Prescot THI Blog

Marshall, Mather, Fletch and Saunders: The People of 21 Eccleston Street

There has been a long gap between blogs and for that I apologise – but it’s for a good reason, the THI has kept me extremely busy as the project approaches its final year. :-)

This blog gives a brief history of 21 Eccleston Street (Flossy’s Sandwich Bar), which is the eighth THI building project to start on site, but was given outline grant approval way back in January 2014.

21 Eccleston Street in 2012

Bark to the Future

21-23 Eccleston Street is possibly the oldest secular building still standing in Prescot. Carbon dating suggests that the trees that were worked into the building’s structural timber frame were chopped down in the late sixteenth century – shortly after a certain W Shakespeare is believed to have been yomping around Lancashire on his way to becoming a literary giant. This means the building just might pip 30 Eccleston Street (Poco Coffee), dated 1614, as the oldest existing secular building in town.

Prescot is so well served by historic records that we know that even before the existing timber frame was built there was an even older building on the site in 1545, when a Ralph Fletcher leased one bay of the building (i.e. a unit a room wide) from the Lord of the Manor and his father held the right to occupy the adjacent plot of land called ‘Mill Hill’, which was at the south side of what is now High Street.

By 1592 Ralph Fletcher is recorded as the owner of a plot of land that consisted of what is now 21-23 Eccleston Street and some of the land behind. The plot is recorded as a burgage (a narrow, cultivated field), cottage and garden. The Fletchers were a family of craftsmen, mainly weavers, merchants and leather workers who in the late sixteenth century owned the first commercial coal mine in Prescot (just off Fall Lane, now West Street).

This map was pieced together by the Prescot Historic Society based upon the 1592 survey of Prescot carried out for King’s College, Cambridge. The plot that contains what is now 21-23 Eccleston Street, then owned by Ralph Fletcher, is highlighted yellow. ‘Mill Hill’ is the plot to the immediate north, labelled 62 and 63.

By 1620 the Fletchers still owned the building, but by then it was seemingly four bays wide, so perhaps the building that was there in 1545 had been replaced by the timber framed building that is still here in 2017? Perhaps this ‘wider’ building simply includes what is now no.19 Eccleston Street (Andrew Louis Estate Agency)?

In 1645 the property passed into the Marshall family, who were merchants. They owned the property for another hundred years or so. A record of 1761 confirms that by this point in time the building was subdivided into four separate lots, but again this could be 19, 21 and 23 Eccleston Street combined.

A Change of Plan: ‘Garden Grabbing’ in Prescot in the Nineteenth Century

In the first half of the nineteenth century (my own thoughts are around 1830-40) a two storey ‘front extension’ was built onto 21-23 Eccleston Street. This is the part of the building that we see from Eccleston Street today. We can only speculate that there was a small garden in front of the timber framed building and the new ‘extension’ was built on top of this garden.

There might have been a general spate of building on front gardens on this stretch of Eccleston Street in the first half of the 1800s – 25-29 Eccleston Street (vacant shop, Pro Vapours and half of Millicans Opticians) were all built anew around 1830 (perhaps replacing earlier buildings that may have been set back) and at 33 (Thomson’s) the early nineteenth century brick building fronting Eccleston Street stands directly in front of a much older stone built building, a bit like how the ‘front extension’ to 21-23 Eccleston Street stands directly in front of the older, timber framed part of the building.

I have taken the 1848 Ordnance Survey Map and have marked on with red dashed lines where there appear to have once been buildings set back from the present building line of Eccleston Street. One is 21-23 Eccleston Street (where the approximate footprint of the circa 1600 timber framed part of the building is shaded green), the other is the old stone building at 33 Eccleston Street, shaded orange. The blue dashed line conjecturally links the two. Did the building line leap forward in the early nineteenth century? Where properties had front gardens were these built upon? Was the street once wider or did it sweep around a garden in front of Lyme House (the large building opposite nos.19-29)?

Who occupied the building in the eighteenth and much of the nineteenth century is unclear, but it is highly like that the ‘front extension’ provided a purpose-built space for a shop, plus a new ‘best’ room above it at first floor lit by two large sash windows.

By the time the ‘front extension’ was built retailers and vendors were moving from market stalls and temporary structures (i.e. outdoor trading) to shops housed indoors. This happening in Prescot was of course part of a national trend, and for the town it was the start of the process that saw Eccleston Street gradually eclipse Market Place as the main shopping focus of the town as earlier houses were fitted out with shopfronts or replaced with buildings that could better accommodate shops. 21 and 23 Eccleston Street (and possibly some of its neighbours) are a variation – a big addition to the front of the building was how a shopfront and shop floor were accommodated without demolishing the existing building.

Taking Root, Branching Out

We know that during the latter decades of the nineteenth century that no.21 was a fruit and veg shop occupied by the Mather family and at some point after 1901 William Saunders and family, who continued in the same line of business themselves for a long stint before Mr Saunders’ assistant, Harold Read continued the business, meaning there was a fruit and veg shop in the building for many decades.

It was students working last year on the THI’s ‘Building Stories’ project with census data at and documents held at ARK who made the connection between historic data and a historic photo of an unknown shop in fact being no.21 Eccleston Street – the shopfront gives it away, as it bears both the Mather and Saunders names – both names pop up in the historic census returns for this building!

This photo taken around 1910 is of 21 Eccleston Street and this is presumably the Saunders family stood in front of their shop. I’ll take a leap and suggest these are the four people recorded at the property of the time of the 1911 census: Elsie Saunders (aged 6 in 1911), her mother Jane Saunders, her father William Saunders, plus Lucy Dagnall. Mr and Mrs Saunders ran the shop and Miss Dagnall was their servant. You can see the name ‘Saunders’ on the light fitting and partially obscured on the shop window. Higher up the window is the old sign of the previous occupant, E Mather.

The Saunders family and then Mr Read were seemingly occupied the shop for much of the first half of the twentieth century and then the path goes lukewarm – it was in the latter half of the twentieth century variously a baby linen shop (‘Wendywear’), a stationer’s (Reading ‘n’ Writing), a factory seconds shop (‘Factory Damages’) before the current long-term tenant, Flossy’s sandwich shop who are on a break whilst the THI-funded repair and restoration works to the building are underway.

The shop will re-open this Spring, complete with a restored shopfront that Mr Mather, Mr and Mrs Saunders and Mr Read would all recognise.

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