Copy Letterbook of Thomas Ashton and Sons

  • Reference
      GB 133 Eng MS 870
  • Dates of Creation
      23 January 1850-23 July 1851
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      255 x 204 mm. 1 volume (35 folios); Binding: marbled card covers.

Scope and Content

The volume contains triplicates of eighteen business letters from Thomas Ashton & Sons of Manchester, cloth merchants, to the following correspondents: Messrs Kelsall, Hoare & Co., Calcutta (10 items); Ewart, Lyon & Co. and Ewart, Tatham & Co., Bombay (7 items); and Rattibones, Worthington & Co., Shanghai (1 item).

There is also a letter from J. Rankine Finlayson of Bowdon to Henry Guppy of the John Rylands Library, concerning the deposit of the copybook, 23 June 1935; and a newscutting of an article by Finlayson (see below).

Administrative / Biographical History

Thomas Ashton (1818-1898), cotton manufacturer and philanthropist, was born in Hyde, Cheshire, in 1818. He studied chemisty and printing techniques at the University of Heidelberg in Germany in the late 1830s. In 1845 he inherited his father's cotton mills at Flowery Fields in Hyde. He pursued a policy of modernization and expansion, while maintaining a philanthropic concern for the welfare of his workers. Ashton was a Unitarian and an active member of the Liberal Party in Manchester and he held strong personal views on social reform. He founded scholarships to enable students from Hyde to go to Owens College, Manchester, and he was a tireless supporter of the College and the cause of education generally. In 1892 he was admitted a Freeman of the City of Manchester and he served as High Sheriff of Lancashire, but he had previously declined Gladstone's offer of a baronetcy in 1882. Thomas Ashton died on 21 January 1898.

Source: Jane Bedford, 'Ashton, Thomas (1818-1898)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press -

Access Information

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Donated to the John Rylands Library by J. Rankine Finlayson of Faircroft, Enville Road, Bowdon, Cheshire, in June 1936.


Description compiled by Henry Sullivan and Jo Klett, project archivists, with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on Thomas Ashton.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Supplementary Hand-List of Western Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1937 (English MS 869).

Custodial History

Given to J. Rankine Finlayson by Lord Ashton of Hyde (son of Thomas Ashton) in 1931.

Related Material

Manchester Archives and Local Studies holds Ashton family papers and correspondence, c.1850-1900 (ref.: GB 127 M107). University College London, Manuscripts Room holds ten letters from Thomas Ashton to Edwin Chadwick, 1880-1889 (ref.: GB 103 CHADWICK).


See J. Rankine Finlayson's article A Manchester Merchant in 1850 in the Manchester Guardian, 29 March 1935, p. 14.

Geographical Names