Prescot THI Blog

54 and 56 Eccleston Street: THI Building Projects Complete!

54 and 56 Eccleston Street AFTER the THI funded works…

…and a little reminder of what it looked like BEFORE the THI works

I like writing these sorts of blog posts!

Two more of the THI’s Priority Building Projects are now complete. These are 54 Eccleston Street (Age UK) and 56 Eccleston Street (Max Spielmann). The works have involved the comprehensive repair of the buildings and external restoration works that focussed mainly on the shopfronts.

Aspinall’s Old Hall Overhaul

I touched upon the earlier history of this site in the recent post about Atherton Street and Atherton Hall and so won’t go any further back in this post than 1870-72. This is approximately when Atherton Hall was demolished and a brand new north-south route, Aspinall Street, along with Station Road, connected the medieval core of Prescot with its brand new railway station. The railway station opened to passengers on 1st January 1872.

Thanks to Geoff at Prescot.org who has told me that Aspinall Street appears to have been named after a Mr T Aspinall who in 1870 approached the Prescot Local Board to “undertake the formation of a new road through his property from Eccleston Street to Atherton Street”. The Local Board balked at the £150 cost of constructing the new road and it would appear that Mr Aspinall laid out the street at his own expense, presumably to ‘open up’ the former garden of Atherton Hall to create more plots of land for development. And named the street after himself, like you do!

Speculate to Accumulate

Aspinall, if it was him, divided the Eccleston Street frontage of the former Atherton Hall site into narrow plots. Whether it was a coincidence or intentional, the new building plots where Atherton Hall previously stood are similar in width to the medieval burgage plots created along the rest of Eccleston Street that were laid out 300 or more years earlier. The result is, looking from the street it is hard to tell where the medieval plots finish and the post-1870 plots begin despite the huge difference in age between the two.

52-56 Eccleston Street are at the bottom left corner of the junction of Eccleston Street with Aspinall Street. Aspinall Street provided a new direct route from the town centre to the railway station. Note how the Victorian 52-56 Eccleston Street were built to similar widths of the medieval building plots further left along Eccleston Street.

Rather than to confuse future urban geographers and THI Officers Aspinall or his surveyor probably knew that a plot width of about five metres (or more accurately its imperial equivalent) is just about right width to fit a decent sized room and an adjacent passageway or staircase, and by keeping to this width Aspinall could make the biggest return on his land by fitting in as many conveniently sized plots as the space allowed.

It seems that most of the building plots were sold and developed individually or in pairs. 52-56 Eccleston Street are unique in that they were built in a set of three. The three appear to have been purpose-built as ‘lock up’ shops – in other words shops without anything upstairs other than perhaps an office or storage space. At the end of the working day the unit could be locked up for the night and left empty. This illustrates another move forward in the retail world – the concept that shops were no longer being within ‘mixed use’ buildings with the proprietor or manager living over the shop, but them instead being self-contained ‘lock-ups’ used for business only. This is quite different to say, 25-31 Eccleston Street or 19 Eccleston Street which are respectively late Georgian and early Victorian – these are all three storeys with plenty of living accommodation over the shop.

Further evidence of 52-56 Eccleston Street being built for business use only is the lack of chimneys, chimneybreasts and fireplaces in the buildings. It seems that none of the main rooms have ever had these.

Off the Rails

The building materials and architecture of 52-56 Eccleston Street (and the neighbouring 46-50 for that matter – and Margaret Rose opposite) really do illustrate the time they were built in.

With the arrival of the railway in Prescot in 1870 it became possible for the first time ever to bring in building materials easily and cheaply by rail. And of course the establishment of a railway network nationally from the 1840s made it possible for quarries, brickworks, iron foundries, and glassworks to exist at a giant scale because they could reach customers beyond the confines of their locality. All the while these industries and their processes were becoming increasingly mechanised, refined and improved so that more and more building materials and components could be churned out at competitive prices.

What did this mean for 52-56 Eccleston Street? For a start the slate and bricks will have come from further afield. The bricks may well have come from Accrington which established itself as a major brick manufacturing centre in the second half of the nineteenth century. The factory system of making bricks meant that they could be made to a consistent size, durability, colour, texture or glaze or, if required, shaped or moulded to provide decorative features or details. Prescot of course had its own big brickworks, Tushingham’s, but our buildings pre-date the establishment of Tushingham’s by a good 25 years.

The brickworks that supplied the builder of 52-56 Eccleston Street was able to provide very evenly coloured and fired red brick with cream bricks as decorative bands, plus along the eaves the shaped ‘specials’ that carry the gutter and give a simple but pleasing detail to the building. The anorak that I am, I’ve looked out for these same bricks being used elsewhere – I’ve managed to spot these exact same bricks with the stars in St Helen’s, Southport, Pemberton (near Wigan), Old Swan – so they must have all come from one giant brickworks in the northwest.

Red Victorian bricks with cream banding. The eaves have specially-shaped corbels with a star motif. The middle left one has a Celtic cross instead of a star. I wonder if this was intentional?

Another anorak-y detail, and not one I noticed until works had started and the scaffold was up is that on the corner of no.56 the ‘special’ brick at eaves level has a star on the Eccleston Street face, but a circle with a Celtic cross with it on the Aspinall Street side. Was this tiny detail how the bricklayer marked the end of the job? Were they one ‘star’ brick short and this was the best they could do?

