Looking back: A stroll around Preston market over the decades

Preston fish market in c1970. Construction on the indoor market is under way in the background
Preston fish market in c1970. Construction on the indoor market is under way in the background

In July 1939 it was announced Preston Corporation planned to borrow £7,375 in order to purchase land on Liverpool Street with a view to building a permanent Market Hall.

The outdoor markets were at full capacity, with 240 stalls generally used on market days on the covered market, fish market and in nearby streets, while on Saturdays another 75 stalls were used on the Market Square. Unfortunately, those good intentions had to be shelved when the Second World War broke out within weeks.

The redevelopment of Preston in the post war years had other priorities, with the extensive slum clearance taking place and the building of estates of council houses.

Consequently, it was only in the 1960s that thoughts returned to the building of a Market Hall and Liverpool Street, where several familiar wholesale fruit, vegetable and flower dealers such as Waddington, Livesey, Smith and Whalley operated, was still seen as the ideal location. Depending whose recollections you prefer to believe, the street had an aroma of the perfume of fresh flowers in the morning, or the stench of rotting vegetables at night. It was certainly a busy, bustling, crowded and congested street.

Eventually, in 1967 a most welcome wholesale fruit and vegetable market was opened on Bow Lane. It consisted of more than 20 units with 40 lorry standings and was open daily. This market handled produce which was brought in from near and far until its closure in 1999.

Liverpool Street, which stretched from Lancaster Road alongside the Covered Market down to Starchhouse Square, and was once home to the Orchard Chapel demolished in 1955, was visited by the bulldozers with the vacated wholesale premises and the old Scout Motor Services premises swept away.

Only the Co-op’s Art Deco style building known as Lancastria House, opened in 1939, remained on the corner of Lancaster Road.

The new Market Hall was designed at a time when the development of the Ring Road had split Friargate in two, sweeping away most of the High Street and left Starchhouse Square a distant memory.

With the introduction of strict guidelines relative to markets and to adhere to food hygiene regulations, a retail Market Hall was becoming essential. The Covered Market and Fish Market no longer deemed suitable for food retailing.

The land where the Covered Market was built was ‘Colley’s Gardens’ a patch of land inviting development. The very fine Covered Market occupies an area that is 355ft long and 101ft wide. The roof is a remarkable specimen of the engineering skills of Edward Garlick, Mayor of Preston 1882-3. It has no internal supports, the outer pillars alone maintaining it in position.

The contract for its erection was entered into by Joseph Clayton, of the Soho Foundry in February 1870 for £6,070, but when he had constructed about one quarter of the roof a severe storm in early August destroyed it utterly, and he gave up the contract, declaring that no roof made on that principle would stand rough weather.

Messrs. Bennett Co., of Birmingham, then undertook the work for £9,000, but they also gave it up, alleging a similar objection.

Its construction was then undertaken by Messrs. Allsup & Sons of Preston in May 1872, and they completed it at a cost of £9,126 in 1875. The second phase of the Covered Market, covering the area used as a later Fish Market, was carried out by the 1920s.

That particular plot had become a market area only in January 1914 and was originally used by general market traders who kept an eye on the weather. Fish from Fleetwood would arrive by train early each morning at Butler Street and the fishmongers would flock to collect the hake, cod, plaice, and gurnet and pack it in ice for taking to their market stalls.

Certainly, the Fish Market had thrived under the canopy with a tasty kipper, a pickled herring or a smoked mackerel often the housewife’s choice.

The new Market Hall was ready for business by November 1972. It had cost £773,000 to build and this time the structural steelwork of the concrete edifice was provided by Archbell Greenwood Ltd, steel fabricators of Fleetwood.

It was built with convenient access to a multi-level parking concourse with loading bays readily available for commercial vehicles. An underpass road was constructed and pedestrian subways, escalators, lifts and numerous stairways were all a necessity.

The planners also took into account that there is a 14 foot fall from Lancaster Road to Starchhouse Square. Consequently, the Market Hall was planned on two levels.

With entry from the old Starchhouse Square area or the Covered Market. Within the concourse there were 100 stalls and 12 perimeter shops including a cafe.

In the last week of October 1972 the shoppers of Preston had the last opportunity to wander through the familiar fruit and vegetable stalls on the outdoor Covered Market and to visit the fish stalls underneath the Fish Market canopy.

Some of the old market traders had mixed feelings about the imminent move indoors. Cheese seller James Butler feared his trade would be cut by half, Tom Dixon, a fruit and veg trader, felt the old atmosphere would be gone, flower seller Len Percival claimed he could not afford the switch and veteran fish seller Edna Catterall described it as the end of an era.

The new venue was up and running on the following Monday and there was an air of optimism with practically all the shop premises and stands occupied.

James Wisdom, a butcher from Blackburn, was looking forward to a new challenge and fruiterer Mark Davis was happy to be in from the cold. You could get tripe and cow heels from the UCP stand, cosmetics from Val Murray, fresh eggs and butter from Pickles Farm supplies, frozen fish from the Ice Chest, tights and stockings from Birkley Hosiery and comedian Jim

Bowen, the future Bullseye star, was paying a visit to Lewis’s Wine Store.

Over the next 20 years the perimeter stores would be occupied by the likes of Beech Tree overalls, Slingers the butchers, the House of Records, Glasgow Pet Foods, Curry & Paxton opticians, Redman’s the grocers, Shoes Galore and Sandra’s Cards.

The indoor Market Hall was certainly successful down the years and upstairs and downstairs traders

catered for food, fashion and flights of fancy.

The Market Hall made the headlines on a few occasions, be it the cost of trading or need for maintenance. In Guild Year 1992 a £200,000 facelift was required to meet new environmental health guidelines.

By 1996 plans were even drawn up for a £9m new look if funding could be secured. Alas, in the years which followed, talk began to shift to the ill-fated Tithebarn Project and a complete transformation of the whole area.

No doubt trade in the Market Hall began to decline and many familiar traders disappeared with empty units and shops commonplace due to an uncertain future.