17/05/2022

Prescot, Lancashire

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This was an uncharacteristically static period for the family Denton; not to suggest that they were any less worthy but perhaps a little less exciting than some of those earlier landed antecedents. For the bulk of six generations and more than two centuries the family was based in what is today part of Merseyside, though in their time they were considered to be in Lancashire or Cheshire. Of course for this group we do have census records and much better recordkeeping to assist with the family history research.

The family lived in a number of places in southern Lancashire – in Prescot, Huyton, Burtonwood, St Helens, Warrington… Today Burtonwood and Warrington are administratively in Cheshire. Warrington is twenty miles east of Liverpool and twenty miles west of Manchester. Burtonwood is best known as a former RAF station and located halfway between Warrington and Prescot.

Map showing Prescot, Burtonwood, Eccleston, Huyton, St Helens, Warrington… ©Google Maps

The Denton family appeared quite settled around Prescot between my 7th and 3rd GGFs so perhaps it is worth getting a feel for the place.

Prescot High St looking east – Knowsley Local History website

The town was called Prestecot in 1190, Prestecote by 1292 and Prescote in 1440. The name means priest’s dwelling and its geological arrangement suggests it had Celtic origins. In 1447 Henry VI bestowed the manor on his new college, King’s College at Cambridge, giving it arcane benefits. Prescot was a collection of fifteen original townships including Bold, Eccleston, Farnworth, Parr, Rainford, Rainhill, Sutton, Whiston and Windle – all of these have been revealed as birthplaces or homes for our family. Perhaps it should in retrospect be happy that it ‘missed the bus’ as neighbouring St Helens, Widnes and other locations embraced industrialisation much more effectively than Prescot.

Dentons are not among the most notable Prescot inhabitants, which accolade goes to Archbishop Bancroft, to William Smyth who became Bishop of Lincoln and co-founded Brasenose College in Oxford, and to a famous Shakespearian actor John Philip Kemble.

In 1592 King’s College Cambridge established that there were seven active kilns in the town, all clustered around Eccleston Street to take advantage of local red and white clays.

At the 2001 Census Prescot’s population was just 11,184. It is today administratively in Merseyside, located eight miles west of Liverpool. As so very many of the Denton family were baptised, married and buried in the Prescot parish church I did find the, rather flat without music, six-minute film on YouTube was still interesting – see www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bZ5mnDAZbM – yet no Denton appears to have merited any commemoration in the fabric of this rather grand English Gothic church. It is well-maintained, probably because it is Grade I listed.

St Mary’s Church Prescot, Lancashire/Merseyside

Intriguingly, the many-Denton-ed Prescot supplies a connection back to our earliest antecedents. In the 14thcentury William Dacre, the 2nd Baron Dacre of Cumberland (1319-1361), arranged a charter for Prescot to hold a three-day market and a moveable fair. William was described as the parson of the church of Prescote. He died childless and his brother Ralph inherited his titles and became lord of the manor and parson of Prescot. More later – but suffice here to say that a cousin Richard Denton (1453-1484) married William’s descendant Jane Dacre.

In 1355 this status as a market town led to arguments between Prescot and Wigan, with the Wigan rector petitioning to have the Prescot market discontinued as it damaged that of Wigan just eight miles away. The case rumbled on but in 1458 Henry VI gave a further market grant to Prescot.

In 1666 (around the time Edward Denton must have arrived and of course famous as the year of the Great Fire of London) Prescot is reported as having thirty-two houses with three hearths and more. The principal house was the vicarage with ten hearths: then followed the properties of Oliver Lyme and Katherine Stockley with nine each: Cuthbert Ogle (a family that had once owned the manor) had eight: John Walls and William Blundell had seven each: Thomas Litherland had six and The ‘Eagle and Child’* Inn had five. I had never considered this as a measure of affluence before and of course today all those bedroom hearths have been pulled out and blocked in – in our current house we are left with just two of the original six.

 [* In 1944 American servicemen were station at nearby Huyton (see GGF6) and tension between black and white GIs led to what became known as the ‘shoot-out at the Eagle and Child’; it is unclear if they too had a pub of this name.]