Over the first floor windows are camber-arched windows, a detail that was seemingly loved by builders in the 1870s. The bricks appear to have been moulded into their shapes in the brickworks as a set rather than rubbed down into their precise shape on site. Like the ‘specials’ at eaves level, this detail is attractive but wasn’t especially time-consuming to put together. The arched sash windows? These are actually square at the top with the space for the glass arched, but from outside the corners over the arch are hidden by the wall.

The brand new sash window at no.54 accurately copies the detail of the original sash window that has been repaired at no.56.

As well as being uniform in appearance upstairs, 52-56 Eccleston Street were very uniform downstairs with the three shops having matching fascia signage, pilaster and bracket details, but the shop windows and doorways designed to suit the particular business. This is shown in the earliest photo we could find of the building. This was the basis we used for restoring the two.

This photo, possibly taken in the 1890s was key in designing the shopfronts at 54-56 Eccleston Street. The buildings would only have been about 25 years old at the time.

Marge In Charge

So what about the businesses that occupied these buildings? Appropriately enough for a building whose materials were imported to Prescot by railway, no.56 was occupied by Maypole Dairy Co Ltd – a company started in Wolverhampton in 1887 with a single shop that had mushroomed to 985 shops nationwide by 1915. The Prescot branch probably opened in the years leading up to 1900 – which raises the question: who was in there before? I’d love to know!

This type of multiple-branch business is another product of the railways – you couldn’t have 985 branches without a cheap and reliable means of distribution. Maypole specialised in five products: margarine, butter, condensed milk, eggs and tea. Margarine was the company’s particular forte, with the firm at one point supplying a good share of the UK margarine market.

Incredibly Maypole appears to have occupied no.56 until around 1970. After that, during the 1970s and 80s, it appears to have been a branch of the Midshires Building Society – with roots in both Merseyside and the West Midlands – continuing the shop’s connection with the Black Country. The shop was latterly a second hand / record shop before being occupied by its current tenant, Max Spielmann.

From the earliest photo we can find which appears to be just before 1900, through to the 1950s or 60s it looks like no.54 was used as a butcher’s with James Morris named in Trade Directories that were published in 1918 and 1924 (thank you to Prescot Roll of Honour for those) and the name being visible on the shop sign in a photo taken in the 1950s or early 1960s. It looks like the butcher’s ceased trading in this shop in the 1960s, for the shopfront we have recently removed from the property as part of the scheme of restoration appears to have dated form this time, having presumably been installed by whichever business replaced the butcher’s.

Post-1960s uses of no.54 are unknown to me. It seems to have had a variety of retail tenants, though Age UK has been the occupier for a good decade or more.

The THI Works

Both buildings needed repairs here and there to the brickwork and roof, with replacement guttering needed throughout. A personal milestone was getting rid of that invasive buddleia that was growing at eaves level. Its roots reached far deeper down the wall than we had estimated for and so more of the front wall needed rebuilding to fully remove the roots.

Much bigger than it looked from pavement level: the small tree we removed from the brickwork.

Everything in its right place – double checking the corbel before it is cut to shape and fitted.

The star of the show was the restoration works. Heloise Wood at Atelier MB Architects translated the earliest known historic photo of the building into a workable set of architectural drawings that were used by the contractor Quadriga Contracts (and shopfront subcontractor The Joinery Specialists) to make the buildings look as close to how they originally looked as we could. As a result the shop signs shrunk down to their original size and angle, pilasters and brackets were reinstated, the shop windows were made taller and traditionally proportioned, and the alterations to the side of 56 were covered up with a ‘blind’ shopfront.

In terms of security, the ugly, bulky external shutters have been replaced with internal ones, with fitting three internal shutters precisely in the limited space at no.56 a logistical nightmare that the contractor and subcontractors dealt with admirably. Getting rid of the external shutters has also made getting into and out of the shop far easier, as the old shutter runners were in the way of the door.

Elsewhere the original sash windows to no.56 were repaired and the modern side window replaced with traditional ones. We copied the original window detail at no.56 to reinstate the correct detail at no.54. Fiddly jobs like the junction of the shopfront to the pavement and the side gate and fence have also been addressed.

Quirks with the buildings include:

  • The way the walls bulge and belly (the side of no.56 in particular) which meant the pieces of new shopfront had to be specially shaped to follow the curves of the wall
  • There being an original timber beam over the Aspinall Street side of the shopfront of no.56, which rests on later steel beams that run over the Eccleston Street side of the shopfront.
  • The fact that although the shopfronts were identical when viewed from the outside, it doesn’t look like the shop windows were the same height – one was slightly taller than the other. We can only guess the original joiners had to disguise this difference like we have.

The new shopfront at no.56, and in the distance the Victorian one at Margaret Rose

What Next?

The THI is not quite finished with these buildings. Because of the solid windowless wall at street level on the side of no.56 we took the decision to continue the shopfront along this side and two create new blank panels where the glass of these blind windows would be. These panels will be the home of historic interpretation or possibly a piece of art (or both). Far better than a brick wall!

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Help shape the heritage initiative by taking part in consultations, or celebrate Prescot's history at events taking place throughout the project. Schools and colleges can also get hands-on with the past through activities and workshops for groups.

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