Mill-owner Thomas Ashton Senior (1775/6 - 1845) was the founder of Hyde's textile industry. He was responsible for creating one of the largest and longest-lived textile companies based at Flowery Field, Hyde. When he died in 1845, he left the business to his two sons, Samuel (7 Nov 1804 - ) and Thomas (1818 - 1898), along with the majority of his personal estate and property, which was worth just under £60,000. In 1854 Samuel and Thomas formed Ashton Brothers & Company out of their father's business, maintaining its position of one of the largest independent employers in Hyde until its sale to Courtaulds in 1968. The Ashton family founded several cotton mills in the area, including Apethorne and Woodley Mills, both of which lay beside the Lower Peak Forest Canal. As well as their interest in textiles they established a calico printing works and they also had coal interests.
The brothers were especially noted for running cotton mills that did both spinning and weaving and this proved to be a successful venture when most mills specialised in either spinning or weaving but not both.
Ashton's Private Branch was situated just beyond Woodley Bridge (Bridge 12), by Woodley Wharf and a short distance to the north of Butterhouse Green Tunnel. It is no longer extant but the surviving part of Woodley Mill has been converted into apartments and it is now a Grade II listed building. The branch canal would have been used to receive raw cotton from Manchester and coal from the two Woodley Coal Basins, both of which were owned by Samuel Ashton. It is also likely that finished cloth would have been carried into Manchester from here.