Those researching the Stopford family of Audenshaw will inevitably come across the story reported by Edwin Butterworth in the 1840's that High Ash was an estate in the hands of the Sandfords/Sandifords from 1444 but that it was confiscated from this family because of their loyalty to the crown during the English Civil War and given over to the Stopford family.

I can find no evidence for this assertion and indeed there is ample evidence that the Sandiford family continued to occupy High Ash for more than twenty years after the defeat of the king.

Edwin's father, James Butterworth, published his accounts of Ashton-under-Lyne in 1823, and his account of High Ash is reproduced below:

"High Ash, so called from a tall tree of that species which formerly spread its branches over the ancient habitation that stood there. The present erection is a farm-house, in the occupation of Mr. James Hurst, and contains thirty-six acres, under lease to Mrs. Stopford, of Denton. It has been for many generations in the family of the Stopfords, descendants of Ralph Stopford, captain in the Parliamentary army. 
The old mansion of High Ash was erected in the year 1444, and consisted of large and spacious rooms, wainscoated with wood, and appeared to be finished for some distinguished family, for on pulling it down in 1814, and removing several coats of plaister from the walls, there were discovered several excellent paintings by a masterly hand, of figures large as life, and colours in good preservation, amongst which were the arms of Henry the Sixth, richly emblazoned at the head of the apartment, also our Saviour, and several Romish priests and kings, some of which are still preserved, and in the possession of Mr. Daniel Howarth, of Audenshaw House."

James Butterworth (1771-1837) grew up in Ashton-under-Lyne and the recent events he chronicles can be relied upon. He provides no evidence for his report that this branch of the Stopford family had descended from Ralph Stopford and that he had been a captain in the Parliamentary army.

Edwin adds a good deal to his father's account in his 1842 book on the same subject:

"High Ash, near the village of Audenshaw, seems to have been the seat of the Saundersons, whose name was subsequently wrote Sandford, or Sandiford. Robert Sandford was a descendant of the Sandfords, of Thorpe Salvini, in Yorkshire, and ancestor of the Sandfords, of Nuthurst. John Sanderson held a great part of Audenshaw in 1422; and from him the hall descended, in twelve generations, to John Sandford, who, with his two brothers, lost a large part of their estates by their adherence to the royal cause, in the civil wars of the seventeenth century. The estates afterwards passed to Ralph Stopford, Esq., who was a captain in the parliamentary army. His descendant, Thomas Stopford, gent, of High Ash, was involved in a contest with the rebels of 1745, a leader of whom he shot, to prevent an attack on the mansion. Mr. William Stopford possessed the place in 1823. On the site of the present ordinary residence formerly stood a fine old building, said to have been erected in 1444, consisting of large and spacious rooms, wainscotted and panelled in a style becoming the importance of the Sandifords. On the removal of several coats of plaster, in taking down the house, in 1814, a number of paintings of figures, as large as life, were found, in excellent preservation; and at the head of the apartment were the arms of Henry VI., richly emblazoned."

Edwin Butterworth undoubtedly had access to documents that have since been lost and the additional details in his account give an impression of diligent research to embellish his father's work. However, impressive as the industry of Victorian antiquarians very often was, it is not always clear when they were recycling accounts heard or read elsewhere and when they were basing their assertions on original source documents.

The central assertion here that the Sandfords lost their estates in Audenshaw because of their adherence to the Royalist cause deserves some further examination. Were there simply an absence of current evidence then it might be necessary to accept the Butterworth account as the most likely. However I believe there is ample evidence to contradict it directly.

In 1664-5, four years after the restoration, there was a Visitation of Lancashire by Sir William Dugdale [] which documents the pedigree of the Sandford family as reported by Samuel Sandford of Nuthurst at that time. The Visitation describes the family at that time as Sandford of High Ashes and Nuthurst. 

Using the excellent Access to Archives search facility of the National Archives it is a simple matter to find confirmatory evidence. A document of 1663 now held at the John Rylands library [CLD/986] has the contents: Indenture of covenants between John Sandford of High Asshes in Assheton-under-Lyne parish, gentleman, and Thomas Holland, clerk, of the one part, and Samuel Sandford of Manchester, esq., of the other, respecting a recovery of 12 messuages, 3 barns and land with appurtenances in Nuthurst and Moston. Ap. 16, 1663.

This John Sandford was the second son of John Sandford of High Ashes and brother to Samuel Sandford of Nuthurst (near Moston), as shown by another document at John Rylands Library [RYCH/290] dated 1 April 1645: Feoffment from Robert Slater of the Woodhouses within the parish of Aston under Lyne and Nicholas Slater of Littlemosse, his son and heir, to John Sandford, second son of John Sandford of the High-Ashes in Audenshawe.

In 1671 a document now at the Lancashire Record Office [DDX 3/19] concerns property dealing between Sir George Booth, 1st Baron Delamar, and the father of his daughter-in-law Mary Langham who had married his second son Henry Booth (later 1st Earl of Warrington) in 1670. The details of the transaction are not relevant, but a number of properties in Ashton-under-Lyne were excluded from it and among them were "messuages of John Sandford alias Sowndiford called the High Ash".

A search among the Lancashire wills index ( shows that John Sandford held the estate to his death in 1673.

These documents prove that John Sandford, son and father, were in possession of High Ash during the civil war in 1645 and through to 1673, twenty four years after the execution of the king. 

It is perfectly plausible that the estate passed to the Stopford family after 1673 and even to Ralph Stopford who appears to have died around 1689 (based on another wills index entry), but this is hard to reconcile with the Butterworth account of the manner of this transition. 

The estate was held by the Sandfords under Sir George Booth and while he is well documented to have been in the Parliamentary faction, he is also even better known as leader of the only rebellion against the Commonwealth to get off the ground in 1659 (for example: He was lavishly rewarded for his part in the Restoration of Charles II. 

It is not even sure that this branch of Sandfords were Royalists in any case. In 1643 four Sandfords signed their names to the solemn league and convenant - the alliance between the English Parliament and the Scottish Convenanters against the king: John Sandford, both elder and younger, presumably, William [?] and Theophilus. Theophilus fought with Cromwell's army in Ireland and was rewarded with land there ( These facts also seem hard to reconcile with the 19th century account of a Royalist family punished by Parliament.

A much simpler explanation is that he had no male heirs. John Sandford had married Ann Hopwood daughter of Edmund Hopwood of Hopwood according to the Visitation of 1664 and indeed Boyd's marriage index records their marriage in Middleton in 1663. From the LDS index of the baptisms at St Michael's church in Ashton-under-Lyne it seems John and Ann had only two daughters: Ann in 1664 and Mary in 1671. Without access to the will of 1673 it is not possible to see whether the estate passed to his widow. 

I have found no records so far in any of the currently searchable catalogues on-line that link any Stopford directly to High Ash until the will of Sarah Stopford, widow, in 1788. It is therefore not yet possible to say when the estate passed into their hands or to confirm if those hands were really Ralph Stopford the alleged Parliamentary Captain.


I have obtained a copy of James Butterworth's handwritten note concerning High Ash from the Oldham Archives. It is his transcription of a letter he received from a William Stopford of Audenshaw (not Denton) and the passages in the book concerning the house from 1444 and the 1745 rebellion are almost word for word taken from William Stopford's letter. The letter identifies Thomas Stopford as the "spirited and brave owner" in 1745, and the panegyric element has been toned down by the Butterworth's.