Royal fanfare for Preston Docks opening

June 25 marks 125 years since the Duke of Edinburgh officially opened Preston Docks. William Macluskie reports

Friday, 23rd June 2017, 6:11 pm
Updated Tuesday, 18th July 2017, 8:30 am
Steam yacht Aline sailed the Duke of Edinburgh round Preston dock before the opening ceremony
Steam yacht Aline sailed the Duke of Edinburgh round Preston dock before the opening ceremony

Amid great pomp and ceremony on June 25, 1892 Prince Albert, the Duke of Edinburgh , officially opened Preston Docks.

The landmark date marked the end of a

seven-year building project launched when his elder brother, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) laid the foundation stone for the project.

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Dock foundation stone ceremony in July 1885 by HRH Albert Edward, Prince of Wales

Preparations for the grand opening spread across from the town centre to the new waterfront facility.

Street lamps were decorated with small shrubs at each corner and rose white plumes of pampas, rising from the apex while grand archways were built across main thoroughfares

One grand archway was composed of 188 bales of cotton, principally Egyptian, the value of the arch being placed at more than £4,000 – the equivalent of more than £460,000 in today’s terms, and this was only one decoration.

Not only were the decorations grand but also the royal arrival. On the evening before the ceremony, the Prince arrived by train from London a few minutes after his scheduled 6.35pm arrival, to be welcomed by the Mayor of the Borough of Preston.

Excavation of Preston Dock basin in 1885

He spent the night at the mayoral residence at Darwen Bank.

At 9.45am prompt the royal visitor set off, escorted by a mounted police guard, through from Walton-le-Dale to the dock via London Road, Stanley Street, Church Street, Fishergate, Fishergate Hill, Bow Lane, Spring Street, Marsh Lane and to the south side of the dock.

Along the way through the streets, the Prince ordered his passage be stopped as they passed by the St Aiden’s Sunday school, where the children sang a rendition of God Save the Queen, cheering loudly as he continued onward.

That day’s Lancashire Evening Post reported: “The chief constable was out in good time on horseback, and he had a number of mounted men at his service. The full force was on duty, and 250 additional constables arrived at eight ‘o clock from Manchester and various divisions of the county constabulary.” Traffic was stopped as the police lined the route towards the dock. At this point, the 12th Lancers and “men of the 3rd and 4th Batts. of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment too marched to the dock, headed by their band, and the detachment of the 5th LAV proceeded with heavy guns to Ashton Park, ready to fire the Royal salute of 21 guns on the cutting of the ribbon.”

Workmen filling in the bed of the Ribble during the dock building

The two battalions marched to a grand stand where, at 10am, “every seat was occupied, over 1,800 persons witnessing the ceremony.”

The Duke of Edinburgh arrived at 10.30am, earlier than expected, and was presented with an intricately designed 15 carat gold bollard, which was described in detail by the Lancashire Evening Post. It took the form of “a model…of the bollard or mooring post, such as is seen on the docks. The lower part will be fixed in a lever, so that only the handle will appear, and after being used to pull the lever and set in motion the machinery for opening the dock gates, [it] will be taken out and presented to the Duke as a seal, with his arms and coronet engraved upon it. The handle is fluted, with a civic coronet round the upper portion, and a band of laurel on the lower portion. On the obverse are the Arms of Preston enamelled in proper heraldic colours, and the Pascal Lamb, with the letters P.P. on a field of azure. The lower part is suggested as a capstan, with entwined dolphin and the trident of Neptune.”

The report goes on to describe the Prince’s address to the assembled crowd,

“The invitation which you have given me to open the work which my brother, the Prince of Wales, first inaugurated in the year 1885, and which has now been brought to a satisfactory conclusion, is one that it gave me much pleasure to accept, for I felt that in doing so I was showing my interest in an undertaking which cannot but have a very beneficial result, not only upon the welfare of the great borough you represent, but also upon the commercial prosperity of the county of Lancaster.

Bull Nose and entrance to Preston Dock in 1892

“I thank you sincerely for the handsome offering which you have made to me, and of which I am about to make use in opening the dock gates.

“It will always be an interesting reminiscence of this day’s proceedings.”

After waiting for the high tide needed to open the dock gates, the Prince boarded the steamer Aline, to a fanfare of salutes and cheering from the nearby vessels.

The Lancashire Evening Post report stated that “at quarter past eleven the broad blue ribbon stretched across the dock entrance was torn in twain by the bows of the Aline, and loud cheers arose from the grand stand, the vast concourse that surrounded the dock, and the thousands that were gathered on the rising ground beyond.

“The cheers were answered by the boom of artillery, a detachment of the 5th LAV, stationed on Ashton Park, firing a royal salute of 21 guns.”

Accompanied by four other boats, belonging to prominent supporters and traders of Preston Docks, the Duke disembarked and left the docks at 12.15pm, venturing to the town hall in reportedly terrible weather.

Dock foundation stone ceremony in July 1885 by HRH Albert Edward, Prince of Wales

Despite the typical northern climate, “a large crowd of people witnessed the arrival in spite of the falling rain, which was every moment increasing in severity. At ten minutes to one his Royal Highness and party, escorted by a detachment of the 12th Lancers, left the Town Hall and proceeded to the Public Hall, where the 5th Lancashire Artillery Volunteers furnished a guard of honour.”

Once there, the Duke was entertained at a luncheon given by the Mayor of Preston in the public hall before His Royal Highness left for Plymouth by a special train later in the afternoon.

Excavation of Preston Dock basin in 1885
Workmen filling in the bed of the Ribble during the dock building
Bull Nose and entrance to Preston Dock in 1892