John Astley was the son of Richard Astley, a surgeon from Wem in Shropshire, and his wife Margaret, John (1724-1787) studied portraiture under Thomas Hudson, who also tutored Joshua Reynolds. He commenced business in 1746 as a portrait painter and copyist, travelling to Rome the following year to copy old masters for Lord Chesterfield. He joined Reynolds there, returning to London in 1752.
Back home, he did not meet with great success, so decamped to Ireland around 1756. Here he made a great deal of money painting family groups. He married about this time, an Irish girl who died in childbirth before his return to England with a young daughter Sophie (1749-1831), who we last met running off to Jamaica with George Hyde Clarke.
He was painting his way back to London, and met Lady Penelope Dukinfield Daniel (1722-1762) at the end of November 1759 in Knutsford. She was a rich, young and attractive widow and he painted her. As her name suggests she was the widow of Sir William Dukinfield Daniel (1725-1758). He was either captivated or sensed a life of luxury, for he married her a week later on the 7 December 1759 and stayed for now in the North.
However, on her death in 1762 he travelled to London, where he settled in St James’ Street and became quite the rake. He made his money fitting out the interiors of villas and houses, moved to Pall Mall in 1769, living in Schomberg House leasing out two thirds of it, and living himself in the central part. During his stay here, his raffish good looks earned him the nickname the Beau.
His stepdaughter died in 1771 which gave him the good fortune of inheriting the Dukinfield Estate and Gorse Hall. He built Dukinfield Lodge in 1775 and filled it with old masters and his own portraits.
According to tradition, the Lodge was built on the site of an old Saxon hall built to repel the Danes. JE Hickey provides a vivid description of the Lodge from his history:
A winding carriage drive led from the heavy wrought-iron gates on the main (Crescent) road to a spacious circular courtyard, in the centre of which played a tall water fountain.
The entrance to the hall was through a stone hexastyle forming a portico with statuary on pedestals and in circular recesses. This door, like all the doors in the building, was remarkably wide, multi-panelled and constructed of solid oak. The traceried windows on either side were filled with stained glass.
Above the doorway rose a square tower, battlemented in keeping with the walls on each side. To the right was the domestic chapel with a small belfry above. The original bell was taken from Wythenshawe Hall by Colonel Robert Duckenfield when he captured that place in 1642 and was removed from Dukinfield Hall when the lodge was built. There it hung for nearly 100 years, but before the Astley family left it was restored to Wythenshawe and a new bell set up in its place.
Form the spacious lofty hall with its grand staircase and carved wooden Doric pillars in front of a servery or cloakroom recess, doors with painted panelling led off to the large reception chamber and to the boudoir where the lady of the manor, throned like Madame Recamier, received her intimate friends.
On the north side, under a vaulted glass canopy, was another entrance, leading to the octagonal room. This was the first part of the lodge to be built and its panels and ceiling were painted by Beau Astley himself. It was adorned with rich Arras tapestry, the windows contained the wonderful Verona golden glass (the art of its manufacture has been lost for 350 years), and on the floor was spread a priceless oriental circular carpet presented to the artist by an eastern potentate.
…..At the west end of the lodge was the great ballroom illumined by massive chandeliers ….Of the 40 or more rooms, the most striking is the huge kitchen, reminiscent of the baron’s kitchens in Drury Lane pantomime, with capacious cupboards; long, wide tables with solid worktops four inches thick; one of the earliest gas stoves manufactured; a baking oven nearly large enough for an hotel; and a high fireplace, the fender of which was over 10 feet long.
…The servants’ quarters were very substantial and they had a special entrance up a stone staircase and over a barrel vault. At the rear were the coach house and stables
….The numerous bedrooms were light and airy, and in many of the rooms are still to be seen beautiful marble fireplaces, carved and chased….Adjoining the house was a large open-air bath, with dressing rooms attached, and a big greenhouse provided exotic plants and fruits at all seasons.
