​Darwen's Last Hand-Loom Weaver

Handwritten Notes of an Article Published
in the
Darwen Gazette December 30th 1911

 Mr. Edward Eccles at his Loom

Mr Edward Eccles, the only surviving hand loom weaver, lives in the Chapel’s District. People are still living who have been hand loom weavers, but he is the only one who is still engaged in the craft.

Chapel’s is the oldest part of Darwen. Hand loom weaving flourished here in olden days.

Edward Eccles’ father died eight or nine years ago at the age of 92. His grandfather and great grandfather before him had also been weavers or “chapmen”. (An “Eccles” is mentioned as a “chapman” as early as 1720).

When the “Darwen Gazette” reporter visited Mr Eccles he was weaving a piece of mauve coloured silk in a loom house attached to an old farm close to St James’ Church. The loom, which is over one hundred years old, is a capable and perfect piece of mechanism and the quality of work delightful.

The silk, of the finest Macclesfield material, not half and half as is now normal usage (1911) belonged to an earlier day when only the very best was included in our grandmother’s wardrobes.

After showing the working of the loom and some of the appliances required in a self-contained loom house conversation turned upon the olden days in Chapels and District.

At one time this locality was the special abode of a little community of silk weavers. Apart from a few colliers and quarrymen and a few print workers there was no-one else in the whole of the Darwen valley.

There were two or three places in the town where the work was given out to the workers. At that time the only textile woven was silk. There was little woollen at any time. It was only on the arrival of cotton and the power loom that silk was ousted from its pride of place.

An Old Handloom

With the introduction of cotton, a change took place in people’s tastes. Few were inclined to pay the price that was asked for by the merchants from Macclesfield who bought up the pieces in Darwen. Mr Eccles stated that 50, 60 or 70 years ago the price for a yard of silk was 5/- and the weaver was paid about 10/- per week. Great were the efforts put forward on many occasions in order to “down their cuts” in time for Monday, which was the day they had to carry their pieces down into the town and settle with their employers.

Sometimes his father worked until midnight on Saturday night and started at midnight on Sunday night in order to be in time.  Weavers never worked on Sunday; they kept the Sabbath very strictly.

The chapmen used to get their weft and warp on Monday, play the rest of the day and also Tuesday, then hurry the work towards weekend. Many candles were burned in order to get the pieces out in time. Mr Eccles used to use a primitive kind of candlestick which was hooked on to the front of the loom. He estimated that many thousands of candles had burned in the somewhat crude contrivance.

Many of the old things still retained within the family are rarely to be found outside the textile museums. There were old contrivances for winding bobbins and for sizing warps, as well as rare specimens of cane, copper and steel rods.

One interesting point mentioned by Mr Eccles is worth recording as showing that the old timers were not without very great ingenuity in their first efforts at weaving.

He stated that recently a gentleman who had an invention which aimed at obviating the necessity for “kissing the shuttle” called upon him to show him an up to date device, whereupon he (Mr Eccles) turned to an old box he had in the corner of the room and produced a shuttle made over 100 years ago with exactly the same device for threading and holding weft.

While showing his treasures, Mr Eccles described how people lived in “the handloom weaving days.” He was evidently convinced in his own mind that the porridge and rough ‘keep’ of two or three generations ago produced a finer lot of folks than did the luxuries of the present day. His father sat at his after he was ninety one, did not require glasses and retained his keen and alert faculties.

Mr. Eccles remembered the riots at ‘Top Factory’ in 1826. The handloom weavers from Chapels took an active part in smashing up what they believed were robbers of their living. His father did not take an active part, but his uncle did. He had to live for some time in hiding Darwen moors in order to avoid being taken by the police, who were particularly alive in prosecuting offenders.

Mr Eccles then took the interviewer into the house to show him some of his beautiful fabrics. Some of the double threaded silks, he explained, sold at 7/- per yard and were now only work by people who insisted upon having the very best in the way of dress material.

As he spoke, the last of the handloom weavers, grey bearded and clear eyed, lovingly handled the soft rich materials.

Transcribed by Community History Volunteer June Riding

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