I. England and Ashton's Radicalism
"And was Jerusalem builded here/Among these dark satanic mills?"
William Blake's question in "The New Jersualem" asks how Britain was transformed from a "Jerusalem" of "mountains green" into an industrial wasteland, overlooked by "dark satanic mills." Blake poses his question at roughly the same time that William Ashton was pondering the human and environmental consequences of Britain's rapid industrialization.
While Ashton may never have read Blake - Blake's self-published texts only reached a limited audience - he explored similar ideas in his research at the Manchester Mechanics' Institution. Ashton's notes from this period show that his intellectual interests were far-ranging. He copied extracts from a chemistry textbook, wrote a mathematics guide for his younger brother, and later sketched human anatomy. But the subject he returned to most consistently in his notes was British industrialization. He was interested both in envisioning what England was like before industrialization and in calculating the costs of Britain's "dark satanic mills."