Prescot THI Blog

Books, Drugs and Sausage Rolls: A History of 44 Eccleston Street

Hello, it’s time for another one of those blog posts I really enjoy writing (and I hope you enjoy reading): a new building project is on site, and it seems like the ideal time to give a quick summary of the building’s historic and architectural interest. The building in question is 44 Eccleston Street, aka the former Poundbakery, and Sayers for much longer before that.

44 Eccleston Street, last week

One House or Two Cottages?

I believe that this modest two storey building is one of the oldest in the town centre to the east of Leyland Street. To the west of Leyland Street, the likes of 30 Eccleston Street, the back of 21-23 Eccleston Street are both early seventeenth century and of course the oldest parts of the Parish Church much older still. I will stick my neck out and date no.44 somewhere between 1750 and 1780.

My hunch is that it was built as a modest double fronted house, two larger rooms to either side of the front entrance and two smaller rooms at the back with the stairs tucked off behind one of the front rooms. Everyone else tells me it was probably originally two separate units, but if that was the case the left hand unit would have been very narrow indeed and in any event it has been a single building since the earliest Ordnance Survey of 1848 if not earlier.

The 1848 Ordnance Survey. 44 Eccleston Street is the square building on the south side of Eccleston Street, next to the White Hart pub and below the final ‘t’ in ‘Eccleston Street’. Next to no.44 was a walled yard and then the enormous Atherton Hall with its large gardens to the rear.

The other reasons why I think it was built as a single house are:

  • Its location next to Atherton Hall. Atherton Hall was one of the largest and highest status dwellings in Prescot. For someone who was of reasonable means – better off than most other people in town but not necessarily part of the gentry – you would want your house to have prestige by association by being close to a high status dwelling rather than being among lower status cottages and workshops. This sort of snobbery crops up in many settlements, with those who have the means living close to higher status dwellings. More about Atherton Hall (which was demolished around 1870) here.
  • Its location at the east end of Eccleston Street. The focus for commercial and retail activity was naturally Market Place. The land prices and rents here were highest and so the street frontage to Market Place was divided into ever-narrower units to accommodate more tenant businesses and generate more income for the landlords. This is evident as early as a 1592 survey carried out by Kings College, Cambridge, which is was (and still is) lord of Prescot Manor. Where 44 Eccleston Street stands is a short distance away from Market Place, but its location away from the bustle of the market would have made land or rents here cheaper and hence a wider street frontage would be more affordable, and so it was within someone’s means to build a double fronted property here rather than a narrower building.
  • The building itself. What survives of the historic layout suggests only a single staircase was in situ and there is only evidence of the western rooms being heated by fires. Also if the building was ever two smaller units, the fireplaces would have been in one unit and the staircase in the other! It could have only have been a single house. It seems to conform to the typical middle class set up of a central entrance corridor with a dining room on one side and drawing room (for withdrawing to, post-mealtime) on the other, with service rooms at the back. There is even a windowless cellar accessed by stone steps that were underneath what would have been the original location of the stairs to upstairs. Upstairs it looks like there was a ‘best’ bedroom at the front with a fireplace, a second bedroom at the back also with a fireplace and one large unheated room next to the stairs.
  • The existence of a passage through the building. People assume the blocked doorway to the left of the shopfront would have been the front door to one of the two units that made up this building. This doorway in fact originally opened onto a passageway that led through to the small rear yard that served this building alone. This would have made the archetypal ‘upstairs, downstairs’ access arrangement of middle class Georgian houses possible: if you were the family or their guests, you would use the front door, if you were the hired help, servicing the building or delivering something, you would go through the passageway to the back door, which handily opened onto the service rooms.

The architecture of the building is what is often called ‘urban vernacular’ – it is not a strongly stylised piece or architecture, but the openings at first floor are arched and well-spaced while the simple stone cornice gutter has a simple Classical moulding. It is likely that the central front door would have been the most ornate part of the frontage, possibly a Classical doorcase with a handsome panelled door. This simplicity of the elevation with the central doorway being the focus for decoration ties in not only with a lot of Classical buildings in towns, but also in a lot of vernacular houses built or remodelled in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries where the front door would be the most decorated part of the frontage.

As the eighteenth century moved into the nineteenth Eccleston Street became more and more commercial in character with more shops at ground floor. At some point no.44 was used as a shop or business premises of some sort and there was more than likely some alteration at ground floor to accommodate a shop window or door.

