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Charles Ashton in
Pillars of Society (1920).
Photograph: Silent Era image collection.

Charles Ashton

Born 1884 in Leyton, Essex, England, United Kingdom.

Charles Ashton appeared in more than 20 British silent films between 1920-1929, including the first film version of The Monkey’s Paw (1923), Ibsen’s Pillars of Society (1920), and Kitty (1929) which was based on Warwick Deeping’s novel of the same name and was one of first British films to be released in both silent and sound versions.

According to the 1901 British census, Charles Ashton worked as a clerk for a marble mason. In 1904, when he was 20 years old, he worked with a meat trader, A.P. & D. Ltd. (possibly in London’s Smithfield market area). It was here that he was presented with a wooden writing box by his friends and staff. By the time of the 1911 census, Ashton was working as a photographer. During World War I, Charles trained in the Artists’ Rifles and then joined the Royal Field Artillery as a gunner. He had good mathematical skills which were used to position the gun for firing. However, at the battle of Ypres he was shell-shocked and later invalided out of the army in 1917.

By 1920 Charles Ashton began working in motion pictures, debuting in Pillars of Society (1920) which was filmed on location in Grimstad, Norway. Film stills from the production can be viewed at the National Library of Norway’s website.

Charles worked with four well-known UK silent film directors in the 1920s, Manning Haynes, Maurice Elvey, Walter West and Victor Saville. He also worked with film actors who were either established stage actors or at the start of their film careers like John Stuart, Estelle Brody, Fay Compton, Irene Rooke, Moore Marriott, Norman McKinnel. Milton Rosmer, H. Manning Haynes and Walter West went on to be become directors.

Of the twenty-two films featuring Charles Ashton, several have survived and most of those are held in the National Film Archive of the British Film Institute. Six of his films are viewable today: Head of the Family (1922), Sam’s Boy (1922), A Will and a Way (1922), The Monkey’s Paw (1923), We Women (1925), and Kitty (1929). His last film, The American Prisoner (1929), has survived in an original nitrate print and is currently not available for public viewing. As recently as 2007, the National Screen and Sound Archive of the National Library of Wales was presented with a 16-minute, 9.5mm version of The Last King of Wales (1922) by a private collector. Clips were shown at the Welsh Classics Film Festival 2007, and it was planned that this film be officially preserved in a larger filmstock format.

Charles’ film career ended late in 1929 with the arrival of the talkies, although several of the actors he worked with had trained voices from stage work and did successfully made the transition, such as Milton Rosmer, Estelle Brody, Fay Compton and Walter West. After retiring from film work, Ashton turned to writing crime novels throughout the 1930s and 1940s.

Biography by Anne Ramsden

References: Website-IMDb.

Silent Era Home Page  >  People  >  Actors  >  Charles Ashton
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