In front of the lodge was a wide terrace on the top of the escarpment overlooking the pellucid River Tame, then an angler’s paradise with its freshwater trout and sportive grayling….Close at hand was the park, thickly wooded with forest trees with the wandering path by the river, now Park Road, meandering from the arched Whitelands Bridge to the manorial corn mill, Ashton Old Hall and the parish church to the left, and in front the extensive woodlands, broken only by a few flax fields stretching beyond to the dark Pennines of the east.
The cost of this refurbishment was a drain on his finances. On top of this he built an iron foundry and housing for his workers, but his luck smiled upon him once more, when his brother died in an accident, leaving him a legacy of £10,000. He sold Schomberg and in 1777, aged 53, married the 17 year old Mary Wagstaffe (1761-1832), the daughter of William a Manchester surgeon.
He had three sons and three daughters with Mary: Harriet (1779-1858), Mary (b 1780) and Cordelia Emma (1783-1857) the girls were known as the Manchester Beauties. Mary married George Younghusband, an officer in the Kings Own Dragoons in 1806. Cordelia married George Hornsby in 1807, who was Chaplain to the Marquess of Huntley (whose grandson married Amy Cunliffe Brooks of Barlow Hall). Of the sons, Charles Astley died in 1785 soon after his birth and John William lived from 1785-1823. The eldest son, Francis Dukinfield Astley (1781-1825) inherited the estate.
John died on 14 November 1787, his fortunes depleted, having spent £30,000 on the high life, and a further £25,000 on his houses. Anthony Pasquin wrote of him:
He thought that every advantage in civil society was compounded in women and wine: and, acting up to this principal of bliss, he gave his body to Euphrosyne, and his intellects to madness. He was as ostentatious as the peacock and as amorous as the Persian Sophihe. He would never stir abroad without his bag and his sword; and, when the beauties of Ierne sat to him for their portraits, he would affect to neglect the necessary implements of his art, and use his naked sword as a moll-stick. He had a haram and a bath at the top of his house, replete with every enticement and blandishment to awaken desire; and thus lived, jocund and thoughtless, until his nerves were unstrung by age; when his spirits decayed with his animal powers, and he sighed and drooped into eternity
He was buried at the old Chapel in Dukinfield on 21 November 1787. I rather like him.
Mary married again to the Reverend William Robert Hay (1761-1839) at St Mary in Stockport on 28 January 1793. Hay was not a popular man, he had earned the lucrative incumbency at Rochdale, worth £2,000 pa via his determined prosecution of Chartists in Manchester. I don’t think I like him.
John’s son, Francis Dukinfield was perhaps more indolent than his father. He described himself as a poet and man of culture. On his 25th birthday bells were rung over Ashton in his honour and his own rifle corps assembled for the occasion. He celebrated the day in utmost harmony, feasting with several local persons of respectability. Six years later he married Susan Fyshe Palmer¹, and the following year was made a Justice of the Peace for Cheshire, becoming Sheriff a few years later. That day he made the Lodge the headquarters of the sporting men of Lancashire, Cheshire and Derbyshire.
By 1817 he had hit financial problems and was bankrupted, causing many of his paintings, musical instruments and books to be put up for auction in July that year. On sale were 1200 bottles of wine, works of art by Da Vinci, Raphael, Corregio, Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, any many other Old Masters. Included in the sale was Titian’s masterpiece, Woman Taken In Adultery, which is now in the Possession of the Kelvingrove Gallery in Glasgow.
Books for sale included many printed in the 15th century, some of them uniformly bound and presented in a mahogany bookcase. Entrance to the auction was by catalogue only, Books, Prints, Paintings and Stuffed Birds costing two shillings and Furniture and Wines being a snip at half that price.
The sale raised some £5,000 (£430,000 in 2020). The Titian did not reach the reserve price of 3,000 guineas and so remained in Dukinfield Lodge. This sale brought some relief as the Bankruptcy was superseded in 1819.
