Early Preston • Preston Guild City
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Preston Guild City

Early Preston

1844 sketch of Preston Market place.

Peer into Preston's rich and historical past...

The name "Preston" is derived from Old English meaning "Priest's settlement". This name was given to the town by Angles, one of the main Germanic peoples who settled in Great Britain after the Roman period.

Preston's origins date back further than this, with evidence of a Roman road leading to a camp at Walton-le-Dale. Recent finds in the Ribbleton area of Preston also suggest settlements along the Roman road which ran through the area.

There is also evidence of Vikings being present, with the Cuerdale Hoard being discovered in 1840 by the River Ribble in Cuerdale near Preston. The hoard is one of the largest Viking silver hoards ever found and consists of more than 8,600 items, including silver coins, hacksilver, ingots and English and Carolingian jewellery.

Industrial town

Preston was granted a Guild Merchant charter in 1179, giving it the status of a market town and leading to the famous Preston Guild celebrations which still continue to be held every 20 years. Preston continued as a small market town, with textiles being produced there as far back as the 13th century. 

It was in Preston that Richard Arkwright and John Kay developed their highly important spinning frame, aiding the arrival of cotton mills in Preston and many northern towns.

At the time of the industrial revolution, in the 19th century, the picturesque Georgian town had been transformed, bringing the mills, engineering works, housing, canals and railways. Cotton was the principal employer for women in Preston for more than 150 years and famous names such as Horrockses, goodhair and Hawkins sent their cotton cloth around the world.

In the following years, many more names emerged including Dick, Kerr & Co.'s electric works for trams and Goss for printing presses. Perhaps the most notable name would be The Preston Gas Company. The company saw Preston being the first English town outside of London to be lit by gas.

The more oppressive side of industrialisation was seen in a number of strikes orchestrated by cotton workers. Strikes include the Preston Strike of 1842 where four demonstrators were killed. A memorial now sits on Lune Street where the strike took place. Another notable strike is the Great Lock Out during 1853/54 where the period of unrest made headlines across the country as a struggle of the cotton workers against the Preston Cotton Masters. Charles Dickens' novel, Hard Times, was thought to have been inspired by his visit to Preston during the Great Lock Out.

Dickens wrote:

"It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled".

Social and political movements

There has always been a strong link with people in Preston and social and political reform, with people playing a significant role in national campaigns. It was in Preston where Henry Hunt fought for and won an election, defeating future Prime Minister, Edward Stanley, and gaining a parliamentary seat during the implementation of the Reform Act. Henry Hunt was a radical speaker and agitator, remembered as a pioneer of working-class radicalism as well as an important influence on the Chartist movement.

Famous Prestonian, Joseph Livesey, was a temperance campaigner, social reformer, local politician, writer, publisher, newspaper proprietor and philanthropist. He was also the founder of the Temperance Movement, a social movement against the consumption of alcoholic beverages. It was in Preston where the word "teetotalism" was born and where Livesey drew up the first pledge.

The Women's Suffrage movement also has several important links to Preston. Edith Rigby and Annie Hill, were two Prestonian suffragettes who were active in protests.

Culture and learning

While Preston only had one school until the late 18th century, major changes were soon underway. The development of culture and learning institutions began with the creation of the first public library (the Shepherd Library), the Bluecoat School and institutions like the Literary and Philosophical Society.

The men that created these were connected to legal professions. During the 19th century, the church took an active role in education, giving working children the opportunity to learn to read and write for the first time.

The industrial revolution created a number of successful Preston businessmen, many of whom began to improve and establish schools, public lending libraries, museums and art galleries in the city. Those included Joseph Livesey, founder of the temperance movement, and astronomer, Moses Holden, who founded the Institute for the Diffusion of Knowledge in 1828. The institute was the first organisation inviting working men and women to borrow books and attend classes on a range of topics, from astronomy and photography to natural history and foreign languages.

Perhaps the most important development, however, was the Harris Library, Museum and Art Gallery, created after the dead of Edmund Robert Harris. Through the same Harris Bequest, the first formal accredited adult education college, The Harris Institute, took on the pioneering work of the Institute of the Diffusion of Knowledge, eventually becoming the University of Central Lancashire.

To discover more of Preston's history outdoors see City Walks.