PRESCOT, MERSEYSIDE
formerly Lancashire

 

Grid Ref: SJ 466 926
Date: 8 March 2010

The manor of Prescot was bought by John of Gaunt, a son of Edward III in 1391 and passed to his son who became Henry IV. His grandson, Henry VI, gave the patronage of the rectory to the college of St. Mary and St. Nicholas in Cambridge and this subsequently was finished in the Tudor period, taking the name Kings College.

Prescot became well-known for the manufacture of watches, which began in the early years of the 17th century. The Lancashire Watch Company was founded in 1889. The British Insulated Wire Company, forerunner of BICC, was founed two years later. There was a town hall but it was demolished in 1962. From 1974 Prescot became part of the Knowsley Metropolitan Borough.

 

St. Mary's War Memorial
St. Mary's   War Memorial
Vicarage Place  
Vicarage Place   Georgian House, Vicarage Place
Vicarage Place   Deanes House
Vicarage Place   Deane's House, Church Street
Catholic Church   Museum
Catholic Church   Prescot Museum, Church Street

 

There has been a church on the site of St. Mary's for more than 700 years. The church was rebuilt about 1610. The tower dates from 1729 with an 18th century spire. The tower is said to have been designed by Nicholas Hawksmore.

The Catholic Church in Vicarage Place is dedicated to Our Lady Immaculate and St. Joseph. It was built by Joseph Hanson between 1856-7.

Prescot is very near Knowsley and its close connection with the Stanley family, who had the title Lord Derby, is shown by street names in the area. The eldest son of the Earl of Derby has the title Lord Strange and it was Ferdinando Stanley, son of the 4th Lord Stanley, who was in the Elizabethan Period gave his name and patronage to a theatrical group. At this time roving players, jugglers and musicians were likely to be treated as "masterless men", beggars or vagabonds. By having a patron and wearing his livery they were able to travel from town to town without fear of being prosecuted. As a young man at court he married Alice Spencer of the Althorp family, who at that time were gentry but not titled. He was interested in the theatre and supported a group of travelling players and jugglers as Lord Strange’s Players. It is difficult to keep track of actors as groups formed, merged, and split up and members would change from one group to another. Lord Strange’s group merged with the Queen’s Players which were in financial difficulties as she was very tight fisted. The Queen’s Players were involved in a brawl in 1588 in which one actor was killed. When the Earl of Leicester died in the same year his players also joined the group. Four or five years later about 1592/3, the group became the Lord Chamberlain’s Men under Henry Carey, the Queen's cousin. William Shakespeare was a member of this company and performed as an actor as well as writing plays for them. He left Stratford to join the players in about 1588 and may have been in Lord Strange's Players. The Stanley family are mentioned in two of Shakespeare's plays, Loves Labours Lost and Richard III.

Another important group was The Lord Admiral’s Men, under Admiral Charles Howard, 2nd Baron Effingham (1536-1624). They had Edward Alleyn who was a famous actor of the period

In 1593 the old Lord Derby died and he was succeeded by Ferdinando. However, Ferdinando died the following year, aged 40. He was possibly the unwilling focus of a Catholic plot led by Thomas Hesketh, which planned to put Ferdinando on the throne with Spanish help. Ferdinando was descended from Henry VIII’s sister, Mary Rose through her daughter Eleanor. Ferdinando informed the Privy Council of the plot. Hesketh was executed but Ferdinando then died in mysterious circumstances with fever and hallucinations. He may have been poisoned for being the instrument of Hesketh’s death. As he had three daughters, the title of Lord Derby went to his younger brother, William, a playwright. However, William did not take over the Lord Strange’s Men as they had already become the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

Prescot has the distinction of having had the only free standing Elizabethan theatre outside London. It was built in Eccleston Street in the 1590s by Richard Harrington the tenant of Prescot Hall. It is possible that Shakespeare performed here. A brief account of the town's connection with the Elizabethan theatre is shown on a building on the corner of Eccleston Street and Market Place. The famous 18th century actor John Philip Kemble was born in Hillock Street in 1757. He was taken to be baptised at St. Mary's by a group of players. He was known for his roles in Shakespeare's tragedies. His sister became the famous actress Mrs. Siddons.

The Georgian House that is now the musuem was formerly a branch of Parr's Bank discussed in my article on Grappenhall.

 

High Street   High Street
Hope and Anchor on corner of High Street & Moss Street   Knowsley Register Office, High Street
High Street   High Street
3, High Street, once home of Nicholas Fazakerley   Georgian House, High Street
Police Station   Bank Buildings
Police Station, Derby Street   Bank Buildings, Derby Street
Red Lion   Crown of India
Red Lion, corner of Market Place and Kemble Street   Crown of India on corner of Kemble and Aspinal Streets

 

Prescot Grammar School was originally in Church Street opposite St. Mary's. It was founded in 1544 by Gilbert Lathum, a local clergyman. From 1760 until 1924 it was in the High Street. I show here a few of the larger Georgian and Victorian public buildings in the town centre. The town has a new shopping precinct accessible from Eccleston Street, with a number of the usual chain stores. However, if it is coffee and cakes that you seek, head for High Street near the junction with Chapel Street where you will find Ray's bakery and cafe, a local business that goes back to 1924.

No. 3 High Street was the home of Nicholas Fazakerley, a lawyer, who was MP for Preston from 1732 to 1767.

Sources

The King's England, Lancashire, a new Domesday Book of 10,000 towns and villages, by Arthur Mee, Hodder and Stoughton, 1st edition, Nov 1936
The Buildings of England, South Lancashire, by Nikolaus Pevsner, Penguin 1969.
Notes from a course on aspects of Elizabethan England, by Lizzie Jones at Alston Hall College, Lancashire, November 2009, The Mistress the Minstrel and the Mountebank
Prescot Grammar School
in Wikipedia
Prescot Museum Webpage has a potted history of the town and an archive of old photographs.

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