Ashworth Cross Family Papers

  • Reference
      GB 133 ACF
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      4 li.m.
  • Location
      Collection available at John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

The Ashworth Cross Family Papers offer a fascinating insight into the social, political and economic history of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Topics covered in the collection include industrial history (cotton, coal and railways); free trade and the Anti-Corn Law League; the suffragist movement of the late-nineteenth century; twentieth-century military history; world travel; the Quakers and mental illness.

The bulk of the collection comprises correspondence between the members of the Ashworth and Cross families and their relations and friends. The family correspondence includes letters from figures of national and international importance including: John Bright MP, Richard Cobden MP, Lydia Becker, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, General Garibaldi, John Stuart Mill, and W E Gladstone.

Thomas Ashworth (1802-1870) and his brother Henry Ashworth (1794–1880), were closely involved in the mid-nineteenth free trade movement that was centred on Manchester. The family papers contain several references to the Anti-Corn Law League and include a certificate presented to ‘Mrs [Sophia] Ashworth in grateful acknowledgement of her unwearied exertions at the National Anti-Corn Law Bazaar’ held in Manchester in 1842. Sophia Ashworth, (1803-1844) was the sister of John Bright (1811-1889).

A small group of papers relating to Thomas Ashworth’s third wife, Alicia (1810-1891), offer some insight into issues around mental health in the nineteenth century. Documents relating to their separation in 1861 reveal how contemporaries viewed mental health problems and the social stigma surrounding divorce.

Among the papers are a collection letters written by Joseph Cross to his family from abroad between 1868 and 1875, with descriptions of visits to Malta, Alexandria, the Holy Land, Syria, Constantinople, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii and the USA. These include good accounts of the Central Pacific Railroad, and the Chinese community in San Francisco.

Joseph’s son Guy Kynaston Cross (1884-1961) served with the British Army in South Africa and India and during the First World War. His second wife, Florence Dupen, worked as an ambulance driver during the First World War. Their photograph albums contain photographs from Guy’s travels in South Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Australia and Germany and of Florence’s wartime service. Guy’s letters from South Africa in 1904 and from France in 1914 and 1918 and his 1914 War Diary are interesting records of military service.

Another highlight of the Ashworth Cross Family Papers is the suffragist material relating to Thomas Ashworth’s daughters, Anne Frances Cross (1842-1919) and Lilias Sophia Hallett (1844-1922). Following the death of their father in 1870 they both were involved with the Bristol and West of England Women’s Suffrage Society. Lilias corresponded with several of the major figures in the suffragist movement, including Millicent Garrett Fawcett and Lydia Becker. Within the collection is a silver inkstand inscribed to Lilias Ashworth from ‘a few of her friends and co-workers in the Women’s Suffrage Movement on the occasion of her marriage’.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Ashworth family were a socially and politically prominent family in nineteenth century Lancashire. They owned important cotton mills in the Bolton area, as well as having other business interests.

The Ashworth family were originally small farmers in Turton, north of Bolton. Like many farmers in this area, they were also employed in producing yarn and cloth, typically fustian, a blend of linen and cotton, but increasingly cotton as this became the prevalent textile in Lancashire by the late 18th century. The two key family members in building up these textile interests were John Ashworth (1772-1855) and his brother, Edmund (1776-1856). In 1793, John married Isabel Thomasson (1771-1852), a member of a Quaker family who were also successfully engaged in the cotton industry. On marriage, John also became a Quaker, and the Ashworths were to become one of the most prominent Quaker families in Lancashire.

In 1802, John and Edmund Ashworth built New Eagley mill, near Bolton, which spun fine cotton. They also collaborated with Thomas Mulliner, who ran an outworking weaving business, although this did not survive the economic downturn during the Napoleonic Wars. John Ashworth had four sons: Henry (1794-1880) and Edmund (1800-81), who both followed him into the cotton business, Thomas (1802-70) and John (1796-1879), who became land surveyors and agents (an occupation that John had also combined with his textile interests).

Edmund Ashworth senior left the cotton business after 1815, and the New Eagley mill was run with great success by John's sons, Henry and Edmund. In 1832, they added Egerton mill to the business, one of the largest and most advanced spinning mills in the country. By the 1840s, the Ashworths were a wealthy family, and they became involved in public life, particularly through the involvement of Henry and Thomas Ashworth in the Anti-Corn Law League. Thomas was the brother-in-law of the John Bright (1811-89), one of the League's leaders, through his marriage to Sophia Bright (1803-44) in 1841. Henry later wrote an account of the League with John Watts, Recollections of Richard Cobden and the Anti-Corn Law League (1876).

