First citizens of Preston

Finding someone to be mayor of Preston does not always go as smoothly as it should.

With just over a month to go before the city's latest First Citizen takes charge of the famous robes and chains, there is still some doubt over who that person will be. Evening Post historian Keith Johnson takes a look at the ups and downs of Preston's most prestigious title.

It seems normal these days for some arguments to rage before the annual choice of Mayor of Preston is finalised. This year's political row surrounding the would-be Liberal Democrat candidate Christine Abram is just the latest in a list dating back to Aubrey, son of Robert, in 1327.

Sadly the early records are incomplete, coming as they do from the Heralds College and the manuscripts of Dr Kuerden. Only from the middle of the 17th century are the lists of Mayors and Bailiffs held by the Corporation of Preston.

The Municipal Reform Act of 1835 abolished the office of bailiffs in those far off days when the municipal year ran from November to November.

It was and still is a high profile position and an undertaking not to be taken lightly. During the Civil War Adam Morte was elected Mayor in 1642 but declined to take the office and was fined 100 marks. By the following February, when the Parliamentarians stormed Preston, he chose to defend the Royalist cause. He fought bravely alongside his son but was killed. A year later the Mayor, William Cottam, and his bailiffs were seized by Prince Rupert, who accused them of apathy towards the Royalist cause and imprisoned them for three months at Skipton Castle.

Not surprisingly, a number of familiar local names are amongst those listed, including Bannister (or Banastre), a name that appeared on 31 occasions between 1345 and 1664. In 1617 the Mayor was Thomas Banastre and John Taylor, a respectable poet of the day, who lodged in the town had this to say:

"Unto my wayward lodgings often did repair,

Kind Master Thomas Banastre the Mayor,

Who is of worship and good respect

And in his charge discreet and circumspect;

For I protest to God I never saw

A town more wisely governed by the law."

Then there were the Grimshaws, a father and two sons who filled the role with dignity. Thirteen times this noble family had a representative wearing the robes of office. The youngest son, Nicholas Grimshaw, a man highly regarded in the legal profession, was Mayor of Preston seven times, including twice as Guild Mayor in 1802 and 1822. Tragically, his two sons Nicholas and George Henry drowned in a boating accident on the River Ribble in 1822.

Certainly many holders of the office had great influence in the town and it is no surprise that Samuel Horrocks and his son both wore the robes of office, as did Thomas Miller, another member of the cotton dynasty.

Other influential cotton kings, such as John Goodair and his soldier son William Henry, Charles Roger Jacson, Thomas German and several generations of the Paley family also held office.

Enterprising 19th century businessmen such as William Henry Woods, the tobacco manufacturer, the three times selected James Burrow, gunsmith, the architect of the Harris Museum James Hibbert and coal merchant John Rawcliffe all had their years in the spotlight.

Early in the 20th century, leather merchant William Henry Ord spent two successive years as the Mayor, combining his duties with those as chairman of Preston North End and president of Preston Cycling Club.

Thomas Parkinson, owner of the biscuit factory, served for two years and the soap manufacturer William McKune Margerison also carried out the duties for two years. Harry Cartmell served the longest unbroken spell as Mayor of Preston. He was in office when the First World War broke out and remained until hostilities were over. A knighthood followed for six long years of civic service.

In 1925 the president of Preston Weavers Association, Jeremiah Woolley, became the first Labour politician to become Mayor of Preston and in 1933 the ladies of Preston rejoiced when doctor's wife Avice Pimblett became the first woman elected to the role.

In the decades that followed a succession of local councillors were honoured. William Beckett, who worked on the railways, was twice Mayor of Preston during a 44-year council career that ended in 1973. In 1958 the Labour party's Mary Ann Wignall, a long serving party activist, became the first woman to represent them as Mayor.

Twelve months later, former bus conductress Florrie Hoskins wore the Mayoral chain.

Local postal worker Cyril Evan Molyneux was rewarded for a decade of service and opened the new GPO Sorting Office in West Cliff in 1964.

In 1975, after rejecting the opportunity on a number of occasions, the long-serving Robert Weir, a staunch Labour councillor, celebrated 25 years on the Town Council by accepting the appointment. Harold Parker, who began his political career by protesting against local bus routes and ended up as Guild Mayor in 1992, followed him. Local draper Joseph Hood took over in 1977 and twice wore the Mayoral robes, as indeed did Ian Hall, the prominent Labour councillor.

After the war, apart from two Independents, the honour was shared by Labour and Conservative councillors. All that changed in 1996 when Ron Marshall, a Liberal Democrat, took over to end a spell of Labour domination. At the turn of the century the title of Millennium Mayor was bestowed on Geoff Swarbrick, and Jonathan Saksena wore the Mayoral robes when the Queen visited to confirm city status.

The Mayor of Preston is a role that has been cherished by many and has played an important part in shaping the city's future.