The town was divided into two camps, the centre of
controversy being the purchase of the Gardens. The late Coun. Hodgkinson, J.P., Coun. C. F.
Critchley, J.P., Coun. J. H. Taylor and Mr. Edwin Cooper, worked hard to persuade the ratepayers
not to let the second opportunity pass. Several ratepayers' meetings were held, and the proposal
was also keenly debated in the columns of the "Express." At the statutory meeting of ratepayers, on
January 9th, 1914, the resolution in favour of the Bill was declared carried, and a poll was
demanded. Feeling ran high and the poll was fixed for Wednesday, January 28th.
Lord Ashton’s Gift.
On the eve of the poll the whole controversy was
swept away with dramatic suddenness by the magnificent generosity of Lord Ashton.
On January 17th, two copies of the "Express"—dated
January 9th and 16th—containing an account of the scheme for purchasing and laying-out the Gardens,
were posted to Lord Ashton from the "Express" Office, and on January 26th Coun. J. H. Taylor
(Chairman of the Council) received a telephone message from Lord Ashton, asking him to visit
"Rylands." Coun. Taylor did so the following morning, and after an exhaustive inquiry into the
details of the Council's proposals, Lord Ashton handed to Coon. Taylor the following letter
26th January, 1914.
My dear Sir,—Some one has been good enough to send me, anonymously, two copies of "St. Annes
Express,"dated the 9th and 16th inst., containing an account of a scheme for the purchasing and
laying-out of St. George's Gardens.
There appears to be a difference of opinion amongst the ratepayers as to the desirability of
carrying out the scheme, many of them fearing the effect upon the rates, and a poll of the
ratepayers is to take place
Feeling as I do an interest in the welfare of St.Annes, it would give me much pleasure to
contribute to its prosperity and to the enjoyment of its residents and visitors. I shall therefore
be glad to bear the cost of purchasing St. George's Gardens, the price of which is, I see, £21,350,
if the Urban District Council and the ratepayers will allow me.
Yours very faithfully,
In his conversation with Coun. Taylor Lord Ashton said he was so charmed with the quiet
attractiveness and beauty of St. Annes that his great desire was to contribute to the improvement
and cultivation of the beauty of St. Annes. His Lordship trusted that the offer which he made would
restore perfect harmony among the ratepayers.
By his timely and princely gift Lord Ashton united the whole township. The announcement was made at
a special meeting of the Council, on Tuesday, January 27th, and was received with acclamation
everywhere. The following day flags were flown on public buildings, and a peal rung on the church
The announcement came too late to prevent a poll, but
the leaders of the opposition—Coun. J. Hayes and Messrs. S. L. Stott, J.P., and J. Prestwich
invited all ratepayers to show their appreciation of Lord Ashton's "free and untrammelled gift” by
voting for the scheme. Only 25 persons failed to do so, and probably they voted against it under
The public spirit of Lord Ashton infused a similar
spirit throughout the town, and the directors of the Land and Building Company and the Clifton
Estate met the Council in a very generous way.
In March of the same year the Council decided to acquire an additional two and a half acres of land
and four houses, and the proposal came to the ears of Lord Ashton, who commended the decision of
the Council as a wise one, and gave St. Annes an "Easter egg" in the shape of a cheque for £4,526
5s. to buy the land and cottages. The total area of the Ashton Gardens is now 14½ acres.
As a result of Lord Ashton's generous gifts the St. Annes Improvement Bill went before the Select
Committee of the House of Commons as an unopposed Bill, thus effecting a considerable saving. The
Bill was heard for the first time in April, the third reading followed on May 7th, and in August
the Royal Assent was given.
St.Anne's Express, 1916