Preston’s 200 Year-Old Gem
by Simon Green
Ashton House, on Ashton Park, celebrated its 200th birthday in 2010.
During those 200 years the house has had a very mixed history, from being a mansion for some of the richest families in Preston to serving as an old people’s home and a nursery.
The house, once known as Ashton Lodge, dates back to 1810 when it was built of Longridge stone by Thomas Starkie Shuttleworth. Mr Shuttleworth didn't have much time to enjoy the house, however, dying only 9 years later at the age of 46 in 1819.
This gave one of Preston’s most famous families, the Pedders, the opportunity to buy the house and the surrounding lands. James Pedder, the son of the founder of Preston's first bank, bought the house in 1820. The family would eventually give its name to nearby Pedders Lane and Pedders Way.
James Pedder lived at the house for 26 years until his death in 1846. During his time at the house, he contributed to the cost of building St Andrew's church, inviting residents to his house as part of the opening celebrations in 1835:
"Mr James Pedder gave an invitation to the gentlemen present to call at his seat, Ashton Lodge [...]. At Ashton Lodge the band continued to play lively and popular airs, and all present were regaled with a glass of excellent porter."(1)
James' son, Edward Pedder, inherited Ashton House in 1846. He extended the house around 1850, adding a grand hall and two pavillioned wings. A new porch was built and the house's grounds were remodelled, creating the ha ha which can still be seen today.
During this period another grand house was built in Ashton House’s grounds for one of Edward’s younger brothers. The mansion, Whinfield House, was a much more Victorian construction which overlooked the River Ribble. It was, unfortunately, demolished in the mid-20th century(2). One of Ashton's gems that have been lost in time.
Edward Pedder died suddenly in 1861 at the age of 51. The death came at the worst possible time, just as a cotton famine was devastating the cotton industry throughout the North West. Shockwaves were sent round Preston when the books of the bank Edward Pedder partnered were scrutinised. It soon emerged that the bank, although not unsuccessful, was severely overdrawn to Edward Pedder and the brother who lived in Whinfield House. With no other solution immediately available, Ashton House, along with many other Pedder possessions, were sold off to pay the bank’s debts.
After the Pedders
The house has had many owners over the years, including another of Preston’s most famous names, Edmund Robert Harris, who owned the house between 1861 and 1877. Harris most famously gave his name to the Harris Museum in the centre of Preston.
After the Harris family sold the estate, Ashton House and its grounds changed hands many times. Another mill-owning family, the Calverts, owned Ashton House for a while but the mansion was eventually sold to English Electric at the end of World War One.
Council Takes Charge
The house was sold to Preston Town Council in 1937 but that by no means safeguarded its future. Preston kept hold of the park but sold the mansion on to Lancashire County Council, who ran the house as a care home for the elderly for many years. The house was sold again in the 1990s, when it took on its present role as a nursery.
Notes:A previous version of this article stated that the house was built by the Pedders, which was, according to further information, incorrect.(1) A History of the Parish of St Andrew's, Douglas B Cochrane(2) Looking for the specific date
Bibliography:People of Old Preston, Keith JohnsonA Brief History of Pedder’s Co. Preston Old Bank 1776-1861, FS Moxon AIBArticle by WG Lonsdale on Ashton House, from the Harris Library, published by University of Central LancashirePreston Council's websiteA History of the Parish of St Andrew's, Douglas B Cochrane
Ashton has a HA HA
Anyone walking around Ashton Park, especially the area around Ashton House, will undoubtedly have seen the ha ha.
A ha ha is a type of sunken boundary created to give an uninterrupted view from a certain viewpoint. It’s a simple optical illusion. Many stately homes have ha has, dividing the formal gardens from the rest of the grounds, making it more difficult for animals to stray into the formal gardens. From the stately home’s windows there will be an uninterrupted carpet of green. Only when, from the stately home, you come upon the sunken boundary, do you suddenly realise that a boundary exists at all. Presumably this surprise is where the term ha ha comes from.
Ashton Park’s old ha ha - the wall shown in the photo - wouldn’t be much use any more due to the high bushes surrounding Ashton House. It does hint, however, at the house’s former stately pretensions