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A Timeline of the Most Notable Moments in Preston History

Let’s take a look at the most notable moments in Preston History as the restoration of the Old Post Office is underway to form Preston’s newest hotel; The Shankly Hotel – Preston.

Starting out life small, Preston was established early on as an important market town. Influential writers of the time honoured Preston in words and shaped the market town into a fashionable retreat for the well-to-do. Fantastic Georgian homes and buildings were erected along picturesque streets and the town was an upscale social hub for the gentry in the 17th century.

Industrial revolution soon changed this and when new age wealthy professionals ushered in a new kind of society in the area, the upper classes jumped ship and left their grand homes to the worlds latest movers and shakers making their own money.

1219 – Wealthiest Town in the Country

In Roman times, Preston was the centre of travel up and down the country. Being located close to many Roman roads, passengers would often traverse through the town and it’s understood that a Roman camp or station was established here.

Preston history town centre
Credit: Wiki commons – Raphael Tuck & Sons

The Doomsday book has records of Preston being the most recognised town in the area and, thanks to tax records kept since those times, we can see Preston was recorded as the wealthiest town in the country in 1219.

1648, 1715 – Battle’s of Preston

The strategic significance of Preston’s location was established early. At the very centre of the country, opposing armies from London and Scotland would often meet here to do battle.

The English Civil War of 1648 came to a head on Preston Moor where Royalists were defeated and forced to submit after suffering devastating losses.

The Preston Fight was considered the last to be fought on British soil, Highlanders and English rebels took to Prestons town and fortified against oncoming attacks. They were eventually forced to capitulate after encircling the Jacobite army inside the confines of Preston town.

1745 – Bonnie Prince Charlie

The Prince of Wales and Regent Charles traversed Preston with his troops, on route to march upon London to win the crown. It is recorded that as he rode through the town residents cheered and rejoiced in support of his cause.

Bonnie Prince Charlie - Preston history
Credit: Wiki commons – National Portrait Gallery

Bonnie Prince Charlie was unsuccessful in his attempts and was forced to retreat north, passing again through Preston to rest his army.

The army was eventually defeated in the Battle of Culloden 1746.

1815 – First Town Outside London with Gas Street Lamps

Prestons earlier status as a hub of the UK can be defined by the towns forward-thinking initiative and becoming the first town outside London to have its streets lit by gaslight.

Supply pipes were constructed from leftover musket barrels, welded together and plumbed in to light the main streets of the town. The hope was that eventually the technology could be applied to the industrial mills and enable longer hours and therefore more production.

Just two years later the mills were threatened with cut off for not settling their outstanding gas accounts.

1838 – Preston Railway Open

Before trains, Preston town was at the centre of the UK’s passenger and postal traffic and that wasn’t about to change when the railway was introduced in 1838.

Connecting Preston with Machester, London and other major UK cities, Preston remained a halfway point for those on long journeys from Glasgow to London and a major junction for UK based rail travel.

1842 – Four Plug Plot Rioters Shot

Beginning on August 12th, 1842, The Preston Strike brought the town to a chaotic standstill. Men, women and children marched the streets to petition for what they considered a fair days wage. After the depression wages in Prestons Mills had been cut by 25% and the people demanded a return to 1840s pay packets.

Marching through Preston rioters broke windows and sustained wounds to halt work in all of the towns mills. The last mill on the march was Preston Corn Exchange which was protected by police and soldiers. The crowd hurled stones at the forces and violence quickly escalated resulting in eight men being shot, four of whom did not survive and all under the age of 30.

1850 – Karl Marx Visits “the next St Petersburg”

In 1854, Marx wrote:

“The eyes of the working classes are now fully opened, they begin to cry: Our St. Petersburg is at Preston!”

Karl Marx photo - Preston history
Credit: Wiki commons – National Portrait Gallery – John Mayall

When Marx visited Preston at the height of the industrial revolution, the philosopher was questioning if Preston could be a leader in a new proletarian revolution. Could the working class disband the upper classes and their influences on society?

1854 – Research Visit From Charles Dickens

For his 10th novel, Hard Times, Dickens came to Preston to research the conditions of the town’s society.

The novel is set in the make-believe “Coketown” (which many believe was heavily inspired by Preston) a major Victorian industrial town, smaller than Manchester but still important. In the novel, Dicken’s addresses the diabolical working conditions he witnessed in Preston’s mills and others across the north of England using satire.

The novel was serialised, and promoted Dickens’ own stance on things like morality as well as exploring his thoughts on Britain’s neglected social responsibilities.

1867 – Opening of Avenham Park

Attended by the Duke of Cambridge and over 23,000 children, the opening of Avenham Park was a grand affair with townsfolk looking forward to a “gayer, busier and more bustling town” than ever.

