Prescot THI Blog

11 Market Place – Building Project Complete!

Way back in May 2015 I reported on this very Blog the start of the THI-funded repair and restoration works, and gave a bit of a historical overview of the building. Owing to contractor bankruptcy and a delayed resumption of work, 11 Market Place was our third building project to start, but the seventh to finish. I can only thank the shop’s occupier, Mabel Doll boutique for their endless patience and understanding over this period.

As a reminder (2015 was a long time ago): here are a couple of ‘before and after’ photos of 11 Market Place:

The biggest difference at first glance appears to be the windows, the re-located sign, the re-pointing and the paint job, but there is much more than this.

Rain, Rain Go Away

Starting at the top of the building, it the chimney has been largely rebuilt and the slate roof completely renewed.

The gutter behind the front parapet and stone gutter were both found to be completely choked by soil and vegetation which was stopping them from draining properly. Long ago someone had lined the parapet and gutters with felt, but this lining had started to perish in several places, inviting the non-draining water in the gutters to enter the fabric of the building and work its way downward.

A significant share of each THI building grant goes towards sorting out longstanding repair and maintenance issues such as this roof and rainwater goods – those unglamorous, things that will really help with the longevity of the brick, mortar, stone and timber that the building is made of and cannot be easily seen from pavement level. It does irk me when people refer to the THI as just a ‘shopfront scheme’!

We relined both gutters in lead and improved their drainage into a new cast iron downpipe. The roof was completely re-laid with new lead flashings around the rebuilt chimney.

The photo on the left is the roof as we found it: loads of earth, vegetation, slipped slates – even rolls of felt – blocking the gutters. The photo on the right is after re-lining and re-roofing.

Consistently Inconsistent Part 1: A Georgian Building with Victorian Windows?

The brickwork to the upper floors has been lightly cleaned and re-pointed in lime mortar, while the modern timber casement windows (from circa 2010) were replaced with timber sash windows. Although 11 Market Place is a Georgian-era building, we made the conscious decision to install later Victorian style two-over-two sash windows because we know from historic photos and postcards that this type of window was in place in the building from the early 1900s right up to the 1980s. It is quite plausible and possible that the Victorian sashes were put in at the same time that the ground floor shopfront was updated to a Victorian style. Seeing as most of the Victorian shopfront has survived, it made sense to keep Victorian style windows upstairs, particularly as this is the only type of window we have evidence for in this building.

When it was built 11 Market Place (on the right) would have had Georgian style sash windows with lots of small panes, like 9 Market Place (on the left). However it seems whoever owned the building in the late nineteenth century installed a new shopfront and typical Victorian style sash windows that were in situ until recent years. We consciously decided to keep the Victorian layer of the building’s history seeing as the Victorian shopfront had mostly survived.

Fire Safety in the 18th Century

One last thing about the windows – although the front wall of the building is unusually thick (its depth is two bricks placed end to end longways), not one of the windows had any ‘pockets’ in the masonry where the pulleys and lead weights that counterbalance the sliding sash windows would sit.

This suggests that the building predates the 1774 London Buildings Act that required sash window frames to be hidden behind brickwork as a means of preventing fires from spreading across buildings and between neighbouring buildings by virtue of the window frames catching fire as the flames spread out from other windows. Although this 1774 Act only applied to London, these sorts of regulations were copied and adopted across the country.

An earlier Buildings Act of 1704 required window frames to be set back at least 4 inches from the outer face of the wall, again as a means of stopping fires from spreading through window frames catching fire. 11 Market Place seems to obey this Regulation, as the windows are set well into the wall. Could it be that my original estimate of it being a mid-eighteenth century building is right?! (I think so)

If you look at how far back the glass panes are from the outer face of the wall you will see that they are recessed by more than half a brick’s width. Recessing window frames in this manner was a way of combating the spread of fire, if one broke out. Come to think of it, the big projecting stone gutter at the top would help stop flames from the top windows from reaching the roof timbers…

Consistently Inconsistent Part 2: A Sign on Top of a Shopfront?

Below the first floor windows is a band of black render and in front of this, a free-standing sign that sits on top of the shopfront. My initial reaction to this idea is that is just feels ‘wrong’: the lead-topped cornice is effectively the ‘roof’ of a shopfront and every other part of the shopfront (including signage) should sit underneath it.

