What to see
You’ll find accounts of Preston’s tourist attractions in Towns of Two Halves (and of 91 other places: order the book now for £8 +P&P from firstname.lastname@example.org). For additional information plus shopping, eating out etc there’s Preston Guild City and Visit Lancashire. For events coming up go to Preston Guild City‘s Events pages.
Comment and colour
Preston is a frontier town: between land and sea, with what was once the largest enclosed dock in the world; between industrial Lancashire and the more rural north-west; and, since those borders involve historic distinctions, it stands between the past and the future. You could be forgiven for feeling disorientated in Preston.
And a correction is necessary immediately: Preston has been a city, rather than a town, since 2002. However it remains the county town, being the home of Lancashire County Council. So it’s on a frontier related to civic status as well.
It’s a puzzling town to walk around. Many of the central streets are undistinguished, but when you turn a corner and are faced with Winckley Square you’re plunged into another era as well as a different place. ‘Square’ gives entirely the wrong impression: it’s more like a tract of parkland transplanted from a country estate, undulating down the hill towards the river. Appropriately, the houses around Winckley Square were for the gentry. An exhibition in the adjacent St Wilfrid’s Church shows what some of those houses looked like in their heyday.
The Church itself is quite something, with its red brick and terracotta, but the growth of the town around it has done its elaborate frontage no favours. Inside, two very substantial statues – St Wilfrid and an offbeat Madonna, by Fenwick Lawson, command the inner porch; beyond it the interior of the church is more conventional but quite spectacular.
Some of the city’s other buildings have semi-mythical status. Preston Guild is a proverbial expression for something that hardly ever happens; here, east of Market Square, it never stops happening, settling in the skyline like a close encounter. The famously Brutalist Preston Bus Station is like an unpainted ship of the line with empty gun-ports. Along the side of the old Post Office, a neglected row of telephone kiosks (one of which still has a telephone) offer themselves half-heartedly as rental space.
Dominating Market Square is the Harris Library, Museum and Art Gallery. The idea, when this building opened in 1893, was to give the people of Preston a taste of the world’s artistic riches. Now the building itself is part of that heritage, inside and out. Its display spaces are full of points of interest and curiosity. The Harris is particularly strong on fashion and textiles, glass and ceramics. But it also has unexpected collections of scent bottles, spectacles and card cases. The world’s riches are still here, with quite a few of Preston’s too.
In front of the Harris, Market Square is a space for events and ceremonies – Preston’s impressive cenotaph stands at the northern end. The city’s markets are another block away to the north. South of the Harris is the Victorian Miller Arcade, apparently a smaller imitation of the Burlington in London. Contemporary shopping malls are to the west, towards the railway station.
The dock, now a modern marina, is too far from the town centre to contribute to Preston life in the way that waterfronts in, say, Ipswich and Lincoln do. It’s more than a mile, on the other side of the West Coast mainline and some forbidding inner-urban highways. But if you make the trip to the Ribble Steam Railway you’ll pass it in the area now known as Riversway. One especially noteworthy feature is the Ribble Link, apparently the first new canal to be built in this country for 100 years.
At the bottom of Lune Street there is an imposing memorial to the four Preston cotton workers shot dead on that spot by soldiers suppressing a strike in 1842. The Preston Martyrs Memorial, erected on the 150th anniversary in 1992, recalls Goya’s The Third of May 1808. The four men were aged between 17 and 27. Their strike (which involved several hundred people) was over wages – 60 hours’ work earned less than £1 at the time – and has associations with the Chartist movement; some reports also suggest lingering Luddite motives.
Deepdale has its own memorials, as befits the eternal home of the first ever Football League champions. Outside the northwest corner of the ground, a statue of Sir Tom Finney pivots to get in his cross from the centre of a fountain known as The Splash. In the background is a mural commemorating the Dick, Kerr Ladies team from 100 years ago. Dick, Kerr & Co was an engineering firm and the Ladies, who played at Deepdale, are the oldest known women’s football team. They played the first night match at Deepdale, illuminated by anti-aircraft searchlights and with a whitewashed ball. In 1920 the first women’s international football match, against France, was watched at Deepdale by 25,000 people.
Barely half a kilometre further out of town is the Lancashire Infantry Museum, at Fulwood Barracks. It opens between 10am and 4pm on Tuesday to Thursday and Saturday. The military history runs from the era of William of Orange to the present day, and there are rooms devoted to particular battles – Waterloo and the Somme – as well as startling individual items like the Napoleonic Eagle captured in 1812 at Salamanca.
(This is a chapter from Towns of Two Halves.)
Also in Preston:
Avenham & Miller Parks
Brockholes Nature Reserve
Preston Statues Trail