. As a result, very little remains of the previous town. In 1730 a workhouse was established which consisted of a house and two cottages; it later came to be used as a hospital. The Ashton Canal was constructed in the 1790s to transport coal from the area to Manchester, with a branch to the coal pits at Fairbottom.
Domestic fustian and woollen weaving have a long history in the town, dating back to at least the Early Modern period. Accounts dated 1626 highlight that Humphrey Chetham had dealings with cloth-makers in Ashton-under-Lyne. However, the introduction of the factory system in the 19th century, during the Industrial Revolution, changed Ashton from a market town to a mill town. Having previously been one of the two main towns in the Tame Valley, Ashton-under-Lyne became one of the "most famous mill towns in the North West". From 1773 to 1905, 75 cotton mills were established in the town. On his tour of northern England in 1849, Scottish publisher Angus Reach said:
In Ashton, too, there lingers on a handful of miserable old men, the remnants of the cotton hand-loom weavers. No young persons think of pursuing such an occupation. The few who practice it were too old and confirmed in old habits, when the power-loom was introduced, to be able to learn a new way of making their bread.—Angus Reach, Morning Chronicle, 1849
The cotton industry in the area grew rapidly from the start of the 19th century until the Lancashire Cotton Famine of 1861–1865. The growth of the town's textile industry led to the construction of estates specifically for workers. Workers' housing in Park Bridge, on the border between Ashton and Oldham, was created in the 1820s. The iron works were founded in 1786 and were some of the earliest in the north west. The Oxford Mills settlement was founded in 1845 by local industrialist and mill-owner Hugh Mason who saw it as a model industrial community. The community was provided with a recreational ground, a gymnasium, and an institute containing public baths, a library, and a reading room. Mason estimated that establishing the settlement cost him around £10,000 and would require a further £1,000 a year to maintain (about £600,000 and £60,000 respectively as of 2013), and that its annual mortality rate was significantly lower than in the rest of the town.
A poor supply of fresh water and dwellings without adequate drainage led to a cholera outbreak in the town in 1832. The Ashton Poor Law Union was established in 1837 and covered most of what is now Tameside. A new workhouse was built in 1850 which provided housing for 500 people. It later became part of Tameside General Hospital. Construction on the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway (SA&MR) began in 1837 to provide passenger transport between Manchester and Sheffield. Although a nine-arch viaduct in Ashton collapsed in April 1845, the line was fully opened on 22 December 1845. The SA&MR was amalgamated with the Sheffield and Lincolnshire Junction Railway, the Great Grimsby & Sheffield Railway, and the Grimsby Docks Company in 1847 to form the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (MS&LR). In 1890, the MS&LR bought the Old Hall and demolished it to make way for the construction of new sidings.
In the late 19th century, public buildings such as the market hall, the town hall, the public library, and public baths were built. A donation from Hugh Mason funded the construction of the baths constructed in 1870–1871. The Ashton-under-Lyne Improvement Act was passed in 1886 which gave the borough influence over housing and allowed the imposition of minimum standards such as drainage. Coal mining not as important to the town as the textile industry, but in 1882 the Ashton Moss Colliery had the deepest mine shaft in the world at 870 metres (2,850 ft). Ashton's textile industry remained constant between 1865 and the 1920s. Although some mills closed or merged, the number of spindles in use increased. With the collapse of the overseas market in the 1920s, the town's cotton industry went into decline, and by the 1930s most of the firms and mills in the area had closed.
Ashton became a part of the newly formed Metropolitan Borough of Tameside in 1974. In May 2004, a massive fire ravaged the Victorian market hall, and a temporary building called "The Phoenix Market Hall" was built on Old Cross Street on the opposite side of the old market hall. Described as the "heart of Ashton", the market was rebuilt and officially opened on 1 December 2008.
Lying within the historic county boundaries of Lancashire since the early 12th century, Ashton-under-Lyne anciently constituted a "single parish-township", but was divided into four divisions (sometimes each styled townships): Ashton Town, Audenshaw, Hartshead, and Knott Lanes. Ashton Town was granted a Royal Charter in 1414, making it a market town. All four divisions lay within the hundred of Salford, an ancient division of the county of Lancashire.
In 1827, police commissioners were established for Ashton Town, tasked with bringing about social and economic improvement. In 1847, this area was incorporated under the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, as a municipal borough with the name "Ashton-under-Lyne", giving it borough status. When the administrative county of Lancashire was created by the Local Government Act 1888, the borough fell under the newly created Lancashire County Council. The borough's boundaries changed during the late 19th century through small exchanges of land with the neighbouring districts of Oldham, Mossley, Dukinfield, and Stalybridge. In the early 20th century, the Borough of Ashton-under-Lyne grew; Hurst Urban District was added in 1927, parts of Hartshead and Alt civil parishes in 1935, and parts of Limehurst Rural District in 1954. Since 1956, Ashton has been twinned with Chaumont, France.
Under the Local Government Act 1972, the town's borough status was abolished, and Ashton has, since 1 April 1974, formed part of the Metropolitan Borough of Tameside, within the metropolitan county of Greater Manchester. Ashton-under-Lyne is divided into four wards: Ashton Hurst, Ashton St. Michaels, Ashton St Peters and Ashton Waterloo. As of the 2012 local elections, all twelve seats are held by Labour councillors.
Since the Reform Act 1832 the town has been represented in Parliament as part of the Ashton-under-Lyne parliamentary constituency. During its early years the constituency was represented in the House of Commons by members of the Liberal Party until the late 19th century, when it was broadly held by the Conservative Party. It has been held by the Labour Party since 1935; David Heyes has been the constituency's member of parliament since 2001.