John Eccles

John Eccles (12 November 1755 -- 23 August 1780) was the first love of Mary Hays and the only person with whom she was engaged during her lifetime. Eccles was from a Dissenting family in Fordingbridge, Hampshire, the son of William Eccles, whose weaving business flourished in the flax-growing area of that county. Shortly after the death of his mother, Eccles left home in 1776 and came to London, settling with the firm of John James, a cornfactor in Gainsford Street, where the Dunkins and Hayses would also establish some of their businesses as cornfactors (they would also have warehouses along Shad Thames and later in Mill Street, Dockhead). Eccles had differences with his father and his business that apparently provoked his leaving home, but clearly London offered many young men at this time an opportunity for employment in growing fields of business and manufacturing that could not be achieved in the smaller provinces, and the emerging corn trade would prove to be highly profitable to the Dunkin and Hays families. Eccles moved into the home of Benjamin Ludgater on Gainsford Street upon his arrival to London, and he met Mary in the summer of 1776, most likely at church, since the Hays and Lugater families both worshiped at the Blackfields Chapel at the end of Gainsford Street. According to the Poor Rate Books for St. John Parish, the Ludgater home appears just above that John Dunkin, Jr., whose residence is listed just above that of Mrs. Hays. Thus, the three homes were assessed in that order, but it does not mean that they were on the same side of the street. The rate assessor did not mark in his book (as many did at that time) when he crossed the street, so given the Hays's address as 5 Gainsford Street, it is possible that they were the second house on the north side, with the first house being that of John Dunkin, with the Ludgater house sitting directly across from them on the south side of Gainsford Street.  Mrs. Ludgater appears several times in the Hays-Eccles correspondence. Mary and John met in the summer of 1776, and began their courtship in 1778. Theirs was not an approved courtship, for neither Eccles's father nor Mrs. Hays or John Dunkin, Mary's guardian after the death of her father in 1774, approved of the match, mainly because of Eccles's lack of a proper business connection. Eventually, he procures a business situation that meets the approval of both parents, only to have his unfortunate death before the agreement is finalized end all hope for a fitting marriage for John and Mary. Their letters (those that were included in the two bound volumes transcribed by Mrs. Collier) begin on 12 February 1779 and end on 2 May 1780, with his final illness and death recorded in letters by Hays and Eccles's sister. Their letters are highly sentimental, emotional, playful, and, at times, dotted by serious discussions of religion, aesthetic enjoyment, and domestic life in marriage, exemplifying as well as any set of letters by two lovers from this period the notions of a "companionate" marriage based upon emotional and intellectual affinities and not social and economic advantages. Eccles died of a fever (most likely typhus) on 23 August 1780. Hays retrieved her letters from his belongings and, together with hers, had them transcribed by her close friend, Mrs. Collier, into two bound volumes. Both volumes were in the possession of A. F. Wedd in 1925, when she published The Love Letters of Mary Hays, her version of this correspondence. Wedd also published in that volume some of Hays's other letters that had come into her possession through her grandmother, Sarah Dunkin Wedd, who had received them from Mary Hays. Unfortunately, only one of the two bound volumes remains extant, and is now among the Mary Hays materials residing in the Pforzheimer Collection, New York Public Library.