The Astleys returned to their profligate existence, On 28 December 1822 Mrs Astley held a subterranean dinner at the bottom of the Black Mine in Newton, at a depth of 450 feet, to show off the Bateman and Sherratt winding gear installed there to haul up coal from 50 feet further down.
Several ladies were invited to attend, but it was only a hardy Miss Taylor of Moston who was sufficiently adventurous to accompany her hostess to the depths, leaving a party of 10 gentlemen and two ladies to dine. They finished their meal, with a chorus of Auld Lang Syne, appropriate for the time of year.
Francis died on 23 July 1825 but was not finally lain to rest until 13 August as a magistrates hearing was held into the circumstances of his death. At his funeral, several papers were thrown into the chapel yard by a person unknown stating Mr Astley died by poison and no investigation has ever taken place… and if his friends an the inhabitants of Dukinfield let it pass without his body being opened, his death lies at their door. Another said Mr Astley has been murdered by his friend with poison…. Oh Gisbourne!² what hast thou done. Yet another stated Let Mr Astley’s remains be examined by doctors not Gisbournes and he will be pronounced murdered… Oh Gisbourne! not a tear hast thou shed. Another note called for Gisbourne to be assassinated.
The accusatory papers were all written in the same hand. Before magistrates Gisbourne said he first ignored them, but when the accusations were reported in the Manchester Guardian and decided he had to ask for an inquest. The coroner declined to investigate, as the death occurred out of county and the body had been moved since death, rendering an independent examination impossible. He also pointed out that by now the body would be so decomposed as to make an inquest pointless. However, the letter requesting an inquest had been conveniently misplaced.
Gisbourne called witnesses who dined with him and Astley on the night of his death. Unfortunately (or fortunately) they had all indulged a little too liberally in the drinks on offer and were too intoxicated to give an accurate report of the deceased’s condition when they took leave of him.
Subsequent examination revealed that the party of four had consumed a bottle of champagne, one of madeira, a bottle of wine and four bottles of port. The witness a Mr Wilde did say that during the previous day, which had been hot, Astley had eaten well, but did complain of being tired and omitted not perform his usual trick of climbing over the walled entrance to the Lodge, but instead walk around it, this was quite out of character for him.
The next day Astley was found dead in bed, having not moved in the night, with blood dripping from his nose. A doctor was called and declared that he had died of apoplexy. There was some discussion if an inquest would be necessary, but the body was rotting quickly and starting to smell. A second doctor declared that he had died of intemperance and a tight collar around his neck, which he had not removed on retiring. He concluded that a fit of coughing in the night had caused a vessel to burst. He added that he had advised Astley six weeks earlier to reign in his drinking otherwise face certain death. On a couple of occasions since then Francis had complained of giddiness and headaches.
Thomas Ashton of Hyde gave evidence that Francis had visited him in recent weeks and been drunk, and fallen asleep as soon as he sat down. When Francis’ breathing worried him, he woke him up and Astley was totally confused as to his whereabouts.
Given the evidence of a total of nine surgeons and doctors the magistrates ruled that Francis Dukinfield Astley had died by the visitation of God, and not by any violence or improper means.
After his death, his widow Susan married Thomas Gisbourne the following October….
Susan and Francis had three children, William (dates unknown) John Dukinfield Astley (March-July 1813) and Francis Duckinfield Palmer Astley (1825-1868). A further auction of property was held in 1828 and Titian’s Woman Taken In Adultery was knocked down to 740 guineas by Christopher Bullin of Liverpool. The Liverpool Courier quite smugly reported the previous reserve of 3,000 guineas.
The grounds were somewhat less desirable, as an agreement had been reached with the neighbouring Hall Green Academy for Young Gentlemen around 1827 for their charges to use the grounds for exercise and recreation. In time as can be seen on the map a Cemetery was also built on part of the grounds.
