The first time I saw this name it was in a mention of the Goon Show – probably in one of Spike Milligan’s books, but perhaps some other place; I believe it was in a bit of script, probably something like the following bit (from

Bluebottle: Why are you not wearing any trousers?
Eccles: Well, it’s lunchtime.
Bluebottle: Oh! What did you have for lunch?
Eccles: My trousers.

I read it as though it were short for ecclesiastical or Ecclesiastes: /ikliz/. It certainly seemed odd to me: who was this ecclesiastical character and why were they abbreviating his name?

I did subsequently learn that it actually rhymes with heckles and freckles and is not an abbreviation. I also got a good taste of the character when, during rehearsal for Stoppard’s After Magritte, we listened to a Goon Show episode or two; Eccles happened to be similar in various ways to the character I was playing (a rather stupid cop called Holmes – not the only big stupid character I ever played; I seemed to have a knack for them, somehow). I remember this bit (which I have copied from

Helppp, Eccles!

Help, Eccles, help!

Loud banging.

(off) You two down there! Stop that naughty noise! I’m trying to get some sleep, I’m a brain-worker!

I’m sorry Eccles. Not so loud, Min, quietly.

(quietly) Help, Eccles, help.

But it’s not just the feckless Eccles and his reckless pickles that tickle my ears and my tongue. There are also Eccles cakes, which are yummy round flaky pastries filled with currants (so much tastier than trousers). It’s true that I can’t see, let alone eat, an Eccles cake without thinking of Eccles from the Goon Show and his rather stupid, daft voice (hear an example at But it doesn’t override the enjoyment (and anyway, they’re both flaky). In fact, I also can’t see the name Eccles now without thinking of Eccles cakes.

Well and good, Eccles has those echoes, but where does the name come from anyway? The cakes are named after their place of origin, a town near Manchester. That may not be the famous Eccles (as the character Eccles often says, “I’m the famous Eccles!”), but it’s evidently the original Eccles (there are ickle Eccles all over the place – little cc‘s, as it were). And where does it get its name?

It’s not entirely sure, but the indications are that it comes from Celtic egles “church”, which comes from Latin ecclesia (which in turn comes from Greek). Which is of course the source of ecclesiastical and Ecclesiastes – the latter being a book of the Bible, often abbreviated Eccles, known for its quotable stoic world-weariness:

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. (ix:11)

Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days. (xi:1)

And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. (xii:12)

Well, doesn’t that take the cake. Or, if it doesn’t, Eccles will:

Interviewer: Get out, you idiot!
Eccles: Wait a minute! Wait a minute! But you ain’t even heard me speak yet!
Interviewer: We’ll write to you.
Eccles: Well, that’s no good, I can’t read.

6 responses to “Eccles

  1. The Hollies’ “Jennifer Eccles” was my introduction to the surname.

  2. Are there any other Eccles family descendants among the Sesquioticians? My great-great-great-great-grandfather was Thomas Eccles, of somewhere near Blackburn in Lancashire, born in the 1690s. And, quoting from the Eccles Family History by D. David Duncan: “… Early records show the name in various spellings. The form Eckles was found more frequently in parts of Europe than in England. The surname was first taken by those who made their homes either in the parish of Eccles near Manchester, Lancashire, the parish of Eccles near Stalham in Norfolk, or in the parish of Eccles in Dumfriesshire. Among the early, though fragmentary records of the name in England are those of William D. Eccles, whose name appears in the Lancashire Inquests Records of 1242. Also are listed are Richard Eccles in Cambridge-shire in 1273, Robert De Eccles in Norfolk in 1273, John De Eccles in Norfolk in 1327, Adam De Eccles of Heaton County, Lancashire in 1332 and Johannes Eccles and John Eccles both in Yorkshire in 1379. Later records of the family in Lancashire mention Edmond Eccles of Pickup Bank who died in 1734. A coat of arms anciently borne by the English side of the family is described in heraldic terms in the Burh Encyclopedia of Heraldry, published in 1844, as follows: Arms: Argent, on a Saltire gules, two Crozier staves saltire ways or surmounted with a lions head of the first.” — And I, like I suppose other Eccleses, am proud of the Goon Show connection, and of the cakes!

    • I came across your comments on the Eccles family by chance. I am also from the Darwen Eccles’s. More towards the Pickup Bank strain. I have not got my family tree to hand at the moment, but there are quite a few names you mentioned, that ring a bell as being members of my family.Trouble is, a lot of them had the same names, even in different strains. I think they were known as the ‘lower’ and ‘higher’ Eccles’s.
      As a very young child, I lived in Eccles in Lancashire (not a very nice town). A few years ago I lived in Helmshore, just over the hill (or two) from Pickup Bank and Darwen.
      The name Andrew is the closest relatives names that lived in the area.
      My Grandfather was Andrew Duerden Eccles. The Duerden name being taken from the marriage of an Eccles, with a Duerden.
      My father is also Andrew Duerden, whereas my middle name is Andrew, and my son was Christened Andrew.

      • In Billockby church, Norfolk, Fracis Blomfield records in his “History of Norfolk” seeing the arms of Hervey, Gules on a bend Argent three trefoils Vert, impaling Argent, a bend raguly Vert between six martlets Sable, the arms of John de Eccles, Lord of Billockby c.1383. This would indicate a
        marriage between the two families, but I have yet to find any corroborating
        Unfortunately the church is now in ruins.

  3. A John Eccles was a fine English baroque composer…

  4. I have a Harry Eccles in my wifes family, we know very little regarding Harry. He worked in Sheffield as an agricultural engineer about 1925 onwards. He lived on Sheffield road, any help finding further information would be great.

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