THE HISTORY OF ECCLES TOWN HALL
Eccles was incorporated as a borough in 1892 but the building that became the Town Hall was already in place thanks to the creation of a Local Board of Health in 1854. This Board was established to address the very high infant mortality rate in Eccles, and campaigned to improve sewage, sanitation, rubbish disposal and building standards. To accommodate the offices of the Board the current building was erected by builders Messrs. Moore and sons at a cost, including furnishings, of £7,500, and opened on 3rd November 1881 with a banquet in the Assembly Room (our main hall) that could apparently accommodate 1,000 people.
The Board of Health occupied the premises for the first 10 years of its life. The building was therefore available, when the Borough of Eccles was incorporated in 1892, to become the Town Hall and to house the first Mayor and Corporation, which took over the responsibilities of the Board of Health. In 1899 the building was extended at the rear to include a police court on the ground floor and a new council chamber, with committee rooms, on the floor above. The Assembly Room was retained for the use of the local population.
A Local Venue for Local People
The Assembly Room was the place where votes were counted for local and general elections and where the counts were declared. Various festivities were held in the Assembly Room including the Mayor’s Charity Balls and Mayoress’s ‘At Home’ events. After the First World War, Remembrance Day ceremonies were held in the Assembly Rooms if the weather was unpleasant, rather than around the Centotaph. It’s a welcome continuation of this tradition that ECHO have recently been able to open the Hall and Café so that Remembrance Day attendees can warm up with refreshments after the ceremony.
How the Building was Used
The Town Hall proved a pioneer in the showing of moving pictures in Eccles. The first ever display, showing Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Procession and followed by a comedy called “The Capture of the Bicycle Thief”, was shown in 1898 in a crowded Assembly Hall. The following year there was a display of “life-like pictures” on the screen, whilst the Eccles Orchestral Society played during the interval. In 1900 “The Grand Cinematograph of Living Pictures” showed scenes from the Boer War.
The large hall on the first floor had many uses. Votes were counted after elections, the Mayor was sworn in, the Mayoress had afternoon “At Homes” and Charity Balls. This was the venue for the first moving pictures to be shown in Eccles in 1898, for the inauguration of Eccles Scouts in 1912 and the Saturday night one shilling dances of the Thirties. The annual Parish Church bazaar was held in the ballroom; in 1964 the church held a highly successful “Display of Voluntary Activities” in the Ballroom.
The Hall has been used for charitable events throughout its life. Fundraisers were held during the Great War for the League of Pity, the Waifs and Strays and the Lancashire Fusiliers. The Eccles Scouts Association used the Assembly Room for its meetings, exhibitions and cub and brownie evenings. There were so many cubs and brownies in Eccles that in 1930 three separate evenings were needed for them all. As the years went by the Girl Guides were also included. In 1964 the Parish Church Bazaar was opened by the famous Doris Speed (Annie Walker) of Coronation Street, and in 1976 a Display of Voluntary Activities was put on by Eccles Neighbourhood Council. Thirty voluntary organisations took stalls in the Assembly Hall which was crowded with members from the community. To demonstrate the range of activities, an attendee at one of our Saturday Cafés remembers watching a junior boxing tournament in the Hall in the 1950s.
There was always music at the Town Hall, the Co-operative Music Festival, the Police Ball and the New Year’s Eve Ball of the Women’s Section of tthe Labour Party were all established throughout the thirties, as were regular performances by the Eccles Dramatic Society. Saturday night dances were always very popular at this time, at the princely sum of one shilling to enter. In more recent years one of our visitors to ECHO remembers seeing Freddy and the Dreamers there in the late sixties.
A Sad Decline
In 1974 Eccles became part of the Metropolitan District of Salford resulting in the disappearance of the Mayor and Corporation Mayor. The Police Courts were then expanded in the eighties incorporating the council chamber and committee rooms and subsequently the Assembly Room as well. A cheap false ceiling was installed to make offices in the hall, vandalising this once beautiful space. Further changes in the organisation of the local courts made these conversions unnecessary and the space was abandoned. No longer fit for any community use and without a champion to safeguard its future, the space began to decay.
However . . . . . . a rescue package was at hand!
A Resurgence of Community Interest
Ten years ago Salford City Council was focusing on the regeneration of Eccles town centre and, concerned about the existence of this abandoned hall in the heart of town, decided to facilitate the revitalisation of the space by installing ramped access to the ground floor and a lift to the ballroom. The ballroom then complied with the Disabilities Discrimination Act. A structural survey was carried out and the Council repaired the roof, ensuring that the building was sound.
These developments occurred at a time when the demand for community activity venues in Eccles was increasing. When the Council called a public meeting in 2010 to debate the future use of the ballroom, a wide spectrum of local residents came forward and enthusiastically supported the proposal to establish an independent group to lease the space from the Council and develop it once again as a facility which would become the hub of the local community. Independent community groups have access to funds such as The Lottery that are denied to the Council.
The Creation of ECHO
Eccles Community Hall Organisation (ECHO) was established in July 2010 and quickly established itself as a multi-talented group of local individuals with a wide range of experience between them. They were determined to refurbish the ballroom and associated facilities to provide a much needed community space for local people. ECHO is formally constituted, has a Management Committee and a bank account. ECHO was registered with the Charity Commission on 27/6/13 as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation, number 1152625. ECHO is completely independent of Salford City Council from which it has negotiated a 25 year lease of the ballroom, stage, balcony and adjacent rooms. Urban Vision were appointed as Project Managers for the initial refurbishment.
ECHO – the First Ten Years
ECHO owe a great deal to the foresight of Salford City council and to the courage of the original Trustees who took on this mammoth project. The first task of the volunteers was to secure large grants and to start to renovate the decaying premises and bring them back into use. Our grateful thanks must go to all our generous benefactors.
By 2012 the hall was fit for use although still rather basic . Since then ECHO volunteers have worked energetically and made huge improvements to the facilities and brought life back to Eccles Town Hall.
Recent improvements include new chandelier lights for the hall, improved stage lighting and the renovation of the balcony with the addition of new seating for 60 people. Current projects involve a major programme to replace the windows on the north side of the hall (due to deterioration of the frames), and the addition of new curtains and blinds for both sides.
All profits are used to maintain and upgrade this precious space in the heart of the communty. We hope you enjoy your visit and appreciate what we have done – thank you for supporting us! Thanks to all those who have hired the hall, visited the café and attended our events as without you we could not continue in our endeavours to keep this as a jewel in the centre of Eccles. Above all, thank you to our amazing team of ECHO Volunteers and Trustees, past and present.