V7.7 – Annie, Fred, Mary, Edith, Richard and Will Ashworth

(the following is the text from our coverage of this grave on our Remembrance Sunday 2023 tour, so does not cover all the abovenamed in full detail)

I’d like to share the life of Fred Ashworth with you, another of our brave Tod lads who died for his country, fighting to keep us all free.

Fred was the oldest child of Richard and Mary (Crowther) Ashworth, born 30 January 1893.  Dad was a weaver, so Woodbottom Terrace, Walsden, was a good place to live.  I reckon, however, that weaving was work he fell into, rather than seeking it, as a few years later he is listed as a ‘chip potatoe dealer’, with a shop on Blind Lane, and the family are living on Joshua Street.  I am guessing this means he sold potatoes for making chips—so he’s alright in my book!  Fred must have been his mum and dad’s pride and joy, at least until Annie was born 2 years later and he had to share the limelight.

When Fred was 5 and Annie was 3, in March of 1898, the first tragedy touched Fred’s life.  Fred had just taken his little sister to school for the first time, possibly even National school right here.  They had come home on what was according to witnesses a very wet, wild Friday, and were playing in the back kitchen.  The coroner guessed they were pushing close to the fire to get warm there, and playing whilst mum Mary was dusting in the next room.  No one seems clear on exactly what happened next, only that Mary seemed to think the children had been playing with a pocket handkerchief.  Tugging it back and forth?  Somehow, Annie’s clothes caught fire.  According to Jonathan William Fielden, who raced to the family’s aid, he had been at a neighbouring address and heard a young boy outside screaming.  He entered the house and found Mary in the kitchen with Annie in her arms, still on fire from the middle up to the shoulders.  He asked for a rug, the mother pointed to one, and he rolled Annie up in the rug and finally smothered the flames.  Mary was also badly burnt on her left arm.  One member of the jury asked if there had been a guard around the fire, but he said he had not seen one.  The coroner lamented this, saying that more people ought to use them, and that they would ‘prevent a lot of these cases occurring’.  Annie survived what must have been an extremely painful couple of days before dying on the Sunday, having suffered burns on her face, arms, hands and legs.  She was buried on the 30th of March, here at Christ Church.

A year later, Fred got a new sister, Lillas Mary, in March 1899.  The family are still at Joshua Street, and dad Richard is now referred to as a ‘refreshment house keeper’.  Had he turned his chip potato business into a tea or coffee shop?  Another child followed in 1901, Will, and the family have moved at this point to 76 Burnley Road. However, tragedy struck again not long after—Will died at 6 months old and is buried also here at Christ Church.

In November 1904, the twins were born, Edwin and Edith.  The family have moved to 172 Knowlwood Road, and Richard is back to being a weaver. Fred would have been 11 years old, with 3 siblings, but having already seen two deaths.  Life was more tenuous in this time period, but I don’t think it touched people any less for being a more constant companion than it is for us today.  I think experiences like this shape you as a person, and perhaps Fred learned to fear death, especially a violent or painful death, from a young age.  Did this influence his later decisions?

By 1911, the family have moved to number 53, still on Knowlwood Road, and both Richard and Mary are employed as weavers, and Fred, now 18, is a shuttle maker.  In a brief snippet from the Tod news in March 1917 under the section about Military Tribunals, we learn that Fred, now 24, is still living at the same address and is a shuttle maker employed at Salford Shuttle Works.  His appeal has been refused.  We don’t know the details, but it seems a safe assumption that he has appealed to be spared from the draft.  Conscription was imposed on all single men between 18-41 as of January 1916, as it became increasingly clear that the war could not be prosecuted on the strength of voluntary recruits.  This was extended in May to include married men as well. The only exemptions possible were medically unfit, clergy, teachers, and certain classes of industrial workers such as coal miners, or those working in the iron and steel industries who would have been reducing vital supplies for the war effort. Even conscientious objectors were typically given non-fighting roles, but did not avoid conscription.  Fred did not, as far as we are aware, fall into any of these categories, so we do not know the basis of his appeal.  While conscription was not popular, having already seen so much death, I wonder if he felt obliged to spare his parents another tragedy. We also know he was an active member of the British Socialist party, who were broadly against the war, and certainly opposed conscription. Whatever the reason, it was denied, and he subsequently enlisted on the 13th March, 1917.

Fred became a Private in the York and Lancaster Regiment, and crossed the channel on the 24th June 1917 to join the fighting.  He was injured on 2nd December, what was said to be ‘very bad shell wounds to his left leg’ and he lost a lot of blood.  He was moved to the Casualty Clearing Station in France and despite the excellent care he received, he died two days later.  He was buried in France in the British cemetery.  He left behind his parents, who have now moved to Crossley Street, his two sisters, his brother, and a fiancée. He had not yet turned 25.  The family put a beautiful verse in the newspaper to honour his life:  In loving memory of Pte. Fred Ashworth, York & Lancaster Regiment, who died from wounds on 4th December, aged 24 years. 

This was signed from Father, Mother, Sisters and Brothers, and Ettie—presumably the fiancée.

I wish I could end the story there, but tragedy continued to dog the Ashworth family.  Dad Richard, erstwhile weaver, chip potato dealer and refreshment house keeper, had an operation on his stomach in 1924 and had not worked since.  He had begun to drink quite a lot, and at some point ended up in the canal behind Albion Mill on Halifax Road.  He was pulled out and saved through the use of artificial respiration, and it was left vague as to whether he had gone in on purpose or not.  Then on the 21st March 1931, one of the twins, Edith, died.  I have no details as to why, but she’d only have been 27, so yet another very young death has touched the family.  Of the 6 children, 4 were then deceased.  The other two were married. 

On the 7th April, Mary finally left her husband.  She went to live with Lillas and took out a summons to apply for a separation order.  She cited Richard’s drinking, not being able to work, and his depression over Edith’s death.  On the 16th of April, Richard was again pulled from the canal, this time behind Salford Mill (near Morrisons), and no efforts were able to save him. He was fully clothed, no marks except a minor wound on his face, and no note.  It seems likely to have been suicide, given the circumstances, but the jury returned a verdict of ‘found drowned’, not having enough evidence to make any further conclusions. Mary moved to Blackpool after this and died there in February 1939, being brought home to be buried here along with her husband and so many of her unfortunate children.

I hope that Lillas and Edwin went on to live full lives.  I hope they named at least one child Fred.  And I hope, if they did, that this younger Fred lived a happy and healthy life.

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