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The collection;Features and arts

Museum and gallery staff put their favourite artefacts on display

Week 38 Prescott town chest, Prescott museum

Prescot Museum is the home of the Knowsley museum service. Housed in a Georgian mansion that used to be a bank, its collections reflect local history and, in particular, the important clock and watch-making history of the town.

Prescot itself had a rich history long before it be-came known for its time-keeping legacy. Its earliest recorded name, Prestecota, suggests that it probably developed around a religious settlement. The town grew up around the church, with a Monday market being established in 1333.

It was Henry VI who, in 1447, made the greatest impact on the place. He established King's college in Cambridge and made the people of Prescot its tenants. The rents they paid were used to boost college funds.

People living in the town were privileged to have the right to their own court: the Court Leet. This was run by various officers and a steward. Other privileges included freedom from tolls in markets, freedom from jury service outside the manor and the right to appoint their own coroner.

In 1597, a special tax was imposed on the town to amass funds for the making of a town chest. The proceedings of the court were recorded on court rolls and stored within it. This oak, iron-bound chest has five locks. The centre key was kept by the steward, and the other keys were held by the officers, the Four Men. The chest could only be opened when all five were present.

The Four Men were responsible for protecting the wood and wasteland around Prescot. Other officers included the constable, the coroner, the clerk of the market, the alemaster, the burleyman, responsible for making sure the boundaries were maintained, and the streetlookers, responsible for keeping the town's streets clean and to stop pollution of wells.

Reports from the officers included the case of Robert Whytsydes who fell off his horse into a ditch. The horse fell on him and killed him instantly. Also reported is the case of Richard White who forfeited his horse and cart after causing the death of William Griffiths. Thomas Gerrard and his wife were reported for "laying dunge in ye street and not removing ye same", while the wife of Edward Garnett and her servant "defyled the town well".

The contents of the chest are now deposited at the Lancashire record office, but the chest itself currently forms part of the exhibition "Getting to know Knowsley". This celebrates 25 years of Knowsley Borough and, with displays and interactive exhibits, reflects the area's history from ancient times to the present day.

Susan Arnold is educationoutreach officer for Knowsley museum service, Prescot Museum, 34 Church Street, Prescot, Knowsley, Merseyside L34 3LA. Tel: 0151 4307787. The service runs an active education and outreach programme, including living history, craft andscience-based workshops

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