Born on 5th March 1729, Ashton was born into landed gentry who resided at Alkrington Hall, a family of considerable wealth and local power. His father Darcy Lever had served as high sheriff of Lancashire and died in 1742 when Ashton was 13 years old. With no father-figure in his youth he wasted much of his teens and 20's with no aspirations or aims in life and didn't do an awful lot at all. He almost beat Harbord Harbord to his title of Lord of the Manor of Middleton as he courted heiress Mary, daughter of Lord Ralph but Ralph dis-approved of Ashtons carefree lifestyle and lack of ambition, wanting better for his daughter and so refused to allow them to marry. At 35, he married 18 year old Francis Bayley of Withington in 1764.
Ashton began to collect live birds and also stuffed specimens that included monkeys, foxes, flamingos, fish and corals. He also collected weapons and with his collection housed in his home, Alkrington Hall, he established a museum there in 1772. The collection of artifacts grew so large that there was said to be 3000 glass cases on display also housing insects, plants and medals. There was lots of interest in his museum but he didn't much care for the intrusion into his home by the simple townsfolk whom he eventually barred from admission, his collection only being accessible to the privileged few of his own class and even the Royal family in 1778.
A freemason, Ashton went on to serve several public positions becoming Justice for the Peace and like his father, was High Sheriff of the county. He prospected for coal on his Alkrington estate finding numerous seams and established a coal pit in 1772 which operated until 1841 many years after his death. In 1778 Ashton was knighted by King George III and he became president of the Toxopholite Society. He died of a chill at 58 in 1788. The Lever connection to Alkrington ended in 1845 when the Hall and whole estate was sold to the Lees Brothers of Oldham for the grand sum of £ 57,550. Ashtons collection was auctioned off, several museums both here and abroad acquiring a share.Written by the editor, July 2008