Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Part 1/Ashton Church and Ace of Spades
ASHTON-UNDER-LYNE CHURCH AND THE ACE OF SPADES.
Sir John Assheton, in the 5th Henry VI. (1426-27) became possessed of the manor of Ashton-under-Lyne, on payment of the nominal rent of one penny yearly. He is generally supposed to have founded the church about the year 1420. We find him assigning the forms or benches to his tenants: the names for whose use they are appropriated are all female. From this, and from Sir John Towneley's fixing that the greater part of the seats in Whalley Church should be occupied "first come first served," and his adding, that this would make "the proud wives of Whalley come early to church"—it would seem that seats in our churches were first put up for women. Eighteen forms or benches are mentioned for the occupation in Ashton Church of a hundred wives and widows, who are named, besides their daughters and servant wenches. Their husbands had not this privilege, being forced to stand or kneel in the aisles as the service required. In the windows there yet remains a considerable quantity of stained glass, but very much mutilated. Three or four figures on the north side represent a king, saints, &c. In the chancel are the coats and effigies of the Asshetons in armour, kneeling. In one part seems to have been portrayed the Invention of the Holy Cross by St Helen. At whatever period the church was built, the steeple must either have been erected afterwards, or have undergone considerable repairs in the time of the last Sir Thomas Assheton; for upon the south side are the arms of Assheton impaling Stayley. There is a tradition that while the workmen were one day amusing themselves at cards, a female unexpectedly presented herself. She asked them to turn up an ace, promising, in case of compliance, that she would build several yards of the steeple; upon which they fortunately turned up the ace of spades. This tale, says Mr Roby, in his "Traditions," may owe its origin to the following circumstances:—Upon the marriage of Sir Thomas Assheton with the daughter of Ralph Stayley, a considerable accumulation of property was the consequence. This might induce him to repair the church and perform sundry other acts of charity and beneficence. Whilst the work was going on. Lady Elizabeth Assheton, it is not improbable, surprised the workmen at their pastime, and might desire that her arms should be fixed in the steeple, impaled with those of her husband. The shape of an escutcheon having a considerable resemblance to a spade-ace, in all likelihood, gave origin to the fable.