Ashley was born on 25 February 1860, in Bermondsey, South London, and died in Canterbury on 23 July 1927. He was the eldest of the six children (out of eight born) of a Baptist journeyman silk hat finisher. Educated principally at St. Olave's Grammar School, Southwark, he won the Brackenbury scholarship in 1878 to enter Balliol College, Oxford where he obtained a first-class BA in modern history (later converted to an MA) but was unable to afford to pursue literae humaniores (greats). Funding himself through tutoring, lectures and articles, he was introduced to economics and, attending Arnold toynbee’s lectures on the industrial revolution in 1881–2, became enthusiastic about the subject. At Toynbee's suggestion, he followed issues such as wages through the writings of economists starting with Adam smith. The history of economics became one of the main themes in his studies of mediaeval economic history. Soon he was also commenting on contemporary social and economic events and ideas, notably business education, trusts, tariffs and trade unions.
From The Biographical Dictionary of British Economists in Oxford Reference.