Yesterday afternoon the scaffold started appearing around 40 High Street, making it officially the first THI building project to start on site. This is a major milestone for the THI! Only 29 more to go!
40 High Street, yesterday
This narrow corner building has its own history that I will do my best to summarise.
A Driveway with a Difference.
It looks as though Atherton Street was created around 1790 by demolishing a small chunk of the town on the north side of Eccleston Street and building a new straight road in its place with new terraces of buildings down either side. How did I arrive at the date 1790? It’s the earliest date of the licence for the Nag’s Head pub that stood on the corner directly opposite 40 high Street.
Why did this happen? From historic maps and the name of the street, I have concluded that the street was probably created to give a pleasing approach to Atherton Hall, which stood at the end of the new street, on the opposite side of Eccleston Street (where the end of Aspinall Street now is).
The 1840s OS Map. At the corner of Atherton Street and Farakerley Street (now High Street) is the larger 40 High Street and on the opposite corner is the Nag’s Head. The course of Atherton Street lines through perfectly with what I can only assume was the principal doorway to Atherton Hall (the very large building on the south side of Eccleston Street). It looks as though Atherton Street with its long three storey terraces provided a vista that terminated in the garden and front entrance to the Hall.
The Atherton family were prominent in Prescot and were probably members of the minor gentry, earning money from renting land and buildings to tenants. It is probable that William Atherton Esq. (1742-1803) was responsible for the creation of Atherton Street. His memorial is within St Mary’s Church, and during his lifetime he donated a new organ to the Church.
It is believed that Atherton Hall was a large timber-framed hall house. The new street was laid out so that Atherton Hall terminated the view south down Atherton Street from High Street (or Fazakerley Street as it was named at the time). The idea was probably that the family and any of their guests would travel down Atherton Street to reach the front door of the Hall.
The straight street created a formal ‘set piece’ of urban design to provide an impressive approach to the principal entrance to Atherton Hall. The new street was effectively a ‘driveway’ to Atherton Hall. The 1848 OS certainly suggests that the width and orientation of Atherton Street relates directly to the position of the front door to Atherton Hall.
Split the Difference
Although they form a long terrace, the buildings along the west side of Atherton Street were actually built in pairs or as single buildings rather than all being built in one go like a Victorian terrace.
I haven’t been able to find any pre-1910 photos of 40 High Street, but from historic maps it looks to have been twice as wide than it is now: a central doorway with a window to either side. There is a tiny glimpse of the building in a photo from around 1900 that shows a sliver of a typical Georgian house.
Thie photo is facing west down High Street is around 1900. That sliver of a building (three storeys plus cellar) in the middle photo is the only picture I can find of 40 High Street before it was demolished and rebuilt. The building blocking the view of it is the Nag’s Head, the site of which was cleared not long after this photo was taken. You can see how much narrower High Street was then.
When the tramlines were being laid in Prescot from the 1890s onwards, the junction of High Street / Warrington Road / St Helen’s Road was an important terminus. One way would take you to the Pier Head in Liverpool’s docks, another to St Helen’s Town Centre. Once the tram was up and running, its popularity created pressure to increase capacity by laying a second pair of tracks. Prescot was problematic because of Derby Street and High Street being narrow in places, so to fit the new tramline and other traffic, certain buildings had to be demolished.
The Nag’s Head was pulled down around 1901. What is left of its plot following road widening is still empty to this day. 40 High Street was demolished and rebuilt in its present form at some point between 1908 and 1927.
I’ve hemmed and hawed about whether part of the 1790 building was kept or whether the entire building was pulled down, but I’ve come round to thinking the whole of 40 High Street was demolished, but it was rebuilt sympathetically, re-using old handmade brick to the front and back and re-using the timber(?) gutter cornice that runs along the entire terrace. The gable end facing High Street looks like it was re-built in the factory-made bricks available at the time of demolition. I stand to be proven wrong when the paint gets cleaned off as part of the THI repair and restoration project!
This whole approach of rebuilding in a Georgian style using some of the original details, bricks and proportions is an unusual for the early twentieth century. I would have though it more likely that they would re-build in the styles and materials of the time. The jury is still out as to whether the shopfront went in when the building was rebuilt or whether it was put in later on.
Who occupied the shop? There are no entries for the building in trade directory published in 1918. In 1924 40 High Street was occupied by a Mr George Pickin, furniture dealer and upholsterer. Was this the same building? It’s not a big shop – he can’t have fit much furniture in! The shop was later a salon and a video hire shop before the present dry cleaner’s which has been there for some time. We haven’t been able to find many historic details or features on the shopfront.
A lot of the mystery around this building will be revealed when the paint is removed from the brickwork (which should be very soon). The removal of the shopfront might reveal more about the building’s history or past occupants. It still seems funny to me that someone went to great pains around 1920 to rebuild this small corner building in a Georgian style. Here we are in 2014 going to great pains to repair and restore the building and get those upper floors occupied again.
Setting out the history of anything is full of pitfalls and this potted history is as comprehensive and accurate as I can make it with the time I have and the information I have to hand. If someone out there would like to compile a detailed history of Prescot – get cracking! We need one and the town deserves chronicling!
With thanks to Prescot Historical Society and Prescot Museum for use of their historic photos.