We put the sign on top for three reasons: the first is that investigations into this historic shopfront found that behind the fascia (where signage would traditionally go) there was a nice big space where an awning box could fit. Both the owner and the occupier of the building (and the Building Surveyor!) were keen on reinstating one, particularly as hot sunlight was a problem for the window displays of the cake shop that previously occupied the building.

The third reason was Prescot. Over the four years I have been working away at THI HQ, I’ve built up a collection of old photographs of Prescot to help me figure out what we’re trying to restore. Lots of these photos show something you tend not to see in other towns: signs sat on top of shopfronts. In the photos I have, I counted something like 20 different examples of shops in Prescot with signs sat on top of the shopfronts, including the properties either side of 11 Market Place and even a shop that used to sell butter (and the later tenant who sold flowers) in the old Town Hall directly opposite 11 Market Place.

It’s a Prescot thing. here are a few examples of signs being on top of shops in Prescot. Top left: 46 Eccleston Street. Top right: 9 Market Place. Bottom right: 51 & 53 Eccleston Street. Bottom Left: Prescot Town Hall, Market Place

There seem to be two, maybe three, possible reasons why this could have happened. The first one is awnings. Awnings that could be rolled out or rolled up only became available towards the end of the nineteenth century. The options available to a shopkeeper who wanted to fit one of these awnings to their existing shopfront would have been to either fit these awnings top of the cornice or to put the awning box where the signage is and to put the signage on top of the shopfront. The latter approach would have had the advantages of the shop sign still being visible / readable when the awning was down and would have allowed the shopkeeper to put up a bigger sign than their existing one (some things never change!). If the shop’s main sign is underneath the awning, it will disappear from view under the awning when it is rolled out.

Here is an example of an awning over a shopfront at 56 Eccleston Street. Having trouble reading the sign?

The second factor could have been the arrival of trams into Prescot. Although there are signs on top of shopfront on Market Place and Eccleston Street, there were also a few on High Street (the tramline) and around the junction of High Street, St Helens Road and Warrington Road (where the trams from Liverpool Pierhead terminated). I wonder if signs were put on top of shops along High Street and at the tram terminus to make them more visible from moving trams? Before the trams virtually all potential passing customers would have been pedestrians.

The third factor could have simply been the presence in Prescot of a canny sign painter who could make big bespoke signs for anyone who wanted one due to the installation of an awning and/or passing tram passengers.

At 11 Market Place we have reinstated a long-lost feature of the street scene – the high sign next door at 9 Market Place (formerly Prescott’s Ironmongers) was there right up until the 1970s!

Consistently Inconsistent Part 3: The Strength of a Rotting Beam

A bit earlier in this post I mentioned the blocked gutters and the failing felt covering to them. A little later I mentioned that the front wall of the building is unusually thick. These two factors could be why when we looked behind the shopfront and the sand/cement render above it, we found two very large, but badly rotten beams. It seems that with the gutters failing water was working its way into the wall and working is way all the way down to the beam and soaking it. This situation would not have been helped by the sand cement render (which will trap any moisture that gets behind it) and the cracked cement coating to the window cills above.

All rot needs to exist is wood that is constantly damp. It prefers spongier, weaker sapwood or light softwoods, but it will still try to work its way through a big piece of oak heartwood if it stays damp, it just needs more time. It must have been working its way through the beam over the shopfront at 11 Market Place for absolutely ages, as the beam was losing strength and starting to sag under the weight of the wall above as its original thickness and density was eaten away.

The rotten beams were replaced upon the advice of a structural engineer.

The Shopfront

Finally, the shopfront itself only needed minor works being done to it, seeing as it was mostly historic and well-detailed. All we have done here is replace the modern door, reinstate a moulded cornice, cover the modern brickwork of the stallriser and give the whole lot a paint job. After painting it black, I found a photo of the 1980 showing it painted black then, including the render above.

Other Building Projects

While 11 Market Place is the seventh building project to finish, we have projects happening in phases at 7 and 9 Leyland Street (Renaissance Skincare) and 21 Eccleston Street (Flossy’s) and 23 Ecclesotn Street (Karen Kay Salon) which between them should be the eighth, ninth and tenth buildings to finish. While 13-15 Atherton Street has been on site a while, it will be so until the middle of n in the new year at 46 Eccleston Street (Girls On Top salon) should have finished before this one, all being well.

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