The Eccles Family
Thomas Eccles who built the Old Mill in Lower Darwen came from a family who had lived in the Darwen area for over three hundred years. The family originally came from Clitheroe. His arrival in 1772 was to start a family connection with the village that would last through five generations to 1967. Thomas Eccles was born at Mill Farm, Pickup Bank in the year 1743. He was brought up on the farm, and was trained as a handloom weaver. As a young man he was steward for the Sudell Family. He married May Eccles (who came from a family of the same name), who had come from the Walton-le-Dale district. They moved onto Lower Waterside Farm, but Thomas still herded his cattle on Mill Farm. When his father died in 1771 he moved back to Mill Farm, twelve months later he and his wife moved to Lower Darwen. They took up residence in Lower Darwen House next to which the mill was erected. He and his wife were to have eight children before Mary died. Ichabod, the eldest child built the ‘Elms’ in Lower Darwen but died at the early age of twenty-three in 1803 just months after its completion. Joseph Eccles, who took over the mill after his father’s death in 1818, is credited with opening the mill school in 1817, one of the earliest in the county. He married Mary Livesey, of Darwen; they too had a large family of five sons and two daughters. Not much is known about him; in the Baines History of Lancashire of 1824 he is described as a Cotton Spinner of Lower Darwen. He died on 28th September 1825. On his death the two sons were joined by two of his nephews in running the mill: John Eccles and Joseph Eccles, the latter a Blackburn Cotton Manufacturer. The two brothers took over the mill in 1828, and under their supervision many changes were made. Thomas Eccles married Jane Mitchell in 1833; they had four sons and three daughters. He was one of the first directors of the Blackburn and Darwen Railway Company. Thomas, and his brother were very much involved in the founding of the Congregational Church in the village, the factory school being used for the first services. Thomas became a county magistrate on the 8th January 1849. In the 1860s due to ill health he gave up his business interests and moved to Torquay. He died in 1878, although not before he had been influential in the establishment of a Congregational Church there. His son Richard Junior was brought up as a Cotton Spinner going into partnership with his brother Thomas Mitchell, running mills in Bamber Bridge, and Blackburn. He lived in the ‘Elms’, married Helen Cheetham; they had two sons and a daughter.
Richard Eccles J. P., the brother of Thomas, son of Joseph was born in 1807, he married Ann Mary Jeffreys in 1851, and they had two children, Richard Herbert, and Lucy. Richard, like his brother was central to the Congregational Church, and became a county magistrate in 1852. He was Chairman of the Board of Guardians when the ‘Workhouse’ was moved from Grimshaw Park to Whinney Heights in 1864. When he died in 1888 his son Richard Herbert took over the running of the mill. Richard Herbert Eccles J. P. was born at Highercroft House in 1855, from his boyhood he was involved with the mill, factory school, and village life. He chose though to join the Army; he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the 97th Regiment. His regiment saw some service overseas, during a spell serving in Canada; he met and married his first wife a local girl Julia Rutherford in 1879. During this short marriage (she died in 1882), they had two sons, and a daughter. He saw service with the Army in South Africa during the first Boer War, but on his return home in 1884 he resigned his commission. This was in protest at the Gladstone government’s handling of the peace agreement (Treaty of Pretoria). Leaving the Liberals he joined the Conservatives, and threw himself into local politics. In 1884 he married for the second time, his wife Jean Marshall coming from Perthshire. Before she died in 1909, they had two sons and another daughter. During the period between the Boer and Great Wars he saw the mill through some difficult times, though he could not stop the mill becoming insolvent in 1897. Herbert Eccles remained in charge after the company was taken over by William Birtwistle; he remained so until his retirement, the last Eccles to run the mill, but not the last to be involved in the village life. The sons, and daughter of Richard Eccles Jnr, new married, and the ‘Elms’ was their home until their deaths. The eldest, Richard Howard, trained as an accountant and was for over thirty years Secretary of the Bleachers Association travelling to Manchester every weekday. Even so he found time to look after the village, being much involved with the Congregational Church, and school. He was also a member of the Board of Management of the Hospital for Incurables at Bury. Born in 1871, he died in 1958, aged eighty-seven.
James Ronald Eccles spent all of his working life away from the ‘Elms’. He was born in 1874 was educated at Clifton College, and Kings College, Cambridge. He got an M. A. In 1909 he went as a teacher to Gresham’s School in Norfolk, he became headmaster there in 1919. He died in 1956.
The last member of the Eccles family to live and play an active part in village life was Helen Margaret Eccles, J.P. (Known affectionately to the villagers as ‘Dolly’). Born in 1872 three years before her father died, she was educated at home, and Highfield, Hendon. Miss Helen as she was called by the villagers, taught at the Congregational Church Sunday School, was active in temperance work, and child welfare. She was a member of the Blackburn Education Committee, and became a county magistrate on the 29th January 1931. During the time Miss Helen ran the ‘Elms’ it was thrown open during the summer so that the village children could have garden parties. In 1967 at the great age of ninety-five she died at the Elms, the last member of a most remarkable family who did so much for the village of Lower Darwen.