Fiona Finch catches up with the Friends of Winckley Square, a multi-talented group of enthusiasts who have made the Square a must visit destination for anyone interested in the city now and in its fascinating past
From city history sleuths to garden renovators, walk guides to event organisers it is hard to categorise the multi-talented Friends of Winckley Square.
This extraordinary group has fought to reclaim one of Preston’s most handsome but often overlooked Squares from the history books and given it a new relevance for the 21st century ... along the way uncovering many secrets about its chequered past.
Over the years the properties on the Square have had numerous roles - including providing homes for the affluent in the 19th century, and venues for schools including Winckley Square Convent school and Preston Catholic College in the 20th century. Sections of the Square have been or are a presbytery, an outpost of Preston College, legal offices, and a home for the Inland Revenue, the probation service and a wine bar/restaurant.
In short it has held a mirror to the life and times of the city for more than two centuries.
The Friends were formed in 2017 after local resident Patricia Harrison was asked to spearhead the drive to create a Friends’ group. Doors were knocked on to recruit neighbours, social media was used to help spread the word and organisations such as Preston Historical Society and Preston Photographic Society gave it their blessing too.
Patricia’s husband Steve, secretary of the Friends’ group, said: “ When the Winckley Square Community Interest Company (WSCIC) led the successful bid for major funding to restore Winckley Square Gardens it was recognised that the restoration was really step one. The investment in 2016 would ultimately be a success only if the Square was known about, visited, used and most importantly loved. It was also essential that the Square was seen as a place with a vibrant future as well as a rich heritage.”
The first step was an initial meeting in the city’s Continental pub to discuss a possible way forward. By mid 2017 membership spanned age groups from teens to those in their seventh decade. They were united by a common love of the Square and what Steve describes as “a desire to ensure it has a sustainable future”.
There are now 30 or so stalwart members and many hundreds on their mailing list wanting to be kept up to date with events in the Square and the Friends’ ongoing work.
Thousands of people, including visitors from overseas, have attended and most importantly enjoyed numerous Friends’ events in the Square from Christmas concerts to a summer Big Lunch and October’s Big Draw art event.
The most recent activities have included events for Preston Arts Festival and a crocus planting initiative - taking up the Rotary Purple4Polio challenge to plant purple crocus to highlight Rotary’s campaign to fully eradicate polio. Preston Rotarians worked with the Parks Department and Friends and invited school pupils, local workers and passers-by to plant bulbs in the Gardens.
Recently the Gardens won a Britain in Bloom for the second time,achieving a Level 5 Outstanding grading. This year’s Christmas Concert is on Sunday December 1 from 3 pm when traditional carols will be sung around a Christmas tree, a piper and other live artists will be performing and food and drink refreshments will be on sale including mince pies, mulled wine, hot soup, real ale, hot dogs and parched peas.
The Friends’ numerous initiatives include a new website, bi-monthly newsletters, each of which contains an article about the history of the Square or its residents, an update on the Gardens including top tips on flora and fauna to look out for, plus profiles of some of the Friends.
The first house was built on the Square in 1799 by William Cross and the Friends’ website advises: “ William Cross purchased Town End Field from the Winckley estate in 1796. Winckley Street, Winckley Place and subsequently Winckley Square have been named after the Winckley family which had been in Preston since the 16th Century.
The Friends’ popular Guided Walks have been developed from the Friends’ researches. These include a walk on Extraordinary Women of Winckley Square and a themed walk on the life of Edith Rigby while A Regency Walk tour takes a wider look at garden history over the past 200 years.
Two exhibitions have already been held - the first' Inside-Out' exhibition showed what the insides of many buildings on the Square look like now. The second ’Women of Winckley Square’ was exhibited for the first time last month and will be shown in several (yet to be announced) venues next year.
Friends are particularly proud of their role in uncovering the city’s hidden history, which many Prestonians may not be aware of.
Asked to sum up the impact of the Friends’ work Patricia and Steve said: “FoWS members never imagined, when we began work on the website, just what a role Winckley Square played in the history of Preston and of Lancashire. Individuals, male and female, who owned, lived, worked or were educated on the Square have a place in national and international events.
Our challenge now is to scratch below the surface of the lives of those who left few records, including for example the servants who also lived on the Square and the working women who met at the house of Edith Rigby (suffragette). We’ve learned that Preston’s history is much richer; in part grander and in equal part more desperate than we had known or expected to discover.”
*The Friends’ website is www.winckleysquare.preston.org/. Contact the Friends via Patricia by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Crocus planting day at the Square (above), Friends at an event (pictured below including Friends’ Chair Patricia second from left) The Big Draw 2019 at Artistry House on the Square (above)The Friends’ website is www.winckleysquare.preston.org/.
Contact the Friends via Patricia by emailing email@example.com