Avenham Park - Preston history
Credit: Wiki commons – B Thompson Photography

The parks grand inauguration ceremony was preceded by the opening of the new town hall, after which a huge procession funnelled towards Avenham park. The entire occasion was attended by the Duke of Cambridge, Queen Victoria’s cousin, and the music was provided by the Third Royal Lancashire Militia band.

1889 – Preston North End First Football Champions

The first season of the Football League was won by Preston North End and they became the unbeaten first champions. Winning the FA Cup in the same season Preston North End were dubbed “The Invincibles“.

The season included a massive 26-0 defeat against Hyde a remaining record for the largest winning margin recorded in English football.

1893 – Opening of Harris Museum

Work began on the Harris Museum in the Preston guild of 1882 and was completed and opened in 1893. The building became a home for the town’s library and an impressive collection of art and historic artefacts.

The project was funded by the people and a sizeable donation from lawyer Edmund Robert Harris, the building’s namesake, who left £300,000 to the cause.

1901 – Opening of a Fashionable Turkish Bath

It is understandable that a major town such as Preston would have held many attractions to the upper echelons of Victorian society. One particularly popular social activity was to frequent a Turkish bath for relaxation.

Inside Prestons Grand Victorian Miller Arcade, a Mr Wignall operated a successful Turkish Bath business which remained in operation from 1901 – 1934.

Today the entrance to the baths can still be seen however all signs of what would have been the luxurious interior of the baths have gone.

1903 – The Post Office Was Built

The stunning building which is soon to become The Shankly Hotel – Preston, served as Preston’s main Post Office.

Purpose built in 1903, architect of H.M Office works Henry Tanner designed a grand building to house Preston’s new Head Post Office. In 1904 Henry Tanner was knighted and retired from H.M Office of Works, leaving another of H.M architects, Charles Wilkinson, to extend the building in 1925.

Preston history Post Office
Credit: Flickr – Jelm6

Since the Head Post Office closed in 2005 and relocated, The Head Post Office building has remained unused and the interiors are largely unchanged from the original construction.

Such a jewel in Preston’s landmark architecture, The Shankly Hotel – Preston will give this stunning building life again, after being respectfully restored to reflect its former grandeur.

1914 – Preston Pals March

As WW1 broke out a British phenomenon swept the country; the Pals Battalions.

At the start of the first world war, it became apparent that the professional army of Britain was not capable of dealing with the opposing forces alone. As a result, the able men of Britain banded together to form battalions within their own towns and cities so they could fight together instead of enlisting in established regiments.

On 31 August 1914, Cyril Cartmell placed the following advertisement in The Lancashire Daily Post:

“It is proposed to form a Company of young businessmen, clerks, etc, to be drawn from Preston and the surrounding districts, and be attached, if practicable, to a battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. Will those who would like to join apply here any afternoon or evening this week – the earlier the better.”

The announcent brought the Preston Pal’s together to fight aside each other in WW1.

1926 – War Memorial Erected

In the market sqaure, where the Pals departed Preston for war, a memorial was erected to honour those lost in battle.

The cenotaph sculpture was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, grandson of Sir Gilbert Scott who designed Preston Town Hall. In a jubilant ceremony the memroial was unvelied to crowds that gathered.

Preston history War Memorial
Credit: © Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Inscribed upon the monument is the message;

BE EVER MINDFUL OF THE MEN OF PRESTON

WHO FELL IN THE GREAT WARS

1914-1918 1939-1945

THIS LAND INVIOLATE YOUR MONUMENT

1938 – Preston North End Win FA Cup

The most recent FA Cup win for the formiddable Preston North End football team was in 1938 after a one nil defeat against Huddersfiled Town at Wembley.

The match had played out in full and 29 minutes into extra time neither team had come close to scoring. It was then after a commentator promised to eat his hat should a goal be scored, that George Mutch put the ball in the back of the net.

The commentator did eat his hat, just one made out of cake.

1947 – Townhall Fire Destroys Building

As far as architectural gems of Preston go, the Town Hall designed by gothic revival architect George Gilbert Scott was the shiniest.

Preston history town hall fire
Credit: Large Format Royalty-Free Photos at martincooney.com

A testament to Preston’s importance to the UK, the clock tower was dwarfed only by Big Ben in London. This clock tower crahsed into the streets of Fishergates at around 1am 16th March 1947 as a fire ravaged the insides of the building.

The damage to the building was devastating, and much to 8,000 of Preston’s residents displeasure the Town Hall was not to be restored.

Instead what remained was left unsalvaged until 1962, when Crystal House took its place. Today this building remians Preston’s least favourite building and one that they would gladly see demolished.

1965 – First KFC in the UK

Nearly a decade before the golden arches, the king of burgers or any hut of Pizza came across the pond the Colonel opened up shop in Preston in 1965.

The first American Fast food restaurant chain to exist in the UK.

