The first THI project that is underway is the re-surfacing of Leyland Street – one of three public realm projects that will happen in Prescot Town Centre over the next 4-5 years. This is due to finish by the end of September. I thought I’d use this blog entry to give a bit of historical background info on Leyland Street.
The Building of Leyland Street
The street itself didn’t exist until 1908. It looks like when High Street was being widened to fit in a new tram line, Prescot Urban District Council took the opportunity to clear and redevelop a densely built up part of the town’s network of medieval streets and yards. It looks as though Leyland Street was made to provide a north-south route from Eccleston Street up to the then-new terraces of houses in the area that includes Hope Street, Eaton Street and Moss Street.
It is likely that the cottages and houses in the tightly packed streets and yards that were cleared to make way for Leyland Street were in poor condition and were unsanitary and so Prescot UDC took the opportunity to improve people’s living conditions. Were people moved from the medieval streets into the new houses in the terraces being built around the edges of the medieval town?
The Ordnance Survey from 1891-4 shows the streets and yards that existed before Leyland Street
A street is born: the 1907-8 Ordnance Survey shows Leyland Street just before the houses and shops were built. Note that High Street is wider than in the earlier map and now contains a tramline.
The 1907-08 Ordnance Survey Map captures Leyland Street and Hill Street at an interesting point in time. All of the old buildings, streets and yards have been cleared. The new roadways and pavements at Leyland Street and Hill Street have been laid down, but there are still no buildings on either of the new streets. Across High Street there is a similar situation where the terraces at Hope Street, Eaton Street and Halsall Street are in the process of being built.
Handily, the 1911 census was surveyed three years after Leyland Street was built. It gives us an idea of the type of people who occupied the houses first. The 1911 records a book-keeper at the Cable Works, a watch finisher, an electrical fitter at the Cable Woks and a builder’s clerk among the jobs of the heads of the household. These suggest the houses were built for what sociologists call the ‘affluent working class’ made up of skilled or specialist manual workers or lower grade non-manual workers. These workers would have been better off than less skilled or unskilled manual workers.
Some of the houses retain their original 1908 features and details.
The status of Leyland Street and the houses at High Street built at the same time is shown in the architecture of the houses. The fashions of the time among workers’ houses are shown in the form of the bay windows to the best room in the house, the overhanging roof, the ‘false arch’ details over the front doors, the fancy five panel front doors and the use of decorative stained and leaded glass to the front windows. The use of flush-fitting hinged windows instead of sliding sashes is an interesting detail given that the houses were built in 1908. This type of window was much more common from the 1920s onwards.
At the High Street end of Leyland Street, purpose-built retail and commercial premises were built, facing the new tramline to Liverpool. Like the houses, their architecture reflects the styles of the time. It seems that no.32 High Street (today the Royal Bank of Scotland) was purpose-built as a bank, given that it has its original stone windows rather than traditional shop windows. There was certainly a bank in this building by 1927.
This bank and the neighbouring shops are part of the redevelopment of Leyland Street.
Two things I am not sure of are whether Leyland Street is named after a local person or family named Leyland or was it just named after the small Lancashire town? Also, the small part of the street between Hill Street and Eccleston Street was cleared with the rest of the street, but was never re-developed with the rest of the street: it wasn’t until the 1920s or 30s that 43 Eccleston Street (now Heron Foods) was extended backwards all the way to Hill Street. Were there plans to re-develop this area in 1908? It would also be interesting to know who first occupied the three shop units along High Street.
Later Changes and the THI
When they redeveloped Leyland Street, Prescot UDC (or whoever it was) must have underestimated the demand for offices and commercial property in Prescot. It seems that in the decades after the houses were built, they were one by one converted into offices or shops, which is not surprising given the street’s location in the middle of town. Today two out of the eleven original houses on Leyland Street itself are still houses. The rest are a mixture of services like solicitors, estate and letting agents, opticians, a salon and a specialist reptile shop – this is almost an echo of the specialists and white collar workers who originally lived in the houses.
The other underestimation is how big the street trees might grow and the amount of maintenance they would need. This seems to be a recurring theme with the Victorians and Edwardians – they were seemingly fond of planting trees very close to buildings and boundary walls! When they planted the trees was the expectation that they would be cut back frequently or cut down and replaced after they reached a certain size?
Leyland Street shortly before the THI. Giant trees!
By 2013 the trees towered over the buildings, blocked daylight when in leaf, and their roots were causing damage to buildings and property. The decision was made to remove the trees and plant new ones as part of the resurfacing works funded by the Prescot THI. The new trees are in root boxes that will allow them to grow without reaching into neighbouring cellars.
The new natural stone surfaces streetlights and street furniture will reinforce the historic character of this corner of town. The new performance space at the southern end will help Eccleston Street and Leyland Street to stay vibrant and versatile by providing a good-sized space within the pedestrianised part of the town centre.
Here’s to the next 105 years!
Next Blog entry:
There is a ‘part two’ to the story of Leyland Street, focussing on the streets and yards that were there previously. I’ll put this up in the coming weeks along with information about the Tour of Britain which will hit Prescot on 17th September and why the Archive Resource for Knowsley is of particular importance to Prescot’s heritage.