31 May 1902

A structure in Ashton which may almost be called historic is at present in course of demolition, a structure with which is associated not a few stirring anecdotes. We allude to the dismantled lodge at one end of which is known as Jowett’s Walk, Manchester-road, and which has been for a long time an object of curiosity to many unacquainted with its history. The lodge has been purchased by Messrs Taylor Bros, contractors, who are razing it to the ground and levelling up the land round about.

When the lodge was erected by the late Mr Hugh MASON, it created quite a furore on account of the opposition of the late Mr Isaac Watt BOULTON, JP, of Ashton, which led to litigation.

In order to understand the case one requires to start with the correspondence on the disputed question, which was published in 1877 at the closure of the trial. It appears that on the 16th June, 1875, Mr Henry HALL, of the Stamford Estate Office, wrote to Mr Hugh MASON regretting that his repeated endeavours to secure united action on the part of the owners of the mansions in Jowett’s Walk (Mr Hugh MASON, Miss MELLOR, Mr John NIELD, and Mr I W BOULTON) for the erection of two lodges to prevent trespass and damage to trees, &c, had not been successful.

He agreed with Mr MASON that something should be done to prevent the nuisance and injury that were constantly occurring from allowing the public to traverse the road leading past the houses and to roam over the open ground adjoining, thus frustrating the object of Lord Stamford in agreeing to keep such ground unbuilt upon for the benefit of the several residents. When the building ground was laid out by his Lordship he erected large gates at the east and west entrances, but they were gradually broken down by trespassers, and stolen as there were no lodgekeepers to keep an oversight of them.

Mr HALL further averred that it was entirely within the intention of Lord Stamford that lodges such as that suggested by Mr MASON should be put up, and that he saw no objection in Mr MASON erecting a lodge at the west entrance gate, providing the several residents had full and free passage at all hours of the day and night. Copies of Mr Henry HALL’s letter were sent to Alderman BOULTON, Mrs NIELD, and Miss MELLOR, the other tenants of Jowett’s Walk.

On the following day (17th June, 1875) Mr I W BOULTON replied to Mr HALL’s letter. He said, “No one is more annoyed at the trespass and damage done to property than myself and whilst fully appreciating the necessity of lodges, I must strongly protest against Mr MASON being allowed to erect a lodge and keep at it his sole expense. I am quite willing to contribute towards the cost of erection of lodges, and payment of men in attendance, but I do not see that I ought to have to pass through a lodge that would be called Mr MASON’s, and consult Mr MASON’s lodgekeeper to get to my own residence. I shall be glad to confer with Mr MASON as to the design of the lodges and amount to be spent on their erection, &c.

Negotiations thus went on until October 1st, 1875, when Mr Robert EVANS, acting as solicitor for Mr NIELD, Mr BOULTON, and Miss MELLOR, prepared a draft deed of covenants between the parties as to the projected lodges. During the interim, however, Mr MASON began to erect the westerly lodge, and, as the works were proceeded with rapidly, Mr EVANS urged upon him the completion of the deed above alluded to in the interests of his clients.

The reason of the delay was given to Henry HALL in a letter from Mr MASON, dated October 16th. “You may wonder why,” he said, “I have not seen you regarding the document sent by Mr EVANS, solicitor. I cannot find my deeds of the property. I thought possibly you might have retained them since the last purchase, and I at once wrote to you. You replied you had not got them. I then wrote to Mr George HADFIELD, my solicitor, and he replied from Buxton that he was extremely poorly, and under medical treatment, and could not return to Manchester for several days, and until he examined his safe he could not say positively if he had the deeds.

A further communication to the same subject came two days later, when Mr MASON said:– “Referring to my letter of 16th, explanatory of the unavoidable delay in setting the conditions and terms for preventing trespass and damage on the property of myself and neighbours, allow me to remind you that I have tried earnestly for fourteen years or more, as you well know, to bring about a friendly and equitable arrangement, and that I now am desirous as ever I have been to effect my original purpose. The “unavoidable delay.” He thought, ought not to postpone the erection of the lodge, and so the building of the lodge went on. Matters then hung fire for another month.

Mr BOULTON and his neighbours waited for the “friendly settlement” to come off. It didn’t in the time allowed, and just to remind Mr MASON that they could be nasty too, if they liked, they pulled up the hurdles and knocked down the walls. Mr MASON was naturally indignant, and loud in his complaints. Mr Henry HALL also endeavoured to throw oil on the troubled waters, and he recommended that the whole matter should be referred to the discussion of two impartial gentlemen. Both parties agreed to this and negotiations went forward, more or less amicably for another month.

But on December 29th, 1875, Mr EVANS signified to Mr HALL that as Mr MASON appeared in no hurry to complete the agreement, there was only one course open. Unless the deed was completed and signed by Mr MASON by the following day, his clients would take steps to abate the trespass committed by Mr MASON in a summary manner. As Mr MASON did not sign the deed on the following day, Mr BOULTON carried out the threat implied in Mr EVANS’s letter. On December 31st, 1878 he unroofed the lodge, and in other ways retarded the work of completion. That put an end to negotiations, although more letters were exchanged on the subject.

When negotiations had gone on long enough, and no friendly undertaking could be arrived at, Mr BOULTON took the law into his own hands, and began pulling the lodge down as often as it was built. He went about the work upon the short and sweet principle, and did as much damage as possible in the shortest as it was built. He organised sufficient men, and each time it was only a question of about half an hour’s work.

Before the men were two minutes on the ground a great crowd began to gather round, and many sharp retort was made and received. There were generally about a dozen men engaged at the work, and they set about it early in the morning, before many people were up and about. They used a battering ram, or got a chain with hooks at both ends. One end they fastened to the chimney, and the other to a lurry with three or four horses in it. One crack of the whip and the work was done. The crowd cheered or hooted, as the case might be, and having accomplished their purpose the men went home.

After Mr BOULTON and Mr MASON had grown tired of attacking and repairing the lodge matters went a step further. One Monday morning Mr BOULTON and two of his men, Edward KNOWLES, of 105 Moss-street, and David HILL, of Back Portland-street, appeared at the Borough Police Court, to answer to a charge of wilful damage to the lodge on Jowett’s Walk. There was a crowded court, and the late Mr N BUCKLEY presided over a good muster of magistrates.

The hearing lasted for some time, and counsel lengthily went into the legal aspects of the case, pro and con. Eventually the Bench agreed to send the defendants to the Assizes for riotously and tumultuously assembling and doing damage to private property, and interfering with public peace. At the Manchester Summer Assizes of 1877, the case came before the Grand Jury. After careful consideration, the Grand Jury threw out the bill, and the defendants were dismissed. This was practically the end of it.

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