Location: Stirchley is a district of Birmingham, England. Not necessarily a well-known part of Birmingham but it does have a long history, and a distinct role in the Industrial Revolution. The Worcester and Birmingham Canal, together with the River Rea, running through Stirchley has played a significant part in the development of this part of Birmingham. In my opinion, this is a great tea towel. It looks as though it is part of a firm’s advertising campaign but it is more than that; it is part of the rejuvenation of an area of Birmingham. This was a birthday present from Jai and her family. I hope she didn’t buy one for herself because she will be inheriting this one. There is a simple black and white sketch of a caravan, with that streak of red which says ‘Made in Stirchley’, ‘Eccles Caravan’ and the marking on the window of the caravan door also has a bit of red. The date on the tea towel is 1927-1959. Seeing that, you know there is a story behind it all.
Jai and Roger have lived in Stirchley since 2006; they have taken an active part in their local community. They have an allotment; their children go to school in Stirchley but they also have been part of the push to revitalise the centre of Stirchley: the opening of Stirchley Market, the setting up of the Community Hub around the swimming baths, revitalising the High Street with an artisan bakery, a cafe selling loose leaf tea, an active website and a campaign against the opening of a huge Tesco’s. The latter was successful and the community has also had to battle against Lidl wanting to buy the Bowling Alley and local gym. You can see how communities can lose their ‘soul’ if members of the community do not fight for what they want, not be overpowered by the big supermarkets. The decision about a potential Tesco’s store took several years, they had bought up quite a lot of land which had not been developed and it did put a halt on future plans for the area, for a long time.
So what is Eccles Caravans and where are they based? I love a bit of history. In 1919, a Mr Riley bought a firm called Eccles Motor Transport; he was fascinated by motorhomes and designed and built a basic motorhome on a truck chassis. He was looking at the touring caravan industry , based on horse-drawn caravans, and taking it into the motor vehicle age. In 1920’s the development of the Eccles firm was such that it needed a much larger base. Mr Riley bought a 4 acre site in Stirchley (hence the 1927 date). The Stirchley site was the first purpose-built caravan factory in the world. Eccles Caravans led the way in pre-built furniture in caravans (no more loose furniture flying around) but more importantly Eccles Caravans designed and installed the ‘overrun brake system’ which is used in every caravan to this day. This revolutionised caravanning; no more did caravans fly off the back of their towing vehicle which always made caravanning a dangerous hobby!! The Stirchley site allowed for the equipping of caravans with paraffin stoves and lighting. Eccles Caravans designed the Special Eccles Caravan for Showpeople: a 4 wheeled type wagon towed behind a trailer and lavishly decorated.
In 1959, Mr Riley retired (hence the second date of 1959) and sold Eccles Caravans to what is now called Swifts (a leading caravan manufacturer) and the base moved to Newmarket; Eccles Caravans are still being made. Eccles Caravans have been such a leader in the field of caravans that there is a Eccles Caravans Owners Club, the oldest single-brand Owners Club in the world and if you look at their website, detailing the history of the caravans, you can see that the shape and design of caravans has not changed that much over the years.
There is no question that Eccles Caravans led the field in caravan development and that Stirchley should be proud of the fact that their first base was in Stirchley. When Jai bought me this tea towel, she had no idea that caravanning would become a big part of my retirement and that I would be the proud owner of my own caravan, though not an Eccles. Looking at this tea towel, I love the fact that it links my interests – tea towels, caravans and a bit of history. A lovely birthday present.
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