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Ashworth Cross Family Papers

Date range: 1790s-1950s

Medium: Archive

The Ashworth Cross Family Papers offer a fascinating insight into the social, political and economic history of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Topics 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 Ashworth Cross family, whose wealth was derived from the cotton industry, were socially and politically prominent. 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 (1802-70) 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, (1803-44) was the sister of John Bright (1811-89).

A small group of papers relating to Thomas Ashworth’s third wife, Alicia (1810-91), 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’.

Further information:

Catalogues for parts of the collection are available via special collections reading rooms.

Special Collections blog post on Henry Ashworth

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


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