Eccles (pop. 36,600) is a town in the City of Salford, a metropolitan borough of Greater Manchester in North West England, west of Salford and west of Manchester city centre. Historically a part of Lancashire, Eccles lies on sloping ground between the M602 motorway (to the north), and the Manchester Ship Canal (to the south).
Evidence of pre-historic human settlement has been discovered locally, but the present town grew up around the 13th-century Parish Church of St Mary. The area was predominantly agricultural until the Industrial Revolution, when a textile industry was established in the town. The arrival of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the world's first passenger railway, led to the town's expansion along the route of the track linking those two cities; as of 2009 Salford City Council is bidding for the railway to be included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Eccles was not immune to the general 20th-century decline of the United Kingdom's textile industry. Parts of the town are among the worst 20% in the UK for child poverty, and the unemployment rate is slightly above the national average. The town's present-day landscape is dominated by residential tower blocks, forming a stark contrast with the surrounding Victorian terraced housing.
Eccles cakes, made from flaky pastry, butter, nutmeg, candied peel, sugar and currants, were first produced and sold in the town in 1793, and are now exported across the world. Eccles' other claim to fame is its involvement in one of the world's first railway accidents when in 1830 William Huskisson, the Member of Parliament for Liverpool, was seriously injured by an approaching locomotive. He was taken to the vicarage in Eccles for treatment, but died of his injuries.
The derivation of the name is uncertain, but several ideas have been proposed. One is that the "Eccles" place–name is derived from the Romano-British Ecles or Eglys, itself derived from the Latin Ecclesia. Following the arrival in AD 613 of the invading Anglo-Saxons at Lancashire, many existing British place–names, especially rivers and hills (the River Irwell for example), survived intact. The root "Ecles", found in several village names, is an exception to this. A popular theory is that the word denoted the site of a building recognised by the Anglo-Saxons as a church and feature of the landscape. Eccles appears to have been such a village, and Ecles may be the likely source of the modern name. In Kenyon's "Origins of Lancashire" (1991) however the author suggests that this may not be the case as there is not an exact correlation between "Eccles" place–names and pre-Domesday hundreds in south Lancashire.
Pre-historic finds in the parish of Eccles include dugout boats found at Barton-upon-Irwell, an arrowhead, a spear, and axes at Winton, which taken together appear to suggest the existence of a hunting and travelling society. Human habitation in the area may extend as far back as 6000 BC, with two separate periods of settlement on Chat Moss, the first around 500 BC and the second during the Romano-British period.
The village may have been founded by refugees from Manchester (Mamucium) during the Diocletianic Persecution in the early 4th century, although excavations in 2001–2005 revealed that the civilian settlement at Manchester had probably been abandoned by the mid-3rd century. Throughout the Dark Ages the parish appears to have been remote enough to be untouched by any local conflicts, while absorbing successive waves of immigrants from nearby towns.
The Manor of Barton-upon-Irwell once covered a large area; in 1276 it included townships such as Asphull, Halghton, Halliwelle, Farnword, Eccles, Workedele, Withington (latterly Winton), Irwelham, Hulm, Quicklewicke, Suynhul, and Swinton. Before this date it would appear to have been even larger, but by 1320 the manor boundaries were described as "Tordhale Siche descending to Caldebroc, then to the pit near Preste Platteforde and then to another pit, then to the ditch of Roger the Clerk, then to the hedge of Richard the Rimeur, then following the hedge to Caldebroc." The manor was originally controlled by the Barton family until about 1292 when by marriage it came into the ownership of the Booth family, who retained it for almost 300 years. In 1586 the Trafford family assumed control of the manor, and established themselves in 1632 at Whittleswick, which was renamed Trafford Park.
