The not-so-unlucky 13th THI Building project – 46 Eccleston Street – is now on site, so as usual at this stage of a building project, I take a look back at the building’s history and heritage value.
Pre-History: Atherton Hall
46 Eccleston Street stands at what was the north-western tip of the grounds of Atherton Hall. When it existed it was quite possibly the largest house in Prescot Township. Its frontage ran from what is now 46 Eccleston Street right over to Cyprus Street, while its grounds (mainly a large south-facing garden) stretched from Eccleston Street to Kemble Street.
I have attempted to briefly cover the history of the Atherton family and their home Atherton Hall in other blog posts (the site pops up again and again!).
There is no known verified image of Atherton Hall, but this intriguing image has been found in the Preston Chronicle, March 7 1835 relating to the lease of a house being for sale: – from the description it can only be Atherton Hall. The image at the top could be the hall, but it seems more likely to just be a generic mansion house as there is no evidence Atherton Hall had a carriage drive.
The part most relevant to this blog post is that in the nineteenth century the Atherton heiress married into the Willis family of Halsnead Hall. This made Atherton Hall a secondary rather than main residence from about 1858, with the family instead residing at Halsnead.
Atherton Hall seemingly stayed in occasional use until about 1871 when it was demolished and made way for a new road (Aspinal Street and the former Station Road) linking Eccleston Street with the town’s new railway station that opened in 1870.
History: Post Demolition
The demolition of Atherton Hall opened up its site (including its large garden) up for development, though the date at which this was done is unclear, by 1888 the new road, Aspinal Street was in situ, complete with sewer, but along it was one detached and two semi-detached villa-style houses with gardens had been built near the United Reform Church (dated 1878), while the Crown Hotel (dated 1876) had sprung up at the junction of Aspinall Street and Kemble Street, well before any of the houses and shops that are presently around it.
But what about the corner of Aspinal Street and Eccleston Street?
By 1888 this was a fairly large, square plot that was empty. Perhaps it was being kept for a large ‘landmark’ development that never happened? Fairly swiftly after, seemingly during the 1890s, the two-and-half storey 50 Eccleston Street (initially Quick’s book shop and stationer’s, now Prescot Pound Store) and two storey 52-56 Eccleston Street (now Key Shop Newsagent, Age UK and Max Speilmann) had been built. Behind the latter row was a detached south-facing house with attached shop facing onto Aspinall Street. This shop was originally DF Roberts – Cabinet Maker and Home Furnisher, was later a doctor’s surgery and is now flats.
That leaves the present-day site of 46 and 48 Eccleston Street. It seems that from the 1890s the site was occupied by a couple of single storey lock-up shops that might even have been temporary buildings. They even appear on early photographs of this end of Eccleston Street. It seems that in 1910 these single storey buildings were replaced with the present day two storey, brick built 46 and 48 Eccleston Street.
These shops were occupied from the outset, and for a good length of time by the Public Benefit Boot and Shoe Company (no.46) and Charles Rimmer’s fish and fruit shop (no.48). The Public Benefit Boot Company had moved only a few doors down from 52 Eccleston Street and were managed by a Mr Crow who lived in Aspinall Street. Indeed, it is a photograph of Mr Crow’s classy shopfront that we have used as the basis for restoring the shopfront at 46 Eccleston Street.
The Architectural History Bit
The whole row at 46-56 Eccleston Street shows two things. The first is the way the railway allowed factory-produced bricks of any colour, shape or moulding to be brought to a site and incorporated into an elevation with ease and for little cost. At 46 and 48 the moulded gutter shelf has a course of bricks featuring an egg and dart moulding.
The second thing this row shows is the changing face of retail. W H Quick was the only shopkeeper in this row that lived over his shop (hence no.50 being the tallest and deepest building in this little group) whereas 46 and 48 and 52-56 were all built as ‘lock-up’ shops that consisted purely of the shop with storage and an office upstairs. This reflects a national trend: shops were becoming single-use buildings. For the record W H Quick also lived over his previous shop – 44 Eccleston Street, covered in a previous blog.
The shopfront, as many in Prescot has been subject to the whims and changes of fashion and time and bit by bit the fine detail and quality of the original building has been obscured by later addtions.
The building will be generally repaired with the biggest changes happening to the front elevation. The existing paint over the brickwork has already been carefully removed to reveal what appears to be light cream coloured brickwork with bands of red brick running through it.
This decorative brickwork scheme is a unifying feature for this row of buildings and can also be seen on 50 Eccleston Street.
One of the common issues with restoration projects like this is that until the work has been carried out to remove the modern additions, it is very difficult to assess the state of the material.
In this case as the specialist contractors removed the fourty years of paint they discovered areas where the brick face had become damaged and the paint had bled into the brick itself – something that no-amount of cleaning would really get out. As you can see from the images here, there are large patches of discoloration.
What to do?
The easiest way to solve this would to repaint the brickwork. Of course this is a bad idea, having spent time and money delicately and carefully removing the paint just to put back back on again would be a huge waste. It would also obscure the multi-coloured brick details that was an important part of the scheme.
The second option would be to aggressively clean the brick, taking off a few millimetres of facing and hope that the paint has only penetrated that far. This is again, a bad idea as it involved actively damaging the brickwork, weakling it further and potentially not even solving the problem.
We are still exploring alternative options but there may be a case for brick-staining to take place. Brick staining (or tinting) is a process where a coloured dye is applied to the brick. This is designed to soak into the brick and not just sit on the surface like a paint. Tinting is often achieved by expert colour-matching so that old bricks, new bricks and repairs blend seamlessly.
As yet we’re still exploring options and consulting with the relevant experts. We’ll be sure to let you know what solution we arrived at.
The biggest change by far will be the reinstatement of the shopfront as it was when the Public Benefit Boot Company, the original occupier, was in the shop. The sign will sit on top of the shopfront, a bit of a local detail in Prescot around 1900.
The contractor is Aura Conservation Ltd, and the works are overseen by Dabinett Chartered Surveyors. The existing business, Girls On Top, has been in Prescot since the early 2000’s and will continue to be open for business during and after the works.