Anyone who’s been in Eccleston Street in the pre-Christmas rush and the January sales will have no doubt spotted that there has been a THI-assisted repair and restoration scheme at 19 Eccleston Street (Andrew Louis Estate Agency). If you haven’t noticed, then where have you been?!
19 Eccleston Street before works (left) and with works virtually finished (right). I hope you agree it looks better?
I am pleased to report that this project is now fully complete and is a milestone in the THI in that this is the second overall building project to finish, but also the first ‘Priority Building’ to finish – 11 Market Place was the first ‘Priority Building’ to start, but we’re awaiting the final phase of works to take place there – and this will happen soon.
Still a Mystery
19 Eccleston Street is attached to 21-23 Eccleston Street. We know from the exposed timber framing to the gable of no. 23 (go up Stone Street and look up) and carbon dating carried out years ago to of some of the timber buried inside the rear masonry wall of no.21 that nos.21-23 date from the early seventeenth century, possibly pipping Poco Coffee (30 Eccleston Street, dated 1614) as the oldest secular building in Prescot.
What we still don’t know is whether no. 19 has any timber framing within it and was ever part of the same building as 21-23. Was it ever a cross wing to a hall at nos. 21-23? Medieval houses of higher status often had the main living and eating room or ‘hall’ under one roof and the other rooms under a different roof running at a right angle to the roof over the hall. This bit at a right angle to the ‘hall’ is called a ‘cross wing’. The way no. 19 still has a roof at a right angle to that of no.21-23 makes this theory a tempting one. The THI works were only to the outside of the building so we couldn’t investigate this theory very far. It also looks as though there were extensive alterations (if not rebuilding) to no.19 in the mid-nineteenth century.
The part of the building under the roof behind the front roof of Flossy’s and Karen Kay is known to date from the early seventeenth century. Are parts of no.19 (Andrew Louis) also seventeenth century? Was no.19 a ‘cross wing running at a right angle to the ‘hall’ in the old part of nos.21-23?
A Sign of Life
One thing that did come to light was an old painted sign on the front of the building at first floor level. The contractor carefully peeled back all loose paint to reveal the words ‘LARGE STOCK’ that has been painted over an earlier sign with letters running vertically. Again we’re not sure what there was once a ‘large stock’ of inside. From the mid-nineteenth century it seems the shop was variously a grocer’s, then possibly a dressmaker’s then maybe a tailor’s before becoming a fruit and veg shop, which it appears to have been right up until the 1980s (then it was a building society branch and then the present estate agent’s).
“Large Stock” – this old sign was revealed when loose paint was stripped off the wall next to the first floor window. the ghost of a much bigger vertical sign runs through the middle.
More Shopfront Archaeology
We didn’t have any particularly clear or complete photos of what the shopfront looked like historically, but when some plywood boxing fell away from the building in 2014 – my suspicions were confirmed – the Victorian timber shop cornice and fascia were still there, just hidden behind plywood and large signs.
After heavy rain in 2014 a bit of plywood fell away to reveal a nice Victorian-era shopfront cornice with a curved fascia beneath. We incorporated as much of this surviving timber into the new shopfront as possible.
The THI works have saved and repaired the timber that hadn’t rotted and the design of the rest of the shopfront has been done to ‘marry up’ to the historic features that are still there. The result was that the windows are now much taller, there is a recessed doorway and the pilasters are based on what could be seen in one of the historic photos of Eccleston Street.
Above: The restored shopfront is now a marriage of 2015/16 work and nineteenth century work. Can you tell which is which?
Below: The shopfront when works were very nearly finished. Everything below the signage level is new.
This is similar to what is in store for the shopfront at Millican’s Opticians (29-31 Eccleston Street) where one small fragment of the historic shopfront was a massive help in redesigning the whole shopfront.
Another big change to Andrew Louis has been getting rid of those big ugly solid rollershutters and putting a lattice-type rollerhsutter inside; the shop is still secure, but people can now browse for new homes after dark.
A Balancing Act
We were for a time in danger of this project going hugely over budget. It’s only possible to take a really good look at the chimneys and roof once the scaffold is up. In this case it was quickly apparent that all three chimneys needed more than minor repairs and the roof needed a complete overhaul rather than localised works. There was even a bird’s nest under one of the ridge tiles!
All three chimneys have been rebuilt – it was a combination of them not being built well, there were quite a few bricks originally used that hadn’t been fired properly in the kiln or where odd shapes or otherwise had obvious faults. The other thing was that whoever built the chimney didn’t ‘tie’ inside brickwork (dividing the flues of the chimneys) to the outside brickwork so by 2015 some of the brickwork was very precarious indeed! The word ‘Jenga’ springs to mind…
Looking down the main chimney of 19 Eccleston Street during works. Note how the bricks that divide the chimney into its different flues are just in a stack rather than being properly bonded into the sides of the chimney. That’s how we found it…
Another part of the works that could have gone hugely over budget was the brickwork to the side and rear of the building – the contractor cleaned the paint away in various locations. With the benefit of being able to look closely at the brickwork from the scaffold, it quickly became apparent that there was a mix of different mortars, lots of different brick types (a surprising number of modern bricks), a lot of quite weathered brickwork, plus some bright spark had painted the back and sides in a very thick black paint that would be difficult to remove. In short, taking all of the paint off the back and sides of the building would open a can of worms – there would be far more brick replacement and localised rebuilding than previously thought, loads of sound cement pointing that would have to be left alongside traditional lime pointing.
With the best will in the world (and more money than we had to spend) we could have had brickwork that wouldn’t look great. So we simply cleaned the paintwork to a decent level, carried out the most necessary repairs and re-covered in a breathable mineral paint. The money saved in doing this was spent on the extra unforeseen work to the roof and chimneys.
Looking the Business
I hope you’ll agree the building looks far better than when we started, plus the repairs will have addressed damp issues caused by rain getting into the fabric of the building at a high level.
We even reinstated the historic bargeboard detail from historic photos, complete with finial. It’s our own modest contribution to Prescot’s skyline.
The Final bit of good news is that work starts right away on 54 and 56 Eccleston Street (Age UK and Max Spielmann). These should finish on site in April.
Bye for now,