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Eccles blasts into space…almost

This story from 1967 concerns the Borough Of Eccles plans to celebrate the 75th anniversary of when it was granted a Charter in 1892 that elevated the former town to a borough status, one it kept until 1974.

Under the terms of the Charter, Eccles was divided into six wards, each with three councillors and one alderman.

The first meeting of the new Eccles Town Council, which had a Liberal majority, was held on 9th November 1892.

Plans were organised by Eccles Council to celebrate the 75th anniversary in style, with street parties, civic events, and wild abandonment.

However Miss Madeline Patry who was head of the Eccles Library Services came up with a stunning plan to put Eccles on the map, if not into space!

She came up with the idea of printing commemorative Eccles Charter stamps sticking them onto 450 envelopes and wait for it, launching them into space from Cape Canaveral! well actually it was from Barton Airport on June 25 making it Lancashire’s first ever rocket mail.

Philatelists from across England and even as far away as Texas clamoured to purchase these stamps.

The plan was to launch them into space from special rocket launchers at Barton Airport and catch them as they parachuted to earth.

The envelopes would then be collected and stamped with an authentication mark, making them collectors items.

Members of the Eccles and District Philatelic Society met at Eccles Library and “licked” the first problem by sticking the special edition stamps plus Royal Mail stamps onto the 450 envelopes, and they were now ready to be blasted into space, and boldly go where no stamp had been before.

What could go wrong with this groundbreaking plan?

Come the big day, Sunday 25 June crowds of several hundred gathered at Barton Airport to watch this spectacle, many at a safe distant, and quite rightly so as it turned out.

The Mayor of Eccles, Councillor Nolan, Eccles, Eccles District Philatelic Society, and civic dignitaries watched with bated breath as the members of the local Rocket Society who were giving their first public display loaded the precious cargo into rocket tubes and count down began.

One slight problem however, the weather took a turn for the worse, to say the least.

High winds, squally showers and a downpour of rain which soon turned torrential, played havoc with plans to shoot the rockets into space.

These budding rocket scientists were not going to be put off by such a trivial matter of high winds and torrential rain and prepared for blast off.

The first rocket misfired and never got of the ground, the 2nd rocket took off but after leaving the end of the launching pad nose dived into the grass, some ten feet away and burst into a shower of sparks and smoke.

Rocket number 3 was more succesfull soaring into the sky with loud cheers from the sodden crowds urging it on, before it came down to earth some 90 yards away, the mail was safely recovered, with the precious mail, “slightly scorched”.

Rockets number 4 and 5 reached a height of 50 feet before coming down to earth this time the mail was retrieved safely if again “slightly scorched”

The weather had by now turned into a storm and many spectators rushed for cover, perhaps a wise idea following the launch of rockets 6 and 7.

They both turned rapid somersaults and crashed into the ground, hopefully the down pour of rain helped put the smoke and sparks out.

The Mayor then intervened and praised the efforts of all concerned in helping provide a novel interlude in the celebration of the Eccles Charter Celebrations and closed the curtain on the show.

The Eccles Journal declared, “The rocket mail will be dispatched to collectors in all parts of the world and the “scorched mail” will be regarded as collectors “historical pieces” in years to come”.

Interestingly enough these rocket mail stamps can still be found on collectors sites and are currently fetching in the region of £30 per envelope which have been franked with the Eccles Charter stamp of authenticity.

I have 4 of these stamps all in one block which I picked up from a car boot sale many years ago, and yes they are for sale!

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SalfordOnline.com's Local History Editor and Senior Reporter.