Indiana
University Bloomington

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Building Jerusalem in America: William Ashton and a Trans-Atlantic Utopia

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."

Mechanics Institute card

William Ashton's subscriber's card to the Manchester Mechanics' Institution.  The Institution likely provided the materials - such as copies of the radical William Cobbett's speeches to Parliament - which inspired Ashton to form the Manchester Social Community Corporation.

Dystopian England - Cobbett extracts

Ashton's vision of dystopian England.  Ashton transcribed portions of one of Cobbett's speeches to Parliament in this document.  The verso (below) features unidentified extracts on a similar theme: England's past as a pastoral paradise and present as an industrial dystopia.