The history and recollections of a Georgian Grade 2 listed building in King Street. Part of the King Street Heritage Action Zone.
A large symmetrical double fronted three storey town house. It now has two shop fronts on either side of a central doorway with the upper floors used as office space. The building retains many original features including the doorway, fanlight, and entrance door. The original slate roof also appears to be in place as is the stone gutter. It has Grade II listed status with Historic England.
Built around 1800 as one of the first buildings on the street. It may have been built with two shop units accessible from the entrance hall, or it may have been built as a dwelling house with the shop fronts added later. The building has the classic proportions of a Georgian town house. The building was the home of a well-known family of surgeons who lived and worked there. The upper floors were later used as offices, mainly by solicitors. The shops had a range of uses which included an optician and a gentleman’s outfitters. There were originally two rooms on each side of the ground floor, but these have been knocked through to enlarge the shop units. At one time there was access to a yard and stable at the rear of the building.
One of the earliest and most beautiful Georgian buildings on the street it was the home and place of work of two generations of the Roocroft family. They were surgeons and apothecaries. It may have originally been built for the Eccles family who made their wealth in cotton and owned large parts of Pemberton. They moved to the rebuilt Walthew House at Martland Mill in the 1830s. Thomas Fisher, another surgeon, may have occupied the building before the Roocrofts moved there from number 5 King Street.
William Mawdesley Roocroft was born in Standish and trained in Liverpool. By 1871 he was living in the house with his wife, son William Mitchell, two daughters, an assistant surgeon, and three servants. He also practiced surgery at the Infirmary. He was a Justice of the Peace and prominent in Wigan society. Like many enterprising Victorians he diversified. He can be found in the local paper endorsing “Patent Airtight Metallic Coffins” which “prevented the release of infection and noxious gases from decomposition”. He was also a director of a number of Wigan companies.
He was first on the scene of a disaster in 1884. The LNWR were widening the railway near Wigan. As a bridge was being demolished it collapsed killing the railway inspector and six men. He helped recover the dead and treat the many who were seriously injured.
By 1891 William junior had joined the practice. He achieved notoriety at a young age when he was the subject of this ironically titled newspaper article in 1869.
On Friday evening, just after darkness had set in, Master William Roocroft, a boy ten years of age, son of Mr Roocroft Surgeon of Wigan, was riding between Standish and Wigan, when he was attacked by a couple of men, one of whom held the head of his pony while the other pulled him to the ground, ill-treated him, and rifled his pockets, in which the only money they could discover was sixpence. The boy’s cries for help brought him assistance, and the scoundrels decamped without noticing his watch. The little fellow reached home not much hurt, but in a state of fear which would entitle his assailants to a vigorous application of the cat should the police overtake them.
This didn’t hold young William back and he went on to achieve great things. As well as serving the town he served his country as a Surgeon Colonel in the volunteer battalion of the Manchester Regiment. At the age of 56 he was serving at Flanders on the Western Front. He was awarded a CMG in the 1918 Honours List. Shortly after he resigned his commission due to ill health but remained an honorary colonel. He later retired to Southport where he died in 1943.
The upper floors of the building were later used as offices for solicitors and other businesses including the Hulton Colliery Co who were recorded as being there in the early 1950s at the time they were facing liquidation.
In the 1950s and 1960s Unsworth and Wood Solicitors were the main occupants of the upper floors. Margaret Taylor worked there as the chief solicitor’s clerk and shared her recollections in 2023.
Recollections of Margaret Taylor
“I worked in King Street for a solicitors. Once a doctor had lived there. There was a blocked- up doorway with stairs going down to a yard and stables where the doctor had kept a horse and trap in the stables.
There were ground floor shops on either side of the building, P A Kinley’s men’s outfitters on one side and Moss and Ashurst opticians on the other side.
The solicitors were Unsworth and Wood, 23 King Street, on the right-hand side. I could see the Iron Bridge from my room [Faggy Lane]. Next door was the County.
Our building had been a private house, with stairs going up. When it was a house, one side was a waiting room and the other was a surgery. Two rooms behind were incorporated into the shops.
You could go down a stone passage to a kitchen where servants once were. There was a great big slop stone and a tap. There were shelves for the china. Down more steps led to a cellar, and there were outside stairs too. There was an old-fashioned boiler in the cellar made of stone with a fire underneath and another slop stone under the window. The other room was the pantry and a coal cellar. In King Street there was a round coal hole where the coal man put the coal.
There were five rooms in the cellar, four rooms on ground floor then four bedrooms and a small box room, and an attic with four bedrooms and a box room for the servants.
The yard was made of round cobble stones with a passage at the side to access the yard. Solicitors used to park their cars there. One of the rooms was let to Mr. Vickers who had two cinemas, one in Pemberton and one in Upholland.”