Shakespeare theatre development for Prescot debated by MPs

Published on: Tuesday, 08-December-2015

Plans to create a Shakespearean Theatre in Prescot were debated in Parliament earlier today (Tuesday, December 8).

Prescot was the site of the only freestanding purpose-built Elizabethan era playhouse outside of London during the 1590s.  It was built by Richard Harrington, who was closely connected to William Stanley, the Earl of Derby, whose family home was at Knowsley Hall.

Now The Shakespeare North Trust is preparing to submit ambitious plans for a new Playhouse and education centre in Prescot which could transform the town.

At today’s special debate in Westminster Hall, local MPs George Howarth and Marie Rimmer set out the potential benefits of the development to the local area.

At the centre of the Prescot Playhouse development would be a ‘cockpit’ theatre built to original 1629 plans by renowned architect of the day, Inigo Jones.  It would become a major tourist attraction for the Liverpool City Region, bringing in visitors from across the world, creating jobs in Prescot and further afield, helping to create a night time economy and giving a significant boost to the local economy.  It would also include a university college for literary scholars, a range of educational, leisure and community facilities, and a cultural piazza for performance and events.

At the debate, George Howarth told fellow MPs that the development represents an exciting opportunity not only for Knowsley but for the whole Liverpool City Region.

He said the aim was to create a “leading public theatre with a student programme at its core” that would “contribute to the economic regeneration of an area which has deep connections with one of the nation’s greatest cultural icons.”

Mr Howarth listed the famous patrons who are backing the project, including Vanessa Redgrave, Dame Helen Mirren, Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Paul McCartney, Phil Redmond, Willy Russell, Alison Steadman, and Sue Johnston.

He said the Playhouse would create a Shakespearean triangle with Prescot, Stratford and The Globe in London, and highlight Knowsley as a place where “people aspire to live, work and do business”.

The Shakespeare North Trust has been working on plans for a Playhouse in Prescot for some years now with support from Knowsley Council.  The project now has real momentum behind it and it is expected that a planning application will be submitted to the council imminently.  The Trust expects the cost of the project to be in the region of £19m.

The proposed site for the Playhouse is in Prescot Town Centre, on the existing Mill Street Car Park near to the 17th Century Grade I Listed St Mary’s Church.

The Leader of Knowsley Council, Councillor Andy Moorhead, said: “A development like this would have a huge positive impact on our borough.

“Not only would it create jobs and provide a huge stimulus to the local economy, but it would make Knowsley a must-visit destination for visitors from across the country and around the world.

“Prescot and Knowsley have a fascinating history and a rich heritage.  The Elizabethan theatre and William Shakespeare have been an important part of that.  This new Playhouse could be the beginning of another exciting chapter in our local history.”

Prescot has already benefitted from more than £3.2m as part of the Townscape Heritage Initiative, which has seen work carried out to restore historic buildings in the town centre and bring empty spaces back into use.

If planning permission is granted, work could begin on the Playhouse in early 2017.