Eccles and Patricroft

local history in Eccles

Eccles derives its name from the Celtic word for church, and certainly its parish church of St Mary (parts of which date back to Norman times) has had an important role to play in the history not only of Eccles itself but of the surrounding townships that formerly came within the parish.

The names of some of these places - such as Pendleton, Barton, Monton and Winton - are indicative of Saxon farmsteads or settlements.

Although the name of Eccles did not appear in the Domesday Book, the manor of Barton has had a long history, the lords of this manor having the right of nomination to the benefice of Eccles. The Lordship of Barton passed to the Booth family by marriage and then, again through the female line, to the de Traffords who were lords of the neighbouring manor of Trafford which they held in unbroken succession from Norman times until 1896. Other notable local families were the Worsleys and the Breretons, both of whom figured in the Eccles story.

Although Eccles remained industry-free until well into the latter part of the 18th century, Barton was transformed by the building, by the Duke of Bridgewater of the Bridgewater Canal. At Barton, the canal's engineer, James Brindley, constructed his famous aqueduct to carry the canal over the River Irwell, and the first barge loaded with coal used this engineering feat in 1761. Yet another canal - the Manchester Ship Canal (opened in 1894) - was to have a great effect on the life of the area. In the earlier Victorian period, however, the railways came to and through Eccles. In 1830 the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was finally completed after great difficulties in crossing Chat Moss. This line will always be rememebered for the tragic opening-day accident when William Huskisson MP, was knocked down and taken to the Eccles Vicarage, where he later died.

Industrialisation of Eccles was first in the form of silk mills but later as the suitability of the Lancashire climate for spinning and making-up cotton was realised, some Eccles mills turned to this 'new' commodity. Many workers moved into the town, often to small houses without proper amenities. The cotton industry was hard hit by the cutting off of raw supplies during the American Civil War, but Eccles escaped fairly lightly as, unlike some other Lancashire towns, it had various other industrial activities. In 1836, for instance, the famous Scottish engineer, James Nasmyth, inventor of the steam hammer, opened his ironworks at Patricroft, where a wide range of machine tools and locomotives were produced. Later, in 1873, the Protector Lamp and Lighting Co Ltd was formed and this company produced the very first motor-driven fire engine in England.

To cope with the needs of the growing town, the Barton, Eccles, Winton and Monton Local Board of Health was formed in 1854. In 1892 a Charter of Incorporation was granted to Eccles. Eccles remained a Municipal Borough until the end of March 1974.

The history behind (and recipe for) Eccles Cakes

Forget black puddings of dubious origin, or Yorkshire puddings that fail to rise - Eccles cakes are the dessert for the discerning palate.

History of the Eccles Cake

In 1793, James Birch's shop on the corner of Vicarage Road in Eccles began selling small, flat, raisin-filled cakes. They sold, quite literally, like hot cakes!

Earlier, in 1769, Mrs Elizabeth Raffald, the housekeeper and owner of a confectioner's shop in Arley Hall, Cheshire, wrote an influential cookery book, 'The Experienced English Housekeeper', which became a best seller. The book contained a recipe for 'sweet patties' with ingredients identifiably similar to the Eccles cakes of today. Could this have been the recipe seized upon by a cookery-mad servant girl who took a copy of the book with her when she went to live in... Eccles?

Whatever the murky origins of the cakes, James Birch was certainly the first person credited with selling them on a commercial basis.They were sold from a shop at the corner of Vicarage Road and St Mary's Road (now known as Church Street) in Eccles.

However, the story becomes lost in the mists of time. Although the shop's letterhead in the 1870s showed that the firm was established in 1796, the land tax returns show that a James Birch first appeared as a 'shopkeeper' in Eccles in 1785. Whether James Birch made a name for his cakes in the 1780s, in 1796, or indeed some time later, is now impossible to say. It is equally impossible to construct a link between James Birch and Elizabeth Raffald (who died four years before the opening of Birch's shop).

More recently the question of the origin of Eccles Cakes has been raised in Parliament. A question was tabled regarding the future of cakes made outside Eccles to the same ingredients. Could non Eccles-made cakes still be referred to (and sold) as Eccles cakes?

Worldwide fame

Although traditionally made in the town from where they get their name, Eccles cakes are now famous throughout the world. As early as 1818 they were said to be sold "at all the markets and fairs around and are even exported to America and the West Indies". Eccles Cakes are sometimes, though always with affection, referred to as 'dead fly pies'!

The definitive recipe for Eccles Cakes?

Throughout history, families making Eccles and (the similar) Banbury cakes have all kept their recipes as closely guarded secrets. One of the most famous expressions in Eccles is "The secret dies with me!".

The authors of the cookery books would therefore have had to invent their own recipes based on the taste of the cakes they purchased at different shops. 17th century recipes for Banbury cakes do exist but show that they differ from 19th century ones. A major difference was the use of yeast which was necessary before the introduction of raising agents.

Although no 18th century and only a few 19th century books give recipes specifically for Eccles cakes, it many well be that early ones differ from those known today.  Mrs Raffald's original recipe for 'sweet patties' of 1769 was a mixture of the meat of a boiled calf's foot (gelatine), plus apples, oranges, nutmeg, egg yolk, currants and French brandy enveloped in a good puff pastry which could be either fried or baked. The use of the word 'meat' (or mincemeat) in the early recipes serves as a reminder that meat was originally an ingredient in mincemeat.

The fact that Eccles cakes were being exported by 1818 also suggests very good keeping qualities, so they may well have included spirits such as brandy and rum. No wonder the Puritans wanted to ban them.

Eccles Cake recipe

  • 500g flaky pastry
  • 25g melted butter
  • Nutmeg
  • 50g candied peel
  • 100g sugar
  • 200g currants

Method

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and butter and cook over a medium heat until melted
  2. Off the heat, add currants, candied peel, nutmeg and allspice
  3. On a lightly-floured surface, roll the pastry thinly and cut into rounds of about 0.5cm thickness and 10cm diameter
  4. Place a small spoonful of filling onto the centre of each pastry circle
  5. Dampen the edges of the pastry and draw the edges together over the fruit and pinch to seal
  6. Turn over, then press gently with a rolling pin to flatten the cakes
  7. Flatten and snip a V in the top with scissors. Place on a baking tray
  8. Brush with water and sprinkle with a little extra sugar
  9. Bake in a hot oven for 20 minutes (220°c) or until lightly browned round the edges
  10. Place on a wire rack and allow to cool
  11. Try not to eat them all at once!