Quick Stationary

Through a combination of information helpfully sent to me by Stephen Nulty of Prescot Roll of Honour, the information freely available at prescot.org and research by our very own Historic Environment Intern, Hannah Sharp, it seems that by 1881 no.44 was no.32 Eccleston Street (the street numbering changed at least twice) and was occupied by William Quick a 28 year-old bookseller plus his wife Emma and son George. It can only be assumed that they both lived in the building and ran their bookselling and stationery business there. Twenty years later, by the time of the 1901 census, the family were still there, with young George now assisting his father with the family business. They must have been doing all right, because what must have been the best room over the shop was given a highly decorative new fireplace and grate, probably in the 1890s.

By 1911 the Quicks had moved three doors down to the bigger 50 Eccleston Street and continued their bookselling and stationery business there. As for our building?

George G Hemingway

By 1901 the Hemingway family had taken up residence and ran their chemist’s shop from the ground floor. The Hemingways lived originally in South Yorkshire (though Mrs Hemingway was Manx) and there the head of the family George was a schoolmaster. The family moved to Walton whilst the youngest son George Garret Hemingway was still a boy. George Garret Hemingway served as an apprentice druggist before setting up shop on his own at what is now 44 Eccleston Street, his father George by then retired and widowed and living over the shop with his youngest son.

We are extremely fortunate that George G Hemingway publicised his Prescot business heavily in the early years, for in our very own Prescot Heritage Hub we have copies of a ‘Prescot Yearbook’ published by Hemingway’s in 1903 and 1904. Nearly half of the pages in the ‘Yearbook’ are in fact adverts for the remedies, cures, seeds, wines, spirits and beers sold by Hemingway’s with short articles of local interest padding out the rest of the book.

For me by far and away the most interesting inclusion in one of the Yearbooks is a very clear photograph of Hemingway’s shopfront, showing off all of the wares sold within. It is this photograph that has been worked by Richard Roberts of Cass Associates Architects into the architectural drawings of the shopfront that we will reinstate to this building as part of the THI.

The shopfront of 44 Eccleston Street as it appeared in the 1903 edition of ‘Hemingway’s Yearbook’. My thanks to Prescot Heritage Hub for permission to use the photo.

Hemingway’s probably continued as a chemist’s more or less up to George Garret Hemingway’s death in 1943, though the family had moved out from over the shop before 1911 and resided at Eccleston Park (and latterly Romiley in Cheshire). It seems that by 1911 44 Eccleston Street was used just as a ‘lock-up’ shop with nobody living on the premises, as no one is recorded as being resident in later censuses. Hemingway was also part of the local political scene: in 1919 he was elected Chairman of Prescot Urban District Council and was later Vice-Chair.

Chain Reaction: Boots and Sayers

At some point, perhaps when Hemingway entered semi-retirement in the 1930s, or possibly after his death in 1943, his chemist shop in Prescot was acquired by the chain Boot’s, which itself started as a single shop in Nottinghamshire in 1849 but by 1933 had opened its 1000th branch through a mixture of opening new branches and buying out existing chemist shops or chains. While the shop at no.44 would have for all intents and purposes the same, I wonder if they opened a ‘Boots Booklovers Library’ upstairs as existed over many branches of Boots – an unexpected return to the days of Quick’s bookshop in the 1880s and 1890s?

You can spot 44 Eccleston Street in this 1950s or early 1960s photo by the hanging sign bearing the Boots logo.

Post war and particularly in the 1960s and 70s Boots focussed on new branches and updating its many branches, including the closure of all of the ‘Booklovers Libraries’ across the entire chain in 1966-7. Instead of tearing down 44 Eccleston Street, or setting up shop in one of the new parades of 1960s buildings elsewhere on Eccleston Street, Boots built a new shop next door at 42 Eccleston Street (on the site of the demolished White Hart Inn) in a pseudo-Georgian style, albeit in modern brick with a modern style shopfront. The business remains there to this day.

Sign of the times – this photo was taken shortly before works started you can still see ‘Sayers’ and the unmistakeable Boots logo on this fascia.

It seems that the former Boots shop was snapped up by the bakery chain Sayers which grew from a single kitchen in Old Swan in 1912 to a present-day regional chain of 158 branches. It seems that Sayers re-fitted the back lean-to as their food prep area, complete with very 1960s-looking floral red and black tiles that survive above the level of the later suspended ceiling. Sayers were a long-term occupant, moving down the street to 16 Eccleston Street in 2015, having re-branded the branch as one of its Poundbakeries in 2014.

44 Eccleston Street and 42 Eccleston Street in 2012. Boots moved out of no.44 into their purpose-built building in the 1960s or early 1970s and Sayers moved in.

That’s all we can find about the building. I will keep you posted if we find anything else!

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