Prescot is believed to be Anglo-Saxon in origin, with the name ‘Prescota-cot’ meaning a ‘priest cottage’. It was the centre of an extensive parish, within the West Derby Hundred which included fourteen other townships including St Helens.
In 1333 the Lord of the Manor, William D’Acre, was granted the right to hold a weekly market and the town’s importance is reflected in its inclusion on the Bodleian Map of Britain drawn by Gough in 1350. The manor was sold in 1391 to John of Gaunt and on his death passed to his son, who subsequently became Henry IV.
In 1447 Henry VI included both the Manor and Rectory of Prescot as gifts to establish a college at Cambridge University [subsequently King’s College]. The Royal Charter gave the people of Prescot exemption from paying certain tolls, it also gave them a degree of self-government and the town adopted the college crest as its own.
Due to the distance from Cambridge the daily running of the town was left to the Steward, his appointed deputy and the Court Leet (the local town council).
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The list of rectors for St. Mary’s church goes back to 1179, with much of the present church dating to 1610. One of those making a large donation enabling the church to be rebuilt was John Ogle of Whiston, and when he died in 1614 his effigy was placed in the new church. The church also contains a number of items from earlier buildings including a fifteenth century vestry, intricate woodcarvings and panelling and an Anglo-Saxon font.
The tower and spire, which were added in the late 1720s, are thought to be the work of a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren. There is also an eighteenth century marble font, in which the distinguished actor John Philip Kemble was baptised in 1757.
The establishment of a number of potteries in the fourteenth century, the earliest recorded in the region, was to provide an important stimulus to the town. A survey conducted in 1592, by King’s College Cambridge, details the
existence of seven kilns in the town. These kilns would have dominated the landscape, and were centred around the Eccleston Street area.
The town developed a reputation for producing fine pottery, using a mixture of the local white and red clays, numerous examples of which can be found in the town’s Museum. Another impetus was the accessibility of rich seams of coal close to the surface, which was mined from the early sixteenth century, with much of the coal produced being destined for Liverpool.
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A Newcomen Engine was installed in 1746, between the Hall Lane (now High Street) and Warrington Road area, to pump-out water from the mine. It continued to prosper until the construction of the Sankey Canal in 1767 broke the town’s monopoly of supply to the city.
Whilst copyholders were entitled to dig the coal on their land, the main mine was at Prescot Hall which lay at the bottom of Hall Lane. In the mid sixteenth century this was let by the Layton family who built a new Hall in 1562 which was described a few years later as having; ‘a dining hall, kitchen and several bedrooms together with two barn stables’. The house was over time, extended and rebuilt and was eventually demolished in the 1930s.
The town roads were greatly enhanced by the Turnpike Trust of 1726 between Liverpool and St. Helen’s. Prescot was a major point along the route which split into two on Church Street; one to St. Helen’s (via the High Street and St Helens Road), the other to Warrington (via Market Place and Kemble Street). Although the Liverpool-Manchester railway, the world’s first passenger service, was opened in 1830 and stopped at nearby Huyton it was not until 1871 with the construction of a branch-line between Huyton and St. Helen’s that Prescot got its own railway station. This was followed thirty years later with it’s first tramlines which followed the established routes to both St Helens and Warrington.
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