The history of Preston in the north of England goes all the way back to the times of Roman Britain. It was near Preston that the Roman legions crossed the River Ribble, as it is the lowest fording point before the estuary. On their way northwards to Carlisle, they built a road as they passed through. Part of this road now forms the A6 through Preston. They did not camp at Preston, but a little to the north-east at Ribchester.
After the Roman retreat, a small market community was established at the crossroads which came to be known as Priest-Town as it was established and owned by monks. You could get to it north-south by road or east-west by river.
The community grew, and in 1085, was entered into the Domesday Book of William the Conquerer and in 1179, the town was granted the first of many Guild Merchant Charters. These charters empowered the town to select and appoint its own mayors, burgers and freemen. Freemen were given permission to (among other privileges) herd sheep, cattle and pigs into the town without payment of tolls or taxes.
Through the centuries, Preston has taken part in various turning points of English history.
During the English Civil War, in 1648, the battle of Preston saw Cromwell's Roundheads defeated by the Royalist Cavaliers. In the time of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715, the army of James Edward Stuart, (The Old Pretender) invaded Preston and blockaded the Market Square. Here James Edward Stuart proclaimed himself King of England. They used the spire of the Parish Church as a look-out point. With loyal reinforcements arriving from the north, however, the invaders were defeated and the rank and file men were imprisoned in the Parish Church, while the officers were all hanged on Gallows Hill, just off the A6 road.
The year 1745 was the time of the second Jacobite Rebellion. This was led by Charles Edward Stuart, (The Young Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie) who, after retreating from Derby, passed through Preston on his way north. His army was eventually defeated at Culloden Moor, near Inverness. Bonnie Prince Charlie himself escaped to Holland by way of the Isle of Skye, giving rise to the famous Skye Boat Song.
As indicated earlier, for a long time Preston was a simple market town. However, with the arrival of the Cotton Industry in 1777, the town's fortunes took off thanks to one of Preston's most famous sons, Sir Richard Arkwright, inventor of the Spinning Jenny. At its height, the cotton industry made Preston one of the most prosperous towns in Lancashire. The cotton industry continued to flourish into the 1950s, when it began a rapid decline, partly due to the discovery of Nylon. Courtauld's built a facility to manufacture this and other man-made yarn on a site at Red Scar, just outside Preston.
Other industries began to fill in the gap left by cotton's demise. English Electric (now British Aerospace) produced Britain's first supersonic interceptor fighter - the P1B Lightning - in its Preston factory while the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (now British Nuclear Fuels) produced (and still does) fuel rods for nuclear reactors at its Springfield site, just outside Preston.
Preston today is a hive of activity and any visitor would find plenty to do for amusement. There are two covered markets and an indoor market, as well as an open market. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the covered markets are used for a Flea Market/Car boot sale, and for the rest of the week a general market is held. The most important event for the open market is for the annual Pot Fair1. Producers of crockery from the Stoke-on-Trent area descend on the town to sell their wares at knock-down prices. However, if you come to this be sure to bring your umbrella. There is a saying in Preston; 'It always rains on the Pot Fair'. And it does.
Besides the markets Preston also has two large shopping complexes; St George's Centre and the Fishergate Centre, as well as all the usual High Street retailers.
There are three museums in Preston; the Harris Museum being the largest containing exhibits of significant historical interest. The County and Regimental Museum is somewhat smaller, containing articles of interest from the Royal Lancashire Regiment, as well as exhibits of lesser interest. It is situated just outside the town centre. Finally, the National Football Museum is housed inside the Preston North End Football Stadium.
Preston is also home to the University of Central Lancashire.
There are far too many places of entertainment to mention the all, so here are just a few. Firstly, the Pubs:
The Blue Bell (Church Street) - This is an old coaching house; the stables are still attached but are now a row of small shops.
The Black Horse (Friargate) - This place is well worth a visit just to admire the mosaic floor and the ornate marble bar front. It's also a listed building.
The Greyfriar (Friargate) - For Real Ale Buffs. 12 hand-pulled beers always on tap and a comprehensive food menu to suit all tastes. Also the cheapest pub in Preston.
For cinema entertainment, visitors need now to go outside the town centre. A multiplex cinema is situated just south of the town, on the A6. There is also a ten pin bowling alley on this site.
Preston North End
No article on Preston would be complete without a word or two on the local football club.
Preston North End was one of the founder members of the football league, and have had a chequered history, but have not won a major trophy for many years. Famous people to have played for the North End include Tommy Docherty2, Bill Shankly and, the most famous, Sir Tom Finney. There is a story in Preston that during the 1950s Sir Tom was approached by Spanish giants Real Madrid, who offered him £1000 to play on loan for them for a couple of matches. Rumour has it that Sir Tom refused, saying, 'I only play for one team, and that is Preston North End'.
'Once every Preston Guild' is a Lancashire saying when referring to something that does not happen very often. Which is quite true, as Preston Guild is only celebrated once every 20 years - it takes that long to recover from each one! The Guild is a week long celebration of being awarded the Guild Merchant Charter referred to at the beginning of this entry, and there are many processions, pageants and firework displays, and generally everybody has a good time.
The next celebration is in the year 2012.
The town coat of arms is a Paschal Lamb on a blue background, surmounting the letters PP. Proud Preston!