The town was quite faith-diverse with St Mary’s C-of-E parish church, two Catholic churches established by Jesuits, and back in the 19thcentury there was a Wesleyan Methodist church, a United Methodist church, a Congregational church, a Welsh Congregationalist church (serving the immigrant Welsh miners), a Unitarian church and a Salvation Army barracks.

Commercially the town was best known for watch parts, for filemaking and for pottery. There was some cotton manufacture, a sail-cloth factory and several coal mines due to there being a seam of coal close to the surface that was exploited for Liverpool. In 1746 a Newcomen steam engine was installed to pump water from the mine.

Samuel Derrick of Liverpool in 1760 gave his view of the town, 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 […] The houses are well built and here are two inns in which attendance and accommodation are cheap and excellent.

Prescot’s watch business was founded around 1600 by Woolrich, a Huguenot refugee. Required skills were quickly learned by the town’s blacksmiths, the work carried-out as a cottage industry. Houses became small workshops making parts or assembling them, families became well-known for specific parts. The name of the person responsible for assembling a finished timepiece was engraved on the backplate.

Lancashire Watch Co, London & Prescot watch

Thomas Pennant was a notable traveller and antiquarian who regularly wrote of the places he visited. In 1773 he said of Prescot the town abounds in manufactures of certain branches of hardware, particularly the best and almost all the watch movements used in England… In 1840 it was said the district has long been noted for the superior construction of watch tools and motion work. Dentons were watchmakers here.

One commentator noted that from Prescott to Liverpool, eight miles as the crow flies, the countryside was dotted with the cottages of spring makers, wheel cutters, chain makers, case makers, dial makers – every speciality that went into the making of a watch. By the end of the 18thcentury between 150,000 and 200,000 watches a year were being produced, satisfying the national need for accurate timekeeping as the industrial revolution developed momentum. But mass production led to these tasks being brought under one roof and the Lancashire Watch Company was founded in 1889. Twenty-one years later it closed its doors, unable to compete with American and Swiss competition.

The town grew from a seven hundred population in 1690 to over 3,500 by 1801. The stone to the bottom right of this picture is the 18thcentury ‘Alphabet stone’ which was originally a lintel on the old town hall of Prescot. It bears twenty-five letters of the alphabet (without J as they did not use it then). It was used to test the literacy of individuals.

Alphabet Stone Prescot, from Knowsley Local History website.

Pennant added, The drawing of pinion wire, extending to fifty different sizes … originated here… The British Insulated Wire Company of Prescot pursued this wire business based on an American patent for paper-insulated cables. They gained the contract to install electric lighting in Prescot. They were later subsumed into BICC along with companies that ran the transatlantic cables. The Knowsley Museum Service states that cables made in the Prescot factory gave electricity to homes in Canada and powered cities in Australia and China. They were used on the London Underground and for railway lines in India.

Prescot wire factory and product labelling (PrescotMuseum.org.uk)

There is still a Prescot Cables FC – see www.prescotcablesfc.com/ . As I write this they have just been knocked out of the 2016-17 FA Cup yet are still well placed in the First Division North.

Penant went on to say that 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. Locally it was primarily a coarse red-ware that was manufactured although there was one white-ware factory. Peter Denton and other family members were potters.

Some rather battered examples of Prescot Ware

One final claim-to-fame for Prescot is Stone Street:

Stone Street, Prescot (Liverpool Echo and Tom Belger)

See also www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBPZRaT6WLg . Stone Street claims to be the narrowest street in England, but sadly not in Britain as there is a smaller one in Scotland. The Guinness Book of Records shows the narrowest street in the world in Reutlingen Germany. It is just 31cm across at its narrowest point.

Note on shorthand acronyms being used in the DFB:
GGF1 / GGM1 – means first great-grandfather /mother;
GU11 / GA11 – means eleventh great-uncle / great-aunt;
1C3 – means first cousin three times removed

Forward to GGF7 – Edward Denton (1623-1681) – Forward to Nineteenth Century Index
Back to From Lancashire to Durham Index – Back to Denton Family Bible

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