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The Fascinating History of Market Square in Preston

Preston’s historic Old Post Office in Birley Street is set to be transformed into a luxury hotel, dedicated to the legendary Bill Shankly. The Grade-II listed building overlooks Market Square, best known today as the Flag Market.

The picturesque square is an integral piece of Preston’s history and we couldn’t be more excited to play our part in the story. Market Square has undergone some fascinating changes over the years and boasts striking listed buildings with plenty of history to share.

So, join us as we take a look back through the years at Preston history…

Preston History

Market Square in Preston

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Market Square, Preston (1937) || Source: Preston Digital Archive
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Preston Market Place & Obelisk (1850) || Source: Preston Digital Archive

Held by the Harris Museum in Preston, the Daguerreotype image above is thought to have been taken in 1846 by Silas Eastham. This would make it the oldest surviving image of Preston to date. Market Square’s obelisk dates back to 1782. However, the obelisk seen on the image has been replaced since.

After its removal in 1853 and rest at Hollowforth Hall, Woodplumpton,  the new plinth was resurrected after 126 years. Her Majesty The Queen unveiled its return to Market Square in May 1979.

Today, the inscription reads:

This obelisk was originally constructed and erected on the market square in 1782. It was removed in 1853 and rested for a period of 126 years at Hollowforth Hall, Woodplumpton. In 1979 the owner, Mr. Edward Nicholson, generously consented to return the historical monument to Preston’s market square. This obelisk was unveiled by her Majesty the Queen on the 10th May 1979. Following its restoration and re-erection on this site to mark the 800th anniversary of the granting of a charter to the borough by King Henry II.”

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The Preston Pals

Preston played an unforgettable role in World War 1. As pictured above in Market Square, the Preston Pals was made up of a brave group of men from Preston and the surrounding area. The courageous volunteers were recruited to fight during World War 1 in France and famously took part in the historic Battle of Somme.

On 31 August 1914, The Lancashire Daily Post had displayed the advertisment:

“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.”

In 1926 a war memorial was raised up in commemoration of the city’s losses during the Great War. You’ll find the memorial placed sentimentally in the spot where the Preston Pals paraded back in 1914.

The Old Post Office

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The Old Head Post Office, Fishergate, Preston (1903) || Source: Preston Digital Archive
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Inside the main hall of Preston Head Post Office (1932) || Source: Preston Digital Archive

The Preston Head Post Office was completed in 1903. Following significant growth of the postal service, its former premises on Lancaster Road were deemed unsuitable. Architect Sir Henry Tanner (1849 – 1935) was given the task of designing the new post office while further work was carried out in 1925 by architect Charles Wilkinson.

The newly built premises opened officially on 24 August 1903 and closed its doors in 2005, leaving the landmark building with little use in the city. At Signature Living we’re known for transforming iconic buildings into luxury venues. We take on large-scale heritage projects and revive them for public use with a lasting purpose. The former post office has welcomed generations of locals through its doors, and the The Shankly Hotel Preston is set to offer a new generation a fantastic experience.

Preston Town Hall

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Preston Town Hall following the fire of 1947 (an air raid shelter can be seen on the bottom right) || Source: Preston Digital Archive

Leading architect Sir George Gilbert Scott designed the opulent Preston Town Hall. The stunning architectural gem was built between 1862 and 1866. You would have found the building between Fishergate and Market Square. While the direction of the clock tower was up for debate at the time, it’s reported that Gilbert Scott said:

“It would look superb regardless of which elevation was chosen for the main street”. And it’s safe to say that the brains behind it all may have been right! Unfortunately, disaster struck for the Town Hall in 1947 when a large fire spread around the building, destroying its intricate features.

After public outcry and an eight thousand signature petition, the Town Council chose not to restore Gilbert Scott’s masterpiece. Replaced by Crystal House, the modern building did not go down well with Prestonians. And with the magnificence of the Town Hall, we can see why.

The Harris Museum

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The Harris Museum (1893) || Source: Preston Digital Archive

During the 1850s interest was growing in Preston to establish a free public library and museum. With hopes of ideas materialising, members of the local community committed themselves to holding fundraising events.

However, it took until 1877 for the hopes of the people of Preston to become a reality. It was Edmund Robert Harris, a local lawyer who brought the plans for a free library, museum and art gallery to life.

It was funds from Harris that had been left in memory of his father, Reverend Robert Harris that were used for the development of the public library and museum. However, Harris’ will stated that the bequest should not be used to acquire real estate, leaving the task of finding land to begin with. As a result, the Preston Improvement Act was passed in 1880. This meant that the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of Preston could provide a site for a Public Library and Museum.

Today, the Grade I listed Harris Museum stands as a leading cultural attraction, welcoming over 250,000 visitors a year to see diverse collections of fine art, costume, ceramics and glass, contemporary art, digital media, local history and archaeology.

Market Square Today

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Source: Wiki Commons

Preston Crown Court and Family Court, also known as Sessions House is an Edwardian Baroque style Grade II* listed building at the corner of Preston’s Market Square. Designed by Manchester architect Henry Littler and built between 1900 and 1903, the sandstone venue boasts three floors and a tower, making it one of the tallest buildings in Preston.

The picturesque building still serves as a courthouse today as well as administrative offices for Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Services. Today, the Flag Market remains an integral part of the community, playing host to an array of events throughout the year and attracting visitors from far and wide. This year, the Flag Market hosted Armed Forces Day with a 1940s theme. The spectacular event brought the people together and featured a heartfelt veterans parade.

At Signature Living, we’re looking forward to continuing the story of Market Square and The Old Post Office. With plans for the The Shankly Preston well underway, make sure you keep up with the latest news by checking back soon to our blog or staying in the loop on Facebook. In the meantime, why not take a first glimpse inside the hotel’s upcoming bar and restaurant?