11 Market Place is the third ever THI building project and the first ever ‘Priority Building’ and work started last week. This blog post gives an overview of the building’s history and the works that are going to take place.
Before the Lottery: Pottery?
This map was drawn in the twentieth century but is based upon a survey of Prescot carried out in 1592. The site of 9-11 Market Place is on the right hand side of Makret Place, just above where it says ‘well’.
We’re lucky that King’s College, Cambridge in its role as Lord of the Manor of Prescot, kept reasonably meticulous records, including surveys of Prescot. From this we can see that in 1592 what is now 9-11 Market Place was a messuage (i.e. a house and any associated outbuildings) and garden covering a ‘rood’ (a quarter of an acre). It was owned by Dorothy and Margaret Layton and let to a James Ditchfield.
But what did Mr Ditchfield do? Well, the same record tells us he was one of three known potters in 16th century Prescot. There were claypits to the east of the medieval town. I could be putting two and two together and getting five here, but it’s a reasonable guess that Mr Ditchfield probably sold his Prescot pottery from what is now 9-11 Market Place; it would be the ideal spot a stone’s throw from the market cross and the other closest markets at the time were in Liverpool, Wigan, Ormskirk or on the other side of the Mersey.
Morden’s Map of Lancashire, 1695. Prescot is just below the centre, next to the enclosed ‘Knowefley Park’. If you wanted a new pair of shoes in 1695 your options were Prescot market, or the nearest markets at ‘Leverpole’ (bottom left), ‘Ormfkirck’ (top left) or Wigan (top right – no archaic spelling unfortunately). Hopefully this gives an idea of how important Prescot Market will have been to the people in its catchment area – places to shop were few and far between.
This same 1592 record shows that Dorothy and Margaret Layton also owned a shop on the other side of Market Place (roughly where the path to the Church is), plus property on the north side of High Street that included a garden, burgage, orchard and sundry buildings (all let to a tenant) a kiln and part of a larger building. A nice little empire! I can only assume the Laytons lived off the rents and perhaps the kiln was a nice little earner. Perhaps Mr Ditchfield made use of this too?
All of the above may be false – what if James Ditchfield is a corruption of John Ditchfield – publican and landlord. Was 9-11 Market Place once an inn serving the busy market? Was the kiln a malt kiln rather than pottery kiln? Further research needed!
The Plot Gets Narrower
The two properties on Market Place would have been particularly valuable, facing onto the market itself and in the thick of trading and commerce. It follows that at some point the messuage and garden was split into two narrow plots. This way the owner of the land could get more rent from the same piece of valuable land by getting in two tenants where there was previously just the one. This sort of thing happened in market towns up and down the country and is why so many old towns have narrow-fronted buildings. This sort of subdivision happened bit by bit over long periods of time.
11 Market Place is a fairly extreme example, at around 3.8m wide it is probably the narrowest building plot in the medieval core of Prescot. The existing building probably dates from the mid-eighteenth century and we don’t know for certain what the previous building on this narrow plot looked like. 11 Market Place is faced with handmade bricks in Flemish bond – a sign of status as this method of building walls requires more bricks (and gives a sturdier wall), but the bond has had to be bodged and contrived in places seeing as there is so little wall space between the windows and neighbouring buildings. The top floor might have been rebuilt or remodelled so that its stone gutter lined through with the later no.13 next door.
This 1743 map of Prescot shows how jam-packed with buildings Market Place and the streets leading to it were. The building in the middle of Market Place was probably the roundhuose that offered some shelter to market traders.
1825: Pubs and Pattens
Moving forwards through time, a Trade Directory from 1825 gives a flavour of the activity right in the commercial epicentre of Prescot Parish in the buildings around the town’s Market. There were in 47 different businesses or people listed in the directory as Market Place had buildings along both sides, was much more closed off by buildings at its north end and tapered around to what is now the flats at Greenall Court.
Interestingly the most occurring business type was pubs, inns and taverns with a total of seven (the Birch Tree, the Blue Bell, the Buck & Dog, the George & Dragon, the King’s Arms, the Red Lion, and the Royal Oak). This was the biggest concentration of hostelries in town. It makes sense as the town’s market would draw in hundreds upon hundreds of people from a wide area who would need somewhere to drink, eat or stay after trudging for miles along track and from the eighteenth century onwards, turnpike. Plus a lot of business transactions that didn’t involve exchanging cash for goods then and there would have been conducted in sat down by the fire with a half rather than out stood out in the market place in all weather.
The two next most popular building uses around Market Place in 1825 were linen and woollen drapers and hosiers (five out of nine such businesses in Prescot being in Market Place with the other four just around the corner in Eccleston Street), and milliners and dressmakers (three out of five such businesses in Prescot being in Market Place, the other two were not far away). The drapers provided cloth for making clothes and possibly other domestic uses: curtains, bed sheets, table linen etc. ‘Hosiery’ extends beyond the modern meaning of tights to encompass any clothing worn on the feet or legs. There was also one of the town’s two hat makers based on Market Place. The hat maker, milliners, and dressmakers provided hats and clothing made to measure – a professional alternative to the DIY approach of buying the cloth from the draper and making the clothes yourself. No off the peg options available in those days!
The concentration of the number of clothing shops around Market Place shows the footfall that Prescot must have had in 1825. These shops only tended to be located in towns rather than villages and like the modern clothes stores of today, drapers often occupied the ‘best’ locations and could be quite large compared to other types of shop. It’s quite fitting that no.11 Market Place is occupied by a dressmaker and fashion boutique today – it echoes Market Place of 1825.
As well as being the main place to buy cloth for clothes-making; cloth for the home; trousers, socks and other ‘hosiery’; made-to measure dresses and hats, Market Place in 1825 was also home to the town’s only two straw hat makers and two of the town’s three ‘clog and patten’ makers. Perhaps these last two types of businesses were aimed at the people attending the market from the wider countryside around Prescot? Pattens were projective ‘overshoes’ that had thick soles that lifted your feet above the muck and mud. I can’t imagine many townspeople wearing straw hats and pattens, but farmers and labourers and other people who trudged along the unmade roads in all weather? More likely.
All of the above businesses in Market Place were the ones occupying the shops in the buildings only – we mustn’t forget that the stalls themselves might possibly have been occupied by the same types of businesses.
2015: Works Afoot
11 Market Place in 2015. At 3.8m wide it’s one of if not THE narrowest historic building in the town centre.
The shopfront is one of the better preserved late Victorian shopfronts in Prescot (and indeed the Borough). Made of timber, the window mullions and frames have been made into slender little columns (or colonettes), which is a lovely little detail shop joiners were fond of using. At either end of the fascia sign are intricately shaped scroll brackets covered in carved leafs; the scroll-like S-shape of the brackets can be seen if you look sideways on to them. The contractor working on the building was surprised to find these were extremely heavy, as they are made of plaster on stone and not wood!
Again it’s great how so much effort went into such small details, ones that most people will never notice but perhaps pick up subconsciously as a sign of the building’s quality and historic character.
The works will see the building re-roofed in slate, the chimney repaired and rebuilt where needed, the stone cornice and gutter fixed, the sash windows reinstated, the front elevation re-pointed in lime mortar and repairs made to the shopfront, and importantly the beam above the shopfront that carries the brickwork above.
There will be more on this project as it progresses!