Eccles Shorrock: Decline in Fortunes
Eccles Shorrock left the 1860s in a somewhat triumphant mood and all harboured well for the next decade. Trade and business were on a sound footing at the start of the 1870s. The 1871 Census records that at Low Hill, resided Eccles Shorrock, Landowner, Cotton Spinner and Manufacturer employing:
122 boys under 13
101 girls under 13
(Total 1,505 people)
By 1876, this figure would have increased significantly. There was full-time working, increased sales and by March 1874 the new company "India Mills (Darwen) Cotton Spinning Co." was founded. During this year, Eccles had also been elected as Chairman of the North East Liberal Association, which stimulated his interest in politics and brought him into contact with such influential people as Cavendish, who became leader of the Liberals when Gladstone resigned in 1875.
1876 did not appear to harbour any indications of troubles ahead. Catastrophically, recession struck in 1877, catching most manufacturers unawares. There was a threat of possible involvement in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877, which began to destabilise the economy. Also, there was discontent about Taxation, and in particular import-export duties. French goods were not taxed on entry into Britain but British goods were taxed highly in France. However, by July 1877, the Shorrock business was in difficulties. An Editorial in the 'Darwen News', 18 August 1877 speculates on the unforeseen calamity of the situation:
"the disaster which has overtaken the above well known and justly respected firm having come upon the public with painful surprise ...the widespread sympathy felt for members of it ...demonstrates a general conviction of their high character and honourable conduct, and it is a significant as well as pleasant fact that this conviction is universally felt by the working classes ...the hope may be reasonably entertained that by the exercise of forbearance on the one side, and of care and economy on the other, an old and eminent firm may retain its important position as a large employer of labour in Darwen".
Sadly, more strife was to ensue. Similar effects of poverty and distress experienced in the 1860s struck Darwen once more. In 1878, the March Celebrations of the Town's Charter were muted due to the beginning of a ten-week strike against the Manufacturer's Association decision to cut wages by 10%, as a temporary measure. Rioting broke out in Blackburn and Darwen. Ashton effigies were burned. The effects of the suffering of his workers and business difficulties began to distress Eccles, heralding the first visible signs of a decline in his health and business acumen. He was sent abroad for a short period by his Doctor, thus avoiding the fierce disruption caused by the strikes and riots. Nevertheless, there was further unrest in the cotton districts between 1878-1880.
Unfortunately, it becomes evident from reports in the Darwen News that friction had been developing between Eccles, Ralph and William for some time, but this 'frisson' reached a dramatic culmination in August 1880. Ralph and William wanted to bring in the receivers and liquidate the firm, but Eccles was not in favour. Ralph and William sought an injunction at the High Court in London to prevent Eccles from interfering in the business. Eccles ignored this injunction and evaded the authorities in London. He returned North to Darwen. The 'Darwen News' of September 1880 records that Eccles ordered the extinguishing of fires, thereby stopping work at the Mill. The Town Clerk, Charles Costeker sent a note explaining that Eccles Shorrock would be in contempt of Court and imprisoned if he did not retract his stance. Eccles, in fury, dismissed this notification and continued his disruptive behaviour by ordering stopping the payment of wages and accounts. He informed the bank not to recognise his brother's signatures, and the Postmaster not to deliver any letters to anyone but him. The results of these actions were disastrous. The family was split asunder.
William Ashton states in an Affidavit of August 27 1880:
"New Mill with 40,000 spindles and 840 looms has been stopped ...in consequence of the defendant's acts. The Darwen Mill's 50,000 spindles have been stopped ...We shall undoubtedly sustain heavy losses through the defendant's conduct (and) our character and credit are being greatly impaired"
Ralph in an earlier Affidavit (August 23 1880) reported that Eccles:
"...has rendered it impossible for the partnership to continue. I have lost all confidence in him and have serious doubts as to his sanity."
Eccles was bundled out of the Town, by no means placidly on the 10.27 am train in order to avoid any publicity or contact with his workpeople who would have been released from the Mills at 12.30 p.m. on a Saturday. The account reported in the 'Darwen News' September 18 1880 was quite harrowing.
Eccles was "...taken to the station with his legs dangling out of the cab, by an indirect route, so as to avoid publicity"
He was en route to Holloway Prison where he would reside for four months, publishing a pamphlet regarding his experiences therein. A condition of his release was that he was not allowed near Darwen for the next four months. From this point onwards there was a steady decline in the Shorrock fortunes and Eccles' health.
The education of Eccles and Ralph
Death and Marriage
Events during the 1860's
Decline in fortunes
The end of an era
Bibliography and Acknowledgments