21-23 Eccleston Street: before and after the THI-funded improvements
The first blog in a while, but that’s simply because of the pace of activity in the town centre over the past few months. However like everything in our public and private lives this has been abruptly and unavoidably impacted by the Covid 19 pandemic and the urgent need to protect everyone’s health. I hope everyone reading this is safe and well and is coping with the current situation. If your home or business is in Knowsley Borough, keep track of the local situation at Knowsley News and in particular if you need extra help or would like to volunteer to help others there is also information about this on the Knowsley News website.
This is the 74th THI Blog and is the first one that I have written at home, observing the requirement to self-isolate and minimise contact with other people.
Why the Break in Blogs?
A lot has happened since the post about the project at 27 Eccleston Street completing.
We have been putting a lot of hours and effort into an application to secure funding from Historic England for a High Street Heritage Action Zone in Prescot. We achieved an initial in principle award of a grant in September 2019 and the time from then until Christmas working up our plans and projects to be delivered over the four years of the High Street Heritage Action Zone. We will wait to see Historic England’s decision.
At the same time the biggest project of the whole THI was completed and opened. I refer of course to Market Place, home of Imaginarium Bistro. A lot of work happened on site and behind the scenes, not least the tremendous effort Imaginarium made transforming our empty new building to a beautifully decked out bistro. There was also a grand opening event at the end of November. I will be paying another visit to Imaginarium and as many businesses in Prescot as I can when it is safe to do so, and I hope you can do the same to support our local high streets.
Part of the grand opening of Market Place and Imaginarium Bistro in November: the drummers and lantern parade make their way into Market Place
Thirdly, my own circumstances have changed. I have been working solely on the THI full-time since 2013, but in mid-2019 my role was changed and expanded to cover all aspects of regeneration in Prescot, heritage and non-heritage. I am delighted to be able to continue working in Prescot, balancing the progress of the THI with other regeneration projects and priorities in the town. As much as I enjoy writing these blogs (and I hope people enjoy reading them!) they have had to take a back seat in recent months, even though there has been plenty to share with you.
21 and 23 Eccleston Street – Projects Complete!
Here is the main event of this blog: buildings that I first looked around with a view to a THI grant way back in May 2013, but with a few twists and turns along the way including no.23 changing ownership and the projects being on hold for a spell of time, the final coat of paint was added to the restored shopfronts in November 2019.
And here is the final coat of paint being added before the shops opened for the day. The big windows and internal shutters look so much better than the previous external shutters.
I have already written two blogs about this very interesting building, half of it dating from around 1600, and the other half from around 1830-40. A blog about the interesting fabric (and structural problems!) revealed during the repair works is here and a blog about the history of the building and what I could find about is occupiers is here.
A lot of the work on this building was complete in the summer of 2018 there was a long wait since then for a gas connection for the new flat in the upper floor of Flossy’s to be re-routed and for some beautiful bespoke hand-carved timber brackets to be made for the shopfronts, the finishing touches that show good things come to those who wait!
This blog wraps up the project, the third in a trilogy of sorts, and shows the building before and after the THI-funded works and compares the finished product with its historic precedent.
There are also photos from across the whole ‘trilogy’ of blog posts and others at the THI Flickr pages.
Here is a round-up of work and discoveries in the final stages of the repair and restoration works to 21-23 Eccleston Street:
The removal of the sand-cement render from the front of no.23 revealed a strange step in the building’s evolution. We already knew the back half of the building was much older, a timber framed structure put up around 1600, and the front half was newer and from the early 1800s. What we didn’t know was that the 1800s part was built in two stages, as shown by the vertical join in the brickwork. It seems no.21 was extended first with a two storey addition with a symmetrical first floor elevation. Not too long after no.23 was also extended, though the resultant upstairs room is very narrow.
Here is the vertical joint through the brickwork, showing that the frontages of 21 and 23 were built at different times.
At some point the shop units were ‘evened out’ to give similar floor space and an equal share of the frontage, but this of course means the join in the first floor brickwork no longer lines up with anything. The corner of no.21 is carried by a column just inside the shopfront of no.23, meaning the first floor of no.21 sails over the ground floor of no.23, an unusual layout that shows how the building has evolved over the centuries.
In Summer 2018 the awnings were added and hand-painted signs were put in the shop windows. These two things had a dramatic effect on how the buildings looked and in the case of the awnings, a real enhancement to the street scene and the view towards the Parish Church.
The Flossy’s sign being painted onto the glass freehand by Harry Mytton
Historic photos suggest there were fixed and moveable canopies at shops all over the town centre to give a handy place to display more goods and/or to protect the wares displayed in open shopfronts from the weather. Also, with shop windows getting bigger and taller as the nineteenth century progressed, awnings became a necessity to control the amount of heat and daylight from the sun shining in.
Even during the 1960s newly built shops had either a retractable or fixed canopy, but after then it’s as though no one gave any thought to having an awning or canopy despite the obvious benefits of shade and shelter. Perhaps this is because of a sea change: shop windows becoming shorter and squatter (often due to new big signs and rollershutter boxes), window displays becoming less and less important to many high street businesses, and the trend for screening off shop windows.
The new awnings at 21-23 Eccleston Street
The final touches to the shopfronts are those beautiful bespoke hand carved wooden scroll brackets. These were inspired by the historic photo of the building taken around 1910 plus the history of the building: for a period of 50-60 years or more no.21 was a fruit and veg shop, so embellishing the scrolls with fruit, foliage and veg seemed a fitting reference to the building’s past. Each bracket has an individual design and if you look really carefully you will see a small surprise among the fruit! The woodcarver is David Williams of Liverpool.
Above: 21 Eccleston Street in 1910 and 2013. Below: 21 Eccleston Street in 1910 and 2019. The photo was the inspiration for the restoration. The carved fruit on the bracket refers to all of the fruit and veg once displayed outside of the shop.
Good things come to those who wait, and this is quite possibly my favourite of all of the THI Building Projects and I hope you like it too. More photos here.