Popular local historian is remembered

Tony Ashcroft
Tony Ashcroft

Tributes have been paid to a popular local historian, author and librarian who has died suddenly.

Tony Ashcroft, who was local and family history officer at Leigh Library for many years and also worked extensively in the town’s archives, recently died at his Pennington home aged 71.

“Thousands of people came to Tony over the years for help with their family and local history and always received an enthusiastic reception; they will all have happy memories of him disappearing from behind his desk to come back laden with files.”

Wigan Council archives manager Alex Miller

Colleagues and family members remembered his passion for Leigh’s history and for the written word which was revealed in several books he wrote about the area’s past.

He was also well known in Leigh for his involvement with the local branch of the University of the Third Age (U3A) and with Christ Church Pennington and his work helping to revive the Leigh Literary Society.

History and books were actually Tony’s second career as he switched disciplines in his 30s following years of working in medical records for the NHS.

Around 150 people attended his funeral at Christ Church Pennington and loved ones and those who worked with him spoke of their sadness and shock at his passing.

His widow Pat said: “It’s been quite traumatic, it was such a shock coming to terms with it. He worked in medical records but then thought he would prefer to concentrate on books and librarianship. He was really happy at the archives.

“He was always very enthusiastic and he put a lot of work into his books, which were quite an achievement.

“We both joined the U3A in Leigh and really enjoyed it. He had a wide range of interests; poetry, creative writing and painting, but his main hobby was gardening.”

Born in the North East, Tony was brought up in Bradford where he met Pat, with the couple marrying in 1969.

His work in medical records took him to Shrewsbury and Leicester before a move to the North West to Whiston Hospital.

It was there he decided to make his hobbies of history and books his career and enrolled as a mature student on a course in Liverpool.

He came to work in Wigan as a library assistant before joining the heritage service in 1989, retiring from the archives exactly two decades later.

After leaving full-time work he continued developing his interests, producing a book about the Leigh engineering firm Harrison McGregor and Guest to go alongside his earlier volumes about the histories of Leigh, Tyldesley and Atherton.

He also regularly wrote articles for Past Forward magazine and researched Leigh’s arts and culture scenes, especially the town’s theatres, music halls and cinemas.

He became closely involved with the Leigh and District U3A, serving as its chair for a time and running the local history group as well as participating in its creative writing and poetry sessions.

Wigan Council archives manager Alex Miller said: “Everyone at the archives and museums will dearly miss Tony for his enthusiasm, sense of humour and friendship. He was a wonderful colleague and respected by everyone who met him.

“There was never a subject he found dull or uninteresting. He was always full of ideas to promote local history.

“Thousands of people came to Tony over the years for help with their family and local history and always received an enthusiastic reception; they will all have happy memories of him disappearing from behind his desk to come back laden with files.

“He was a humorous and fascinating speaker, with countless local history talks up his sleeve, as well as his famous local history walks conducted at a pace as he strode around the town sharing historical facts.

“The last time I spoke to him we were talking about what might be his next book. He was pursuing all sorts of avenues of interest right up to the sad news of his death. All our thoughts and sympathies are with Tony’s family at this time.”

Tony is survived by his brother David, his sister Judith Marden, Pat, their son Stephen and grandson Luca.