Plans to transform birthplace of famous Preston poet - and Jack the Ripper suspect

The birthplace of Preston’s most famous poet - and one-time Jack the Ripper suspect - could be converted into flats.

Saturday, 12th June 2021, 4:55 am

Owners of Francis Thompson’s former home in Winckley Street have asked the city council if they can create four apartments at first and second floor level.

The upper floors of the Grade II Listed property were last used as offices, but have been unoccupied for several years and have suffered water damage.

A plaque celebrating the poet’s origins still adorns the building alongside a cocktail bar and micropub which occupy the ground floor.

Francis Thompson's birthplace in Winckley Street.
Francis Thompson's birthplace in Winckley Street.

Thompson, who was born at the house in December 1859, studied medicine for almost eight years at what is now the University of Manchester. But he never practised as a doctor, choosing instead to pursue his passion for poetry and follow his two uncles who were both writers.

From 1885 he spent three years living destitute on the streets of London where he became addicted to opium.

His poetic talent was eventually discovered after he sent some of his work to a magazine.

His most famous poem was The Hound of Heaven. JRR Tolkien revealed he had been influenced by Thompson and, shortly after his death in 1907 at the age of 47, GK Chesterton said the nation has lost “the greatest poetic energy since Browning.”

Francis Thompson inspired JRR Tolkien and GK Chesterton

His name is on a long list of suspects for the unsolved Jack the Ripper murders in London in 1888.

His medical training, coupled with interpretations of some of his poems - and the fact he was living rough in that area of London at the time - led to the tenuous Ripper link in later years, although no physical evidence was ever produced.

Plans for the apartments show that only minor alterations will be made to the exterior of the former town house - the front facade is regarded as being “of prime importance” to historians.

Inside many of the original features have been removed over the years, but the ones which remain will be retained.

The plaque which adorns the wall outside Francis Thompson's former home.

“The overall impact of the proposals will be beneficial, given that they secure a substantial new use for the vacant building and a use that mirrors the original domestic function of the listed building,” says the planning report.

“The demand for offices has declined in the area, with many buildings reverting to their original use as residences.”