Ralph Assheton was the first in a long line of Assheton family members to hold the title of Lord of the Manor of Middleton. This inheritance was through marriage in 1438 to Margery, last heir of the de Barton clan before them. Ralph was the son of John Assheton of Ashton under Lyne and the marriage to Margery began the 327 year tenure over the estate of Middleton.
Sir Ralph was knighted in 1483 for his bravery on the battlefields and held various public offices. He was appointed Vice Constable of England by Richard III who it is said was a personal friend. More locally Sir Ralph had somewhat of an evil reputation. Legend has it that he terrorised the people of nearby Ashton where he still had interests and was known there as The Black Knight. A pagan custom of the time was to see in the Spring by destroying anything representing Winter. It is said that Sir Ralph Assheton would ride to Ashton each Easter Monday and kill anyone allowing corn marigolds to grow in their fields. He would apparently do this by rolling them down a hill in a barrel spiked with nails! What a way to go.
Of course these legends and stories get blown out of all proportion and it's highly likely that this tale is greatly exaggerated. However there is no smoke without fire and Sir Ralph obviously treated people so unpleasantly to the extent that an annual event was staged in Ashton for hundreds of years involving a ritual of the burning of a straw effigy paraded through town to commemorate him. This was known as 'The Riding of the Black Lad.' This event still occurred as late as the 1950's when it fizzled out but has enjoyed a more recent revival in the form of a more modern day carnival in the area.
An old prayer also relates to 'The Black Knight';
"Sweet Jesu for thy mercies sake and for thy bitter passion,
Save us from the axe of the Tower and from Sir Ralph de Assheton."
Sir Ralph died around the late 1480's when the manor passed to his son Richard. Although such a prominent character, there is little information surrounding the death of Sir Ralph Assheton.