John Ashall (c.1821-1852)

This page is part of the Holmfirth Flood Project which aims to make content available to researchers in advance of the 175th anniversary of the 1852 Flood which will be commemorated in 2027.

John Ashall was one of the victims of the Holmfirth Flood of 1852. It was later claimed that his real name was John Spencer.


The 1851 Census lists currier and leather seller John Ashall (aged 29) residing at Hollowgate, Holmfirth, with his wife Margaret (25) and son, Alfred (11 months). According to the Census return, both John and Margaret were born in Kirby Longsdale, Westmorland.

Newspaper reports stated that he worked for Mr. Crawshaw of Huddersfield and the 1851 Census records him as a "carrier & leather seller". This was most likely Simon Crawshaw (1805-1876), a currier and leather merchant of Dewsbury and Huddersfield.

The Ashall's neighbours included grocer and corn dealer John Kaye, whose nephews Richard and Charles Thorpe were residing with him.


All three members of the Ashall family were killed when a devastating flood passed through Holmfirth in the early hours of 5 February 1852. According to an eyewitness, the family "were observed standing at the windows [...] and crying out for help" shortly before their house collapsed and was "carried away by the torrent."

John Ashall's body was found by Charles Roebuck and Margaret's body by John Earnshaw, reportedly "below the old Hollowgate Bridge". Both were taken to the Crown Hotel, where they were identified by James Cockrane.

John and Margaret were buried at St. John's Church, Upperthong, on Sunday 8 February.

Alfred Ashall's body was found on Friday 13th February at Stanley Ferry, near Wakefield, some thirty miles downstream. The body was identified by Police Constable Clegg of Holmfirth.[1] Alfred was buried at Upperthong on Tuesday 17 February.

Towards the end of March 1852, a woman arrived into Holmfirth and claimed to be John Ashall's real wife. Her story, which was apparently confirmed as true, was that his real name was John Spencer and that he had eloped with her cousin in 1845, leaving her behind in Bacup, Lancashire, with two children. The veracity of the story remains uncertain, however it does help explain the lack of other genealogical records for the Ashalls.[2]

Amongst the number of those drowned by the flood was a person calling himself Ashall, who managed a leather-dealer’s establishment, at Holmfirth, for Mr. Crawshaw, of Huddersfield. This man, with his presumed wife, and two children, perished, the house they inhabited being also swept entirely away. Now, however, his true wife has presented herself at Holmfirth, and pleads for relief from the contribution-fund, as well as the transfer of her late husband’s watch, which was picked up after the deluge. The statement of the woman, which is duly confirmed, is that the name of her deceased husband was not Ashall, but Spencer ; that he left her at Bacup, with two children, seven years ago, eloping with the now sacrificed young woman, to whom she was cousin; that she knew not what had become of the guilty pair until the newspaper reports suggested her suspicion ; and that subsequent inquiries had unfolded the whole romantic, though melancholy, truth!

If the story is true, then he was possibly John Spencer who was born on 1 March 1820, the son of Samuel and Mary Spencer of Back of King Street, Bury, Lancashire. In the 1841 Census, his occupation appears to be "turner" or "tanner" — the latter would fit with John Ashall's career working for a currier and leather merchant.

In March 1854, a man named Shaw was engaged in removing stones from spot where the Ashall's house had stood when he "accidentally dug up a purse containing ten shillings in silver".[3]

Notes and References

  1. "Inquest on the Body Found Near Wakefield" in Huddersfield Chronicle (21/Feb/1852).
  2. "Holmfirth: The Flood" in Leeds Intelligencer (27/Mar/1852).
  3. "Holmfirth: The Flood" in Huddersfield & Holmfirth Examiner (01/Apr/1854).