1970 – Ice Age Poulton Elk

One sunny Preston morning a man named John Devine was demolishing a bungalow when he came across what looked like an antler of a deer. Summoning a neighbour and a friend from the Poulton Historical Society for assistance the team began to unearth and piece together the skeleton.

It wasn’t until they found what seemed to be man-made barb among the debris that archaeologists got involved.

The now fully articulated skeleton of a 13,500-year-old Elk stands in The Harris Museum along with the two man-made barbs. The Elk is the earliest evidence of human settlements in the area.

1992 – The Preston Martyrs Memorial

A long time coming, The Preston Martyrs Memorial was unveiled 150 years after the shooting of four young Prestonians during the Plug Plot Riots.

Preston history Martyrs Memorial
Credit: Wiki commons – geograph.org.uk Andrew Gritt

The memorial was inspired by a Goya painting and is quite brutal in its depiction, although some feel it is not personal to the Preston Martyrs. The piece is reflective of society as a whole, the downtrodden rising up against all oppressors.

People still lay tributes at the memorial and, although no names are inscribed on the plaque, the four who fell that day are remembered as well as what they were fighting for.

One plaque reads;

“In Lune Street, Preston, four workers were shot and killed by the military during the general strike of 1842.

Several thousand Preston workers were demonstrating against wage cuts and for the “Charter” of Democratic rights”

The other;

“Remeber, remember people of proud Preston that progress towards justice and democracy has not been acheived without great sacrifice.

Remember, remember people of proud Preston to defend vigorously the rights given to you strive to enhance the right of those who follow”

2002 – Preston Awarded City Status

As part of Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee celebrations, there was a prize draw for a town in the UK to be awarded Golden City status, Proud Preston was awarded the title becoming the UK’s 50th city.

Having been at the centre of Britain’s commerce for centuries and owning the seventh largest University in the UK, Prestons bid for city status was easily recognised. Since the award, plans to put Preston on the map moved forward and regeneration of the city has been moving on in leaps and bounds.

2012 – Preston Guild Celebrations

Coining the phrase “once in a Preston Guild” these fantastic celebrations have been running for over 800 years and are honoured every 20 years.

Preston history Guild Celebrations
Credit: © Copyright L S Wilson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Preston is one of the last few cities to celebrate their guild and in the most recent celebrations of 2012, residents welcomed back traditional events and processions to the streets. During a week-long festival, Preston organised 80 events including a vintage fair, square-food festival, proms in the park and blaze festival at Miller Park.

600 of the 750 guild burgesses returned to be registered in guild court, one member was just 10 days old!

A time honoured tradition that has remained mostly uninterrupted since its inception, Preston Guild will continue to be celebrated in the city for centuries to come.

2012 – Restored War Memorial Unveiled

The massive restoration of the Preston Flag Market War Memorial cost a staggering £835,000 and took months to complete. The monument is one of Britain’s largest War Memorials designed by the UK’s most well-known architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott.

The restoration was rewarded with a Grade I listing which delighted those who were part of the restoration, as well as the people of Preston.

2013 – Projection Event Andy McKeown

As part of the Preston Remembers organisation, Andy McKeown an artist renowned for using light to illustrate powerful stories projected onto landmarks and architecture, lit up Market Square in Preston.

His work told the story of soldiers who lost their lives in WW1.

The piece included a projection of scrolls from the Preston Honour Roll, displayed in the Harris Museum, along with postcards from a collection at the museum. Images of graves in France and the battalion on the front line were also included.

This moving event was an important moment for many Prestonians, whose family names were displayed in the honour roll and for others who came together to remember the brave men of Preston.

2015 – WW2 Bomb Found

On the 22nd of April, on a fine afternoon in Preston, an unexploded WW2 mortar bomb was discovered by metal detectors in Avenham Park.

The area was evacuated as bomb disposal experts moved in to extract the device, which was later detonated under a controlled explosion.

2016 – St Ignatius Church Designated Cathedral

After a long and turbulent history, the St Ignatius Church has been honoured by the Pope as a Cathedral. One of only three others around the globe that serve as an Indian Catholic Cathedral.

Credit: Wiki commons – geograph.org.uk – Alexander P Kapp

After being awarded city status in 2002, despite having a Cathedral, Preston has now officially stopped being a large town and is Proudly Preston city . . . complete with Cathedral.

Looking Forward to The Shankly Hotel – Preston

From such a triumphant past, through harder times and onto a brighter future, Preston has endured and is now an exciting city on the cusp of being one of the UK’s top destinations.

The Shankly Hotel - Preston history
Hotel room The Shankly Hotel – Preston

The Shankly Hotel – Preston sits at the very centre of Preston, offering guests instant access to the exciting nightlife and interesting historical attractions the city offers.

Keep up to date with the developments of The Shankly Hotel – Preston here or on our social media pages, as we embark on the respectful restoration of the Old Head Post Office in Preston centre.