There was still money in the Astley camp as Francis Dukinfield Palmer Astley was able to afford a second home at Fell Foot in Windermere. He married Emma Gertrude Jones (1825-1862), the daughter of Lieutenant General Sir Harry David Jones GCB (1792-1866) of the Royal Engineers and governor of the Military College in Sandhurst. Sir Harry saw service in the Napoleonic campaigns and the Crimea.
Francis Astley appears to have lived a little more soberly than his father. He and Emma had three daughters , Gertrude (b 1848) Constance Charlotte (b 1850) and Beatrice Emma (b 1859) and one son, Francis Dukinfield Astley (1853-1880). Francis managed to leave a modest fortune of £16,000 (£1.8m in 2020) on his demise.
Around 1839 the property was in the hands of Charles Hindley (1796-1857) and his wife Ann Fort (1804-1854). Charles owned a cotton mill and was the first member of the Moravian Church to sit as a Member of Parliament. He was born in the Moravian Settlement at Fairfield to Ignatius and Mary Ambler. He married Hannah Buckley³ (d 1837) the widow of his brother John whose cotton mill he managed. Charles and Hannah had six children, only one survived infancy, and Susan Hindley died in 1847 aged just 12.
He married Ann Fort in 1839 and the couple moved to Dukinfield Lodge. He fought the election as MP for Ashton Under Lyne from its inception as a single seat borough in 1832, losing by ten votes, but was elected in 1835 and retained the seat until his death. He stood on a radical ticket, supporting reform, disestablishment and Free Trade and in 1837 was one of a small number of MPs promoting universal suffrage.
Whilst espousing radical views, he took a hands off approach to the management of his mills, and received fines under the factory acts. He was also brought to court for children working 13 hour days, to which he claimed that he thought that only adult males were employed at that particular establishment. He served as director of several assurance societies and banks as well as the Manchester Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway as well as being a founder shareholder of the South Australian Company (Hindley Street in Adelaide is named for him).
Charles died in Westminster on 30 November 1868 of obstensibly of heart disease. His doctor, Augustus Granville alleged that he had been suffeing from delirium, hallucination and inflammation of the brain, but had been recovering as a result of his treatment. It transpired that this treatment involved taking an ounce of brandy every hour whilst symptoms persisted. At the time of his death he had therefore consumed six pints of brandy in 72 hours. He had for a long time suffered from poor health, the cure finished him off for good.
The next resident only stayed at the Lodge briefly. Edward Wyatt (1811-1852) and his wife Mary (b 1810) were living on King Street in Dukinfield in 1851, with Edward practising as a solicitor. They had moved from Lichfield a few years earlier. The next year the couple are living at Dukinfield Lodge, but only briefly as Edward died on 24 April 1852 there. Following the Wyatts, William Bass (b 1802) is living at the Lodge between 1856 and 1863. William was also a Barrister and the 1861 census suggests that both he and Edward were agents for Francis Astley.
After William Bass it was George Newton, MRCS JP who resided at the Lodge between 1871 and 1898. He was a popular GP practising in Dukinfield, and married Mary Ann Lees, the daughter of Oldham Cotton Spinner Laurence Lees on 22 December 1881 at Birkdale in Lancashire.
The house was then purchased by three brothers, Edward (b 1868), Joseph (1871-1925) and Alfred (b 1873) Edward and Alfred were building contractors and Joseph an Architect. Alfred and Joseph took up residence at the Lodge, whilst Edward preferred to live at Barton Villa nearby.
The property was sold to Dukinfield council in 1926 but by that time it had been ravaged by vandals and lead thieves and the council demolished it.
Let’s see what it looked like:
¹ Her sister, Anna, married the Reverend Thomas Hornsby, vicar of Ravensthorpe and brother of George who married Cordelia Emma Astley.
² Astley’s brother in law.
³ Who may have been part of the Buckleys who intermarried with the Watts Nathaniel her father was a millowner from Saddleworth. However you trip over Buckleys everywhere in Saddleworth. Most seem to be called Nathaniel.
Dukinfield Past & Present, John Edward Hickey: MTD Rigg Publications 1992
© Allan Russell 2020