With Christmas only nine days away, local historian Keith Johnson looks back at how Preston celebrated the festive season 30 years ago
By the mid-1980s the festival of Christmas had changed in many respects, although the town of Preston still embraced many of the old traditions.
The days before Christmas had a dull and dreary look about them and a wet Christmas was forthcoming rather than a white one.
Nonetheless, Christmas spirit was high and the traders of the town were happy to report brisk business.
The arrival of late night shopping, festive illuminations and free parking had attracted the visitors to the town centre.
Inevitably, Christmas Eve the final day of shopping led to a frenzy of festive trading with roads gridlocked and barely a parking place to be had.
The likes of Owen Owen, Woolworth’s, Marks and Spencer, British Home Stores and C&A Modes all enjoying the jingling of the cash tills.
With many a store offering frozen food, there was no shortage of plump turkeys on offer – 57p a pound was the going rate at the Asda Dundonald Street premises.
And there were still plenty of market traders and butchers aplenty, particularly in Orchard Street providing fresh turkeys, chicken, ducklings and choice cuts of pork.
The best selling toys for girls were My Little Pony, Barbie, Sindy and the Cabbage Patch dolls, with girl-inspired action figures such as Golden Girl and She-Ra also popular.
For boys it was the era of Masters of the Universe, Star Wars, Transformers and Robo Machines. Beginning to make an impact too was the board game Trivial Pursuits a puzzle for mum and dad.
By 1985 the age of the computer was in full flow and what seemed like sophisticated equipment was in the electronic retail stores. Sinclair, Acorn, Atari, Amstrad, Apple, Tandy and Commodore amongst those offering computer packages for less than £200 – often half the price of a year earlier.
The mobile phone had not yet made an impact but Norweb were leading the way with electronic gadgetry – with a BT Slim Tel Touch Phone for £29.95p, a Toshiba Music Centre for £104.95p, a Sentra Stereo Record Player for £49.95p and a Ferguson Cassette Recorder for £24.95p.
The most sought-after festive favourite record was Shakin Stevens singing ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ destined to be Top Of The Pops at Christmas 1985 – and popular ever since.
The traditional Christmas mail had reached record proportions by the time the postmen had emptied their sacks.
The Preston head sorting office on West Cliff recorded its busiest ever period with 2m letters and cards flowing through the system on December 17 alone.
In the week before Christmas a crowd of more than 2,000 saw the arrival of the legendary Orient Express on Platform 4 of Preston Railway Station. It had been chartered by the Evening Post and was packed with readers who were wined and dined on the journey from London. With many dressed in period costume and Santa Claus aboard it was a festive treat.
The ABC Cinema on Fishergate had closed in November 1985 due to declining audiences leaving just the Odeon, which was closed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, although their selection of films did prove popular. It was Santa Claus The Movie in Odeon 1 and Back To The Future in Odeon 2. The clamour of Santa Claus had proved a great attraction in the three weeks build up to Christmas with 12,000 cinema goers in Preston alone.
Television was by this time was the main source of family Christmas entertainment with four channels to choose from there was a relative Christmas feast. On Christmas Eve ‘Jim’ll Fix it for Christmas’ got the evening going on BBC1 and Val Doonican had his Christmas Party later on, Call My Bluff was on BBC2, on ITV another helping of Carry On Laughing hit the screen and on Channel 4 the animated delight The Snowman was shown.
The blockbusters on Christmas Day were Only Fools and Horses and The Two Ronnies (BBC1) with Minder On The Orient Express and Des O’Connor Tonight (ITV) staging a ratings war.
There was certainly no shortage of night life in the heart of Preston with the era of night clubs enjoying a hey day. At Brooks on Church Street for just £1 you could gain entry to a Boxing Day party nite with live cabaret and just up the street at Clouds entry to the Christmas Eve disco was £3. On Market Street the newest of nightspots called Snooty’s held a Christmas Eve dance with tickets priced at £3.50p, while the Gatsby had a Boxing Day night cabaret spectacular with a Rod Stewart lookalike top of the bill. Half price drinks, party hats and balloons all adding to the attraction there.
The Guild Hall presented a packed Christmas programme over the festive period with an ‘Alternative Christmas Party’ on Christmas Eve and the popular ‘Babes In The Wood’ pantomime starring Andrew O’Connor who was appearing on the TV series Copy Cats at the time – needless to say he made a good impression.
Perhaps least said about the top performer attracted to the Guild Hall that Christmas – none other than Gary Glitter who presented his ‘Christmas Party’ at £5 a ticket.
For those whose Christmas would not be complete without a visit to a public house there were a couple of new treats in store. At the top of Deepdale Road the newly built Sumners Hotel opened it’s doors on the Monday before Christmas after a £300,000 investment by owners Boddingtons. Meanwhile, the old New Ship Inn on Watery Lane was opened in time for Christmas carrying it’s new name the ‘Jolly Roger’. At the Lamb Hotel on Church Street, noted for it’s folk music in particular, there was a ‘Singalong Night’ on Christmas Eve. Whilst the Cross Keys on Moor Lane welcomed customers old and new having just been refurbished.
Preachers, parsons and priests aplenty were all busy in the run up to Christmas with carol services, sermons, holy communion and festive blessings. The congregation was swelled at the Preston Parish Church for ‘Carols by Candlelight’ led by the Rector of Preston Michael Higgins featuring the Lancashire Evening Post band and a free mince pie.
The parishioners of the demolished churches of St Saviours and St James were celebrating Christmas at their new premises off Avenham Lane, at the North Road Pentecostal Church they gathered for the breaking of the bread and at St Gregory’s RC Church on Blackpool Road a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve followed a carol service.
No Christmas would be complete without a rush of newly born babies on Christmas Day and the Preston Royal Infirmary maternity unit did not disappoint.
Before 7am on Christmas Day three babies had been delivered, another arrived at teatime and just before midnight the tally became five. Four girls and a boy who weighed in at 8lbs 13oz – keeping the midwives busy.
Unfortunately, Christmas 1985 saw Preston North End at the wrong end of the Football League, down in the basement fighting for their survival. With recently appointed Brian Kidd as manager the Lilywhites entertained Northampton Town on the Saturday before Christmas.
An improved performance saw them earn a 1-1 draw on a muddy Deepdale pitch thanks to a John Thomas goal watched by a crowd of just 2,570.
On Boxing Day they travelled to Wrexham and picked up a rare away point thanks to a Bob Atkins equaliser on 70 minutes.
An even smaller crowd of just 2,217 watched this fixture.
Preston Grasshoppers had a busy time starting with two fixtures over the weekend before Christmas. On a mud bath of a home pitch they beat Huddersfield by 13–0 and they followed this up with a Lancashire Cup win away to Bury by 27–0. It looked good for the eagerly awaited Boxing Day clash at home to local rivals Fylde. The match was a tough encounter and with the Hoppers trailing 18-7 they had winger Joe Hindle sent off. This seemed to inspire them and in a rousing finale they got within two points of Fylde before losing 16–18.
Preston Greyhound track was still a popular place in 1985 with many a punter attracted to the live racing at the stadium in Acregate Lane with meetings held on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day.
Hopes were high for the likes of Bold Duchess, Bold Knight, Sinbad and Park Drive with 12 races on each day.
From Boxing Day the January Sales were in full swing with bargains galore promised, although C&A Modes kept their customers waiting until the New Year. It lead to another rush of shoppers and a chance to treat yourself to the gift that Santa did not bring after all, or return that unwanted present.