The Ashton Memorial was built by the Oilcloth King; James Williamson. The Oilcloth King got his nickname from the vast empire and fortune he amassed from his oilcloth and linoleum empire.
Williamson was so successful that, at one point, he employed nearly a quarter of Lancaster’s workforce. When he was made sheriff he threw a breakfast party to some 10,000 workers.
In architectural terms the Ashton Memorial is a folly – it is a building constructed purely for decoration. In fact, Baron Ashton began construction of the memorial between 1907 and 1909 in memory of his second wife; Jessie Ashton.
The Memorial is sometimes used as a wedding venue today and local authorities have run ghost story nights for local families.
The Ashton Memorial is part of Williamson Park and is an open neighbour to Lancaster Moors and the horrible Gallow’s Hill. In fact, the view from Ashton Memorial is so good it is said that it is sometimes possible to see the Isle of Man or Blackpool Tower.
Hauntings and History
Until 1800 Gallow’s Hill was where condemned prisoners were taken from Lancaster Castle to be hanged. The judges of Lancaster sentenced so many people to the noose that they became known as the Hanging Judges.
The Ashton Memorial is used as a ghost story venue for reason – some people suggest it is still haunted by the spirits of those hanged here or even perhaps one of the Williamson family.
The moors also saw the death of the Lancaster Martyrs. In the religious conflict of the English Reformation, priests were hanged, drawn and quartered. There are 15 catholic martyrs who met their gruesome end in the moors; including martyrs who later became saints.
Their names are; Blessed James Bell, Blessed John Finch, Blessed Robert Nutter, Blessed Edward Thwing, Blessed Thurstan Hunt, Blessed Robert Middleton, Venerable Lawrence Bailey, Blessed John Thules, Blessed Roger Wrenno, Sir Edmund Arrowsmith, Blessed Richard Hurst, Saint Ambrose Barlow, Blessed Edward Bamber, Blessed John Woodcock and Blessed Thomas Whittaker.
Each of the Lancaster Martyr stories is grim. Blessed Thomas Whittaker, for example, was witness to Edward Bamber’s hanging and then John Woodcock’s botched hanging – where the rope broke the first attempt and he has hung again and butchered alive – was given the chance to recant his faith in order to save himself and he refused. Little wonder that people sometimes sense the presence of a holy man or total hatred on the moors.
In Pure Spirit
Have you walked in Williamson Park or spent any time at the Ashton Memorial? Did you detect any sort of ghostly presence? Do you think so much death and murder in the name of religion could have effected the countryside around the memorial?