A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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The township of Prescot, cut off from Whiston as a manor for the rectory, is comparatively small, containing only 270 (fn. 1) acres, lying wholly upon the coal measures. A little town has grown up near the church, on the top and eastern slope of the hill, which here attains 250 ft. The main street, Eccleston Street, begins at the church and goes eastward. The market-place, where the town hall is situated, opens out of it close by the church, on the steep hill side. The town hall was built in 1755, and has the arms of King's College, Cambridge, on a panel over the doorway. It stands north and south, with an apse at the south end, and a line of shops on the ground floor, and though of no particular merit, has considerable picturesqueness from the steep southward fall of its site. The town contains a good number of eighteenth-century houses; and in Eccleston Street is a small timber house dated 1614, a pretty little building. The Lyme almshouses on the Rainhill Road, east of the town, were built in 1708, and are simple in detail and a welcome break in the absolute modernity of this part of Prescot. Near by a little suburb of cottage houses of the usual type has sprung up near the watch factory and the insulated wire works, the principal industries of the place. The dismantled windmill also stands here. The woods of Knowsley Park make a pleasant background to the north. At some little distance from the town, but in Huyton, stands the Hazells (Mr. W. Windle Pilkington) a fine old house, surrounded by picturesque grounds. It belongs to Lord Derby.
The ancient highroad from Liverpool to Warrington passes through the town; the South Lancashire electric tramway system uses this, and also the road from Prescot to St. Helens through Eccleston. The London and North Western Company's line from Liverpool to St. Helens crosses the township on the south, and has a station within it (Prescot) about half a mile from the church. The population was 7,855 in 1901.
Leland, about 1535, described it as 'a little market; having no notable water about it; four miles from Mersey, up towards Liverpool.' (fn. 2)
The cotton manufacture was early introduced here, but has died out; there was formerly a sail-cloth factory, while coal mines, now closed, were worked within the township last century. Samuel Derrick, writing from Liverpool, gives the following account of the town's appearance in 1760: 'About eight miles off is a very pleasant market town called Prescot. In riding to this place travellers are often incommoded by the number of colliers' carts and horses which fill the road all the way to Liverpool. It stands finely upon an eminence having an extensive command. The houses are well built and here are two inns in which attendance and accommodation are cheap and excellent.' (fn. 6)
Pennant, in 1773, recorded that 'the town abounds in manufactures of certain branches of hardware, particularly the best and almost all the watch movements used in England, and the best files in Europe. Here is, besides, a manufacture of coarse earthen mugs, and of late another of sail-cloth.' (fn. 7) About 1840 it was said the district 'has long been noted for the superior construction of watch tools and motion work. The drawing of pinion wire, extending to fifty different sizes … originated here; and small files, considered to be of unparalleled excellence, are made and exported in large quantities. The manufacture of coarse earthenware, especially sugar-moulds, has also been established for a very long period, the clay of the neighbourhood being peculiarly adapted to that purpose; and a few persons are employed in the cotton business: the manufacture of glass bottles is likewise carried on.' (fn. 8)
Thomas Eyres was a printer here in 1779, and Thomas Taylor in 1790. (fn. 9)
In 1824 the market-days were Tuesday and Saturday, with special fortnightly cattle markets in the spring; there were five fairs—on Ash Wednesday, the Wednesday after Corpus Christi, 24–25 August, 21 October, and 1 November. (fn. 10) Afterwards these were reduced to two, the Tuesday after Whitsuntide and the Monday in the week in which fell 5 November. (fn. 11) There is now a Saturday market, and the fair is held at Corpus Christi.
The manor of PRESCOT, attached to the rectory of the church, has descended with it, the rectors being lords of the manor. They were engaged at various times in suits with their neighbours as to the lands and rights of their church. (fn. 12) One of the most interesting of these concerned the market established here by a charter obtained by the rector in 1333, which also granted an annual fair. (fn. 13) In 1355 the rector of Wigan petitioned for leave to destroy the market at Prescot, which had proved of great injury to his own market at Wigan, the two towns being only eight miles apart. (fn. 14) Prescot retained its market, and a further grant was made in October, 1458, by Henry VI. (fn. 15)
One or more families took their surname from the place, but no connected account of them is possible. (fn. 16) Another local family took its name from Churchlee in Prescot. Richard son of Robert de Churchlee early in 1286 accused Alan le Breton, the rector, of disseising him of his free tenement there; Henry the son of Richard joined in the complaint, which terminated successfully. (fn. 17)
The hall of Prescot, at one time the residence of the Ogles, as stewards of the lords of the manor, was afterwards leased out. (fn. 18)
There were in the town in 1666 thirty-two houses with three hearths and more. (fn. 19)
Thomas Waller of Prescot compounded with the Commonwealth authorities in 1646 for his sequestered estate. (fn. 20) In 1717 John Ashton of Whiston, watch-maker, as a 'Papist,' registered his estate as a house at Prescot; Arthur Ashton, tailor, had two small houses; Edward Ellam and Edward Greenough of Parr also registered small freeholds. (fn. 21)
John Philip Kemble, the actor, was born at Prescot in 1757. (fn. 22)
In 1843 a dispute occurred respecting the boundaries, the township of Whiston claiming Prescot Hall to be within its limits. It appeared that though all the usual rates had been paid by the hall to Prescot, the tithes had been collected with those of Whiston. This arrangement may have been due to one of the leases granted by King's College to the farmers of the tithe. The Prescot authorities justified their contention that the boundary went as far as Shaw Lane, where an ancient mere-stone was placed. (fn. 23)
The government of the town by the old court-leet was thus described in 1836: 'The manor and liberty of Prescot is governed by a steward, "four men," a coroner and several constables, nominated by the jury of the court leet and baron, who are composed of twenty-four of the principal inhabitants of the township of Prescot, and who are nominated by the lords of the manor. … A court-baron, or court of requests, is held for causes to any amount every fortnight in the town-hall. … There is also a general court-baron held on Corpus Christi, and special courts with which a court-leet is held.' (fn. 24)
The Local Government Act of 1858 was adopted in 1867; (fn. 25) and Prescot is now governed by an urban district council of twelve members. The coroner of the Liberty of Prescot is appointed by King's College, Cambridge. The town is lighted with gas and the electric light by private companies; and water is supplied by the Liverpool Corporation. A lending library was established in 1854.
The Congregational church was founded in 1798, but the chapel was not built until 1811, from which time there has been a regular succession of ministers. The present church was built in 1878. (fn. 26) There is also a Welsh Congregational church.
The Unitarian church seems to have represented the earliest effort of Nonconformity to gain an establishment in Prescot. It was founded about 1756, by the St. Helens congregation. (fn. 27) It has been disused for services for about twenty years, the Wesleyans having it for a school.
The Roman Catholic church of Our Lady Immaculate and St. Joseph was erected in 1857; it is served by Jesuit fathers. (fn. 28)