The parish of Eccles contained the townships of Barton-upon-Irwell, Clifton, Pendlebury, Pendleton, and Worsley. Toward the end of the Middle Ages the parish had an estimated population of about 4,000 Communicants. Agriculture remained an important local industry, with little change from the Medieval system due to a lack of adequate drainage and fertiliser. No evidence exists to demonstrate the layout of the area, but it would likely have been the same as the surrounding areas of Salford, Urmston and Warrington where oats and barley would have been grown. Local cottage industries included blacksmiths, butchers, thatching, basket weaving, skinning, and tanning. Weaving was popular, using linen and wool. Merchants traded in corn, and badgers bought and sold local produce.
Although the local gentry supported the Royalists, the English Civil War had little effect on the area. Troops would occasionally pass through the parish and there was a skirmish at Woolden, but the only other mention of local involvement was the burial of two (probably) local soldiers in 1643. The Jacobite army passed through in 1745, in its advance and subsequent retreat.
Textiles and the Industrial Revolution
In 1795 John Aikin described the area:
The agriculture of the parish is chiefly confined to grazing, and would be more materially benefited by draining; but the tax upon brick, a most essential article in this process, has been a very great hindrance to it. The use of lime—imported from Wales, and brought by the inland navigations to the neighbourhood of our collieries—has become very general in the improvement of the meadow and pasture lands.
During the 18th century the predominance of textiles in the region is partly demonstrated in the parish registers of 1807, which show that 46 children were baptised with 34 fathers employed as weavers. In Memoirs of seventy years of an eventful life (1852) Charles Hulbert wrote:
The principal employment of the working population of Eccles and vicinity at that time, was the manufacture of Cotton Goods on the home or domestic plan. These were not then, according to my present recollection, more than two Spinning Manufactories in Manchester, Arkwright's with its loft chimney, and Douglas's extensive Works, on the river Irwell, near the Broken bank ... At the period of my first residence in Eccles Parish, I believe the above Mills chiefly supplied the Weavers of Eccles and other parishes with twist for warps, which were purchased by the Master Manufacturers.
In 1830 James Nasmyth (son of Alexander Nasmyth) visited the newly opened Liverpool and Manchester Railway, and on his return to Manchester noted the suitability of a site alongside the canal at Patricroft for an engineering works. He and his brother leased the land from Thomas de Trafford, and established the Bridgewater Foundry in 1836. The foundry was completed the following year with a design based upon assembly line production. In 1839 Nasmyth invented the Steam Hammer which enabled the manufacture of forgings at a scale and speed not seen before. In the same year the foundry started to manufacture railway locomotives, with 109 built by 1853. Nasmyth died a wealthy man in 1890.
Early housing in the village consisted of groups of thatched cottages clustered around and near the parish church. The influx of workers from areas around the village accompanied an increased demand for extra housing. Even after the establishment of the local board of health new properties were often built in the gardens of existing dwellings, leading to severe overcrowding. In 1852 the streets were paved with boulders, sewerage was non-existent, and water supply was a local well. During the latter half of the 19th century new housing was erected alongside the railway, and large areas of open land were soon occupied with new housing estates built for the area's more wealthy residents.
The construction of the Manchester Ship Canal provided many local residents with jobs. 1,888 people were employed on the section of the new canal at Barton. A stone aqueduct over the River Iwell dating from 1761 and designed by James Brindley was demolished and replaced by a new moveable aqueduct: the Barton Swing Aqueduct.
Eccles was not immune to the general decline of the textile industry in the 20th century. The Bridgewater Foundry ceased operations in 1940, taken over by the Ministry of Supply and converted into a Royal Ordnance Factory. The factory closed in the late 1980s, and is now part of the Nasmyth Business Centre.
Eccles is included in the City of Salford's Unitary Development Plan 2004–2016 as part of the western gateway, a major focus for economic development during the plan period. Areas to be developed include the Barton Strategic Regional Site, Dock 9 at Salford Quays, Weaste Quarry near Eccles, and remaining land at Northbank, and the plan provides for improvements which include the A57 – Trafford Park link at Barton and provisional support for a further expansion of the Metrolink system through the area and a link between the A57 and M62 at Barton. Under this plan the town's retail environment would also be maintained and enhanced.