Glowing tributes have been paid to Alan Ashton, the leading heritage campaigner fondly known as ‘Mr Lytham’.
The father-of-nine who was a founder member of Lytham Town Trust and Lytham Heritage Group and also played a key role in the preservation of Lytham Hall, died after a short illness, aged 91.
Fylde MP Mark Menzies said: “He was a true gentleman in every sense of the word – an iconic figure in Lytham who put his heart and soul into the town. It is down to his countless selfless actions throughout his life that has made Lytham what it is today.
“His work creating the Town Trust, looking after its heritage including the Assembly Rooms, Windmill and Lytham Hall, will be a wonderful legacy.”
David Gill, chairman of the Lytham Town Trust, said: “Alan was a great friend of the Town and he will be sadly missed.
“He was a founding director, chairman and prime instigator of Lytham Town Trust, formed in 1991 to take over the management of the former Lytham Baths building as a community centre, renamed The Assembly Rooms, which was leased from Fylde Council at a nominal rent.
“The Town Trust had no money initially but the task was made easier by Guardian Insurance renting the office space on the first floor, thanks to the relationship Alan had with the then head of Guardian locally Barry Fothergill.
“In 1996, Guardian put Lytham Hall up for sale and Alan resolved he would do everything he could, through the Town Trust, to acquire it for the community.
“In truth, the board thought we had little chance of success but Alan spoke with Frank Roe, a former head of BAe who in turn spoke with the then chairman Dick Evans.
“The result was that BAe gave an extremely generous donation of £1m to the Town Trust to buy the Hall.
“Since then, Alan’s wish of seeing increased public access to, and use of, the Hall has been fulfilled to an extent that possibly exceeded even his expectations.
“Alan’s declining health meant he was unable to play an active part in the affairs of the Town Trust in recent years but he was pleased to remain its president and was always keen to hear the news of what had been happening.
“He also remained a frequent visitor to the Hall while he continued to be mobile.”
Peter Anthony, general manager of Lytham Hall and a local councillor, said: “Everyone from Lytham Hall would like to pass on their condolences to the family at this sad time.
“Alan was instrumental in saving Lytham Hall and was so very passionate about this special place. His generosity was second to none.
“He was famous throughout the area and will be sadly missed by so many people across the Fylde.
“Rest in peace Alan and many thanks for all your commitment to Lytham Hall, and all your work in preserving the heritage of our town.”
Coun Mark Bamforth said: “Alan was a true leader in everything he set out to do.
“He was known as ‘Mr Lytham’ to so many because he was always so keen to improve the town and succeeded in all his aims.”
Mr Ashton, who has been living in the Stella Matutina convent for the last 13 months, was the son of Teddy Ashton, a historian who wrote a book on the history of Lytham and a nurseryman, and Elsie.
He was the fifth brother of six, was born in Station Road and after being a member of the Air Training Corps as a youngster, joined the Parachute Regiment in 1944, serving with the 6th Airborne Division.
After returning to Lytham and the family gardens and landscaping business, he married Edna and the couple had eight boys and a girl.
Due to Lytham’s expansion, the family business flourished and expanded to include the nurseries at Mythop Road.
Mr and Mrs Ashton’s family responsibilities did not end with their nine children; the couple fostered youngsters from The John Reynolds home and several others, sometimes looking after their parents as well.
In the mid-1980s, Mr Ashton joined with Alan Bushell, Stanley Brown, Tom Battersby the surveyor to the Clifton Estate and others to form the Lytham Heritage Group, with the intent of preserving Lytham’s heritage.
Mr Ashton, also a keen beekeeper and pigeon fancier, was honoured with an MBE in 2000 for services to Lytham, and visited Buckingham Palace, where, he was proud to recall, the Queen told him: “Alan, it’s important you keep on doing what you are doing - because it’s needed.”
Along with nine children, Mr Ashton leaves 22 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. His wife Edna died in 2004.
Eldest son, Jeremy, 65, said: “We were so proud of him and his legacy. He was such a great example to us.”
Mr Ashton’s funeral takes place on Friday, February 15 at St Peter’s RC Church in Lytham, starting at 10am.