Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Part 2/Eccles Wakes and Eccles Cakes


An annual festival is held at Eccles, of great rustic celebrity and of high antiquity, as old probably as the first erection of the church, called "Eccles Wakes," celebrated on the first Sunday in September; and there is a wake at Swinton on the first Sunday after the 23d July, and another at Woodgate on Saturday in Whitsuntide. The Eccles wake commences on the Sunday, it is continued during the three succeeding days, and consists (amongst many other things) of feasting upon a kind of local confectionary called "Eccles cakes" and ale, with various ancient and modern sports. All the authorities agree in assigning the first institution of wakes to the annual assembly of the people to watch and pray on the festival of the saint to whom their church was dedicated, and this was doubtless originally the case in Eccles; the festival of St Mary the Virgin being on the 22d August, and the wake on the first Sunday after the 25th August, it has been asserted that the correspondence is tolerably well preserved. There is some error here; no festival of St Mary the Virgin falling on the 22d August. The Assumption (or death) was on August 15, and the 22d would be the octave of the Assumption. But the first Sunday after the 25th of August would be nearer to the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin (September 8) than to the Assumption. A Roman Catholic custom of making a kind of oatcakes, called "soul-mass cakes," on All Souls' Day (November 2), and giving them on that day amongst the poor, no longer exists in Eccles; and the couplet which the people were expected to repeat in return for this benevolence is almost forgotten—

"God save your saul,
Bairns and all."

The following is a copy of a bill which sets forth a programme of the sports of Eccles Wake:—

"Eccles Wake.—On Monday morning, at eleven o'clock, the sports will commence with that most ancient, loyal, rational, constitutional, and lawful diversion,


in all its primitive excellence; for which this place has long been noted. At one o'clock there will be a foot-race; at two o'clock a bull-baiting for a horse-collar; at four, donkey-races for a pair of panniers; at five, a race for a stuff-hat; the day's sport to conclude with baiting the bull 'Fury,' for a superior dog-chain.

"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." Wakes are probably as ancient as the introduction of Christianity into this county, and were at first purely religious festivals. But in course of time, as the festivities were prolonged into night, the Legend of St John the Baptist says that the attendants "fell to lecherie and songes, dances, harping, piping, and also to glotony and sinne, and so turned holynesse to cursydnesse." In the reign of Elizabeth, wakes were in part suppressed, but were again allowed by James I. in his "Book of Sports." Since then they have been carried on under varied programmes; but even now—

"Tarts and custards, creams and cakes,
Are the junkets still at wakes;
Unto which the tribes resort,
Where the business is the sport."