During the 1840s, Henry Ashcroft gradually transferred management of his businesses to his sons, George (1823-1905), John (1826- 86) and Henry junior (1828-62). George Ashworth ran New Eagley, while Henry junior took over Egerton. John Ashworth later set up his own successful mill at Astley Bridge, near Bolton. However, the firm ran into trouble in the 1850s, due to a major breach between Henry senior and Edmund, and in 1854, the business was split into Henry Ashworth and Sons, which owned New Eagley, and Edmund Ashworth and Sons, which took over Egerton mill. Edmund's sons Edmund jr (1833-1901) and Samuel (1834-78) eventually took over this side of the firm. Spinning ended at New Eagley in 1880, when it switched to weaving. George Ashworth handed over control to his sons George and Arthur, who ran the firm until 1940.

Henry and Edmund Ashworth's brother Thomas had pursued a career as a land agent for Lord Vernon, who had extensive estates in Cheshire and Staffordshire. Edmund married Sophia Bright (she was his second wife), and they had two daughters Anne Frances (1842-1919) and Lilias Sophia (1844-1922). Sophia had died shortly after the birth of Lilias, and the children were brought up with the extensive help of Sophia's sisters, Priscilla Bright McClaren (1815-1906) and Margaret Lucas (1818-90). Thomas married for a third time in 1847 to Alicia Sarah Nicolls (1810-91); they had a daughter, also named Alicia in 1849, who died of tuberculosis in 1865. Alicia suffered from an undiagnosed mental illness and she and Thomas separated at the end of the 1850s. The family had lived at Poynton and Cheadle in Cheshire, before moving to Claverton Lodge, Bath in 1865. Thomas also owned a salmon fishery in Galway, Ireland, to which he devoted much time in later life.

Anne and Lilias Ashworth were active in the women's suffrage movement throughout their lives, following the example of their aunts Priscilla and Margaret, who were early supporters of enfranchisement of women (their uncle John Bright was less enthusiastic about the cause). The Ashworth sisters' home in Bath became a centre for the Bristol and West of England Women's Suffrage Society.

In 1877, both daughters married: Anne married Joseph Cross, an Anglican curate who had gone into the family textile business in Lancashire, while Lilias married George Hallett (1840-1918). Anne then returned with her husband to Lancashire, although in later life, she lived in Surrey and then Leicestershire. They had a son, Edward Guy Kynaston Cross (1884-1961), who became a professional soldier. Guy married twice, firstly to Florence Wilkins, which ended in divorce and then to Florence Dupen in 1923. It was this side of the family which maintained the current archive.


Researchers should note that this collection requires further sorting and cataloguing work. The archive has not been arranged into final archival order, and constituent items do not yet have reference numbers.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader unless otherwise stated. As cataloguing of the collection is not complete, current access restrictions may be provisional.

The collection includes material which is subject to the Data Protection Act 2018. Under the Act 2018 (DPA), The University of Manchester Library (UML) holds the right to process personal data for archiving and research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, UML has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately. Users of the archive are expected to comply with the Data Protection Act 2018, and will be required to sign a form acknowledging that they will abide by the requirements of the Act in any further processing of the material by themselves.

Open parts of this collection, and the catalogue descriptions, may contain personal data about living individuals. Some items in this collection may be closed to public inspection in line with the requirements of the DPA. Restrictions/closures of specific items will be indicated in the catalogue.

Acquisition Information

The Library acquired the collection in February 2019.

Other Finding Aids

Diana Scott-Kilvert produced an inventory for the archive in 1977, which included a detailed introduction about the Ashworth Cross family. An updated and expanded version of this inventory was compiled by James Dalgety in 2012. Both catalogues have been used in compiling this description.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The Ashworth Cross papers were maintained by Anne Ashworth Cross, her son, Guy Cross, and following his death in 1961, by his step-daughters, Aline and Joan, and later to James Dalgety, son of Aline.


None expected.

Related Material

The Library also holds the Henry Ashworth Letters - a small group of letters from key figures in the Anti-Corn Law League and cotton trade including John Bright, Richard Cobden, Joseph Parkes and Edmund Ashworth (this collection is uncatalogued). The Library also has custody of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWS), which includes material on suffragist associates of Anne and Lilias Ashworth.

The Wadsworth Manuscripts includes financial records of Ashworth's New Eagley and Egerton mills, 1831-77 (Eng MS 1201).

Henry Ashworth's personal and business papers have been dispersed. Lancashire Archives holds correspondence and papers of Henry Ashworth including records of Ashworth's Mills, Turton, cotton manufacturers (DDAS), together with three scrapbooks relating to the 1854 Preston mill workers strike (DDPr 138/87a). Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Archives also hold correspondence and diaries of Henry Ashworth (D3016). Bolton Archives have a collection of Henry Ashworth's American papers (ZWL 50, 69), while his notebook on tithes is held at the Society of Friends Library, London.

The Women’s Library Archive held at the London School of Economics holds records created by the Bristol and West of England Women’s Suffrage Society (2BWS)


Rhodes Boyson, The Ashworth Cotton Enterprise; the Rise and Fall of a Family Firm 1818-80 (Oxford University Press 1970)