In the town of Eccles was a famous wake, an annual festival associated with the Parish church and doubtless associated with its foundation. The event was celebrated on the first Sunday in September, and continued during the three succeeding days, and consisted of feasting upon a kind of local confectionery, called “Eccles Cakes,” and ale, with various sports.
Edward Baines in their 1836 History of County of Lancaster:
“On Monday morning, at eleven o’clock the sports will commence (the sports of Sunday being passed over in silence) with that most ancient, loyal, rational, constitutional and lawful diversion.”
One of the most barbaric aspects was:
“Bull Baiting: In all its primitive excellence, for which this place has been long noted…the day’s sport to conclude with baiting the bull, Fury, for a superior dog-chain.”
The festivities continue:
“At one o’clock there will be a foot race; at two o’clock, a bull baiting for a horse collar; at four o’clock, donkey races for a pair of panniers; at five o’clock, a race for a stuff hat. On Tuesday, the sports will be repeated; also on Wednesday, with the additional attraction of a smock race by ladies. A main of cocks to be fought on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday for twenty guineas, and five guineas the byes, between the gentlemen of Manchester and Eccles; the wake to conclude with a fiddling match by all the fiddlers that attend for a piece of silver.”
Such village wakes flourished throughout the midlands and northern England and were seen as holidays for working people in the industrial regions such as Wigan. As such by the 18th century, huge crowds were attracted and by 1877 local residents complained and thus the custom stopped by order of the Home Secretary.
Today the only relic of the Eccles wakes are those Eccles Cakes….and delicious they are too!