Local historian Keith Johnson’s latest book takes readers on a tour through Preston’s oldest streets. Here he reveals the favourite corners of his home town
For more than a couple of decades I have been mesmerised and often mystified as I have studied the history of Preston, my birth place. I have been fortunate along the way to have a number of books published, which chronicle the people, the buildings and the events which have occurred within our city.
I became aware of Preston’s fascinating early history when I leafed through the pages of Anthony Hewitson’s ‘ History Of Preston’ published in 1883. Needless to say I have spent countless hours within the Harris Museum and Library poring over the old newspapers, delving into the filing cabinets and searching the bookshelves therein.
I have learned a lot since I discovered Jane Scott had served arsenic laced porridge to her parents with fatal consequences back in 1827. To unearth a snippet of a historical incident or a forgotten moment in time often inspires me. I feel fortunate that my manuscripts have been published, articles I have written grace the pages of the Lancashire Post and my weekly court archives in the Retro section of the paper are proving popular.
My first adventure into writing was with my hand written collection of chilling true tales, looking at crimes and the consequences in old Preston. Since then I have quenched my thirst for knowledge by learning about the people, the places, the peculiarities and the pageantry. I am, of course, grateful to Owl Books who started me on the ‘Chilling True Tales of Old Preston’ path, to Winckley Press and Mr Batty who continued the chilling series and published my ‘People Of Old Preston’ which told of the people who made Preston proud. Those folk inspired me and I could not dwell entirely in the world of crime and criminals with so much more of Preston to explore. Consequently, I was most appreciative of the History Press who produced my ‘Preston Remembered’ book, which is a nostalgic journey into Preston’s past.
In recent years I have been fortunate to have had a collection of local books published by Amberley Publishing, ‘Preston Through Time’, ‘Preston In The 1960s’, ‘Secret Preston’ and ‘Preston In 50 Buildings’, all of which allowed me to indulge my passion for research.
They are all part of Amberley’s nationwide series on the relative themes. Perhaps, like me, you often wander and wonder as you walk around Preston. Perhaps you ponder with thoughts about the streets, the buildings, the people that passed this way before who were all part of the rich tapestry of life.
Quite naturally, like many Prestonians, I have visited many of our city’s historical locations and trod the well worn paths that led to them. Therefore, I was delighted when Amberley Publishing asked me to write the Preston version of their latest series, a historical tour of city or town. It is quite a journey on a long and winding road with twists and turns along the way. Always remember this old town endured feast and famine, plague and pestilence, triumph and tragedy, conflicts and confrontation to emerge as ‘Proud Preston’: a title richly deserved.
By reflecting on the images within the book it gives you, the reader, a chance to stand and stare and be nostalgic whilst you are there.
This trail begins on Fishergate Hill the seat of County Hall since 1882, then onwards to Fishergate to glimpse the history there. On next to Winckley Square surrounded by fine buildings, some of which date back to the dawn of the 19th century. After wandering around the square it is but a short walk to the Avenham and Miller Parks by the side of the Ribble where historical delights await. Leaving the parks by tree-lined paths you reach Avenham Walk, created as a gravel path in 1696.
Soon Avenham Lane beckons and then a slight detour takes you to Stoneygate where Arkwright House has stood since 1728 and from where you can glimpse a rear view of the Minster church.
Returning to Avenham Lane and on to Queen Street you will reach London Road, a vital artery of the city. Ahead to your left is Stanley Street and a glimpse at New Hall Lane, where cotton mills once abounded, before you step onwards towards Church Street, a highway steeped in history.
As Church Street turns into Fishergate, Cheapside beckons along with the ancient Market Square where you may choose to linger a while and admire the buildings that surround it. Harris Street, by the side of the Harris Museum, takes you up to the modern day Guild Hall and the Town Hall, where civic matters are dealt with on Lancaster Road.
Across from the Town Hall is the narrow, winding Crooked Lane, where soup kitchens gave relief to the poor in cotton famine days, and a few more footsteps will bring you to the Preston Bus Station, a structure both praised and criticised, from the top of which you can view Preston in its entirety.
Church steeples and towers, high rise apartments and office blocks, modern and historical structures and highways all coming into view. Returning to Lancaster Road, the Covered Market of 1872 origins then beckons, as do Market Street and Orchard Street, from where you can enter Friargate.
A few steps more and you are on Lune Street, where the old Corn Exchange and St George’s Chapel await. Next is the Ringway and a stroll towards Friargate Brow, which eventually leads to the Adelphi roundabout and the
UCLan campus. From here you can look in awe at the spire of St Walburge’s church and admire the former church of St Peter’s.
Corporation Street will then take you to where the canal once terminated at the rear of the old Corn Exchange and a return to Fishergate and journey’s end at Preston Railway Station from where visitors have flocked since 1880. Hopefully, by then you will have embraced the history and the heritage of the city and its folk and like myself learned a little bit more about proud Preston.
This history trail is intended to give you a glimpse of Preston’s past and to recall the endeavours of its people. A chance to wander and wonder where generations past have lived and toiled.
The streets and alleyways, buildings and structures, parks and pastimes all left a legacy, although it is the people who made Preston proud.
In truth, whenever I walk this walk, it seems like a magical mystery history tour and I hope it is for you, too. The ‘Preston History Trail’ is a pocket sized publication which takes you along the highways and byways and hopefully down memory lane. This is a tour of Preston you can make by donning your walking shoes or, if you prefer, from the comfort of your old armchair as you flick through the pages.
For myself it is another chapter in a never ending story, after all, yesterday is history, too. Like historian Anthony Hewitson did, all those years ago, I tender my thanks for all the information I have gleaned from the historians and reporters of old, who chronicled events of the past in good old Preston so that we could share their knowledge.
l Preston History Tour by Keith Johnson is available priced £6.99 from Amberley Publishing