Preston Remembers as street theatre brings wartime history alive

Photo Neil Cross :Scene from the  Preston Remembers street theatre performance
Photo Neil Cross :Scene from the Preston Remembers street theatre performance
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A UNIQUE piece of street theatre has brought Preston’s wartime past to life as part of the Preston Remembers project.

It also brought a couple on a very special mission from America.

Rapt audiences watched at the weekend as the stories of market gardener and conscientious objector Joseph Garstang, soldier John Gregson and suffragist and campaigner Beatrice Blackhurst were told by Chester based theatre company, Theatre In The Quarter.

Each of the trio had experienced the First World War in very different ways. Joseph, who was also a personal trainer, declined to use his expertise in the cause of war saying: “I’m not training these lads up to be cannon fodder.” Imprisoned and force fed 38 times, he stuck to his principles, but was a broken man by the end of the war.

Beatrice, a mother and campaigner was part of the committee which set up the Preston Station Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Free Buffet. She was an advocate for children’s and women’s rights.

John was born on the same street as Joseph and was orphaned at an early age. He was one of the first to be called up when the war started and was killed in the trenches in June 1915, leaving behind a wife and three children.

The company performed their half-hour drama four times at the war memorial, Preston Railway Station and the covered market.

The dramas marked the launch of three Preston Remembers walks, which commemorate the past Prestonians’ lives.

Among those attending the first production were Robin Blackhurst, grandson of Beatrice, and his wife Stephanie, who had travelled from New York for the event.

The couple first attended a VIP launch at Preston’s Harris Museum, led by Mayor Coun Margaret McManus, with a speech too from Heritage Lottery Fund representative Aileen McEvoy.

Also attending were other members of the Blackhurst family from Lytham and relatives of John Gregson, including grandson Cliff from Preston, and Joseph Garstang’s relatives, including great niece Ann Berry and his great nephew. Both Cliff and Ann were very involved in researching the walks.

Project co-ordinator Laura Jamieson said: “It went really well. We had a really positive response from local people. A lot of people found it quite moving. There were a few tears. The walks will really tell people about these hidden stories of Preston.”

The walks are now available to download from the Preston Remembers website and printed copies will be available from local museums and libraries from next week.

Meanwhile, you can book a place on monthly guided walks through the prestonremembers.org.uk website. The first is next Saturday.