Delving into Preston’s history, its pride and its people

Victoria Quay was a busy place before the docks arrived
Victoria Quay was a busy place before the docks arrived
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Listen! Do you want to know a secret? The latest book by local historian KEITH JOHNSON lifts the lid on Preston’s hidden past. Here he reveals what readers can expect

There is a history of Preston which is hidden from view or simply not recognised today amid the hurly burly of modern life.

When Avenham Park was simply Avenham Valley

When Avenham Park was simply Avenham Valley

For almost 1,000 years it was simply a rural market town which developed around the church from where the original settlement grew.

It would become something of a significant crossroads with a handy river crossing.

Preston suffered from famine, plague and warfare yet grew into a large industrial town, noted for its cotton and engineering industries and with all the trials that created as folk flocked to the important county town.

All these events helped to shape the Preston that grew into our city.

Tulketh Hall, in Preston, was demolished in 1960

Tulketh Hall, in Preston, was demolished in 1960

Of course, much of the history of a city often lies beneath centuries of decay and development.

Indeed, a dweller of the old town of Preston of centuries ago would simply be lost in our city streets these days.

Traditions which remain often enthral us and these socially motivated events bound the generations together.

What our ancestors taught us is often treasured.

The Tram Bridge a vital link for transporting coal across the River Ribble

The Tram Bridge a vital link for transporting coal across the River Ribble

Pageantry, parade, custom, folklore, festivals all leaving a legacy of what they achieved.

It is never just about the bricks and mortar, but the buildings help us to understand our ancestors’ hopes and ambitions.

The chapters bring to life some of the characters of old who walked along these highways and byways before us, leaving behind a trail which fascinates us and helps us to understand what kind of life they enjoyed, or endured.

Like all cities it is one of changing faces and changing places – our Market Square is a prime example of that.

Graveyards and bones, monks and monasteries, 
alleyways and tunnels, factories and workshops, plagues and poverty, pain and torment, disease and death, famine and feast all provide an insight into the past.

Within the book there are chapters that remind us of a Market Place steeped in history; the punishments and pastimes of old; the visitations of the plague and the days of lepers; the quacks and their cures; the Grey Friars and the sisters of mercy; the grandest of buildings and structures; the springs and wells that quenched thirst; the days of war when secrecy was paramount and the place where Preston’s treasures are stored.

Likewise, a chance to discover what went before on the site where the present day industrial Red Scar estate now prospers, an opportunity to look back at the ghastly activity which took place on Gallows Hill where English Martyrs now stands and to consider why the derelict Miley Tunnel that runs beneath our streets has such a mysterious reputation.

Those Civil War days of the 17th century are also recalled. Days when Royalists and Parliamentarians fought on our streets with dire consequences for many. There is also a timely account of the days over 300 years ago, in 1715 and later, when the battles on Preston soil helped shape the Jacobite Rebellions and the fortunes of those involved.

Yes, it is so true that Cavaliers and Roundheads fought here as did those involved in the Jacobite Rebellions.

Centuries when conflict raged and cannon fire, bloodshed, barricades and rampaging armies all became part of the rich tapestry of Preston’s history.

Hopefully, like myself, you will delight in a tour of our streets and alleyways back in the 19th century town led by Richard Aughton, who recalled his formative years growing up in a place that was developing from pasture land.

His anecdotes recalled the people, the places and the reality of his time.

He lived among the people of Preston and he saw first hand the endeavours of all, both wealthy and poverty stricken alike.

Curiosity led me to some of the discoveries and my admiration for the historians of old Preston does not waiver, for they left a paper trail that can be clearly followed to unlock secrets of the past.

It is often only necessary to simply scratch the surface to uncover parts of our past history, although our treasured archaeologists have dug much deeper for the cause.

My conclusion on delving, once more, into the history of Preston is that it is a place always full of pride, passion and people who cared about the place they called home.

Secret Preston is published by Amberley priced £14.99.