Historical Articles

A collection of articles and personal research projects by society members

Preston Past: The Shambles, Lancaster Road

by Paul D. Swarbrick

Most of the images in this series of articles are from the PHS Image Gallery and by courtesy of the outstanding Preston Digital Archive which is an online archive of images of Preston’s past.

In the first of this series of bygone times in Preston, we have an image of what is now Lancaster Road and was formerly known as ‘The Shambles’.

The location of the view in this image is what would now be the Miller Arcade, Jacson Street and the Harris Library & Museum. How different it looks today and I tend to think that the odour around that area would have been quite offensive around the time the butchers from the nearby shops used to pour out offal and other animal waste onto the pavement. It must have been an ordeal passing along there in that time.

Most of the town’s butchers could be found displaying their wares behind the columns. The end property, which was on the corner of ‘Gin Bow Entry’ (roughly where Harris Street is now), was Cottam’s Shoulder of Mutton Inn, appropriately named given what was going on further down the road. At the other end of this row along The Shambles, towards Church Street, was a small building which was Prestons first Post Office.

This very old row was demolished in 1896 to make way for the Harris Library & Museum and subsequently the Miller Arcade.

“Shambles” was a name originally used for a street of butchers shops where meat was slaughtered and sold. It is derived from the Middle English word schamel, which meant a bench, as for displaying meat for sale.



Preston Past: Preston’s ‘Old’ Town (Moot) Hall

by Paul D. Swarbrick

The above image shows a view from Fishergate of the ‘Old’ Town Hall of Preston, occupying the site of the present Crystal House which replaced the former Town Hall of the mid 1800′s to the mid 1900′s. It is probably not such recognisable sight to most Prestonians of today as it was built in 1781/82 following the collapse of the ancient Moot Hall on the same site in 1780. The properties seen at the right were later replaced by the Miller Arcade in 1899.

Only about half the site between Fishergate and the Market Square


was occupied by the Town Hall, the remainder of the site being taken up by timber framed buildings and the image below shows the rear south side of the Town Hall facing the Market Square. The Town Hall was built at a cost of £700.

The insert, on the lower right side of the above image of the rear of the ‘old’ Town Hall, is that of the timber framed buildings that were originally standing on the vacant site. The triple-eaved building in the centre was built for Anne and John Jenkinson and completed in 1629.

 I feel sure you will agree that the buildings looked quite splendid and graced the Square magnificently. These timber framed structures were demolished in 1855 when, at that time, no decision had been made and for some years the council had deliberated as to what to do with the land. Then in 1862 the remainder of the site was flattened when the town hall was demolished to make way for the ill fated Sir George Gilbert Scott’s Town hall which a lot more Prestonians will be more familiar with today.

As a point of interest, one of the old Town Hall clocks was removed and reinstalled at Beech Grove Farm, Greenhalgh near Kirkham and remains there today, still in full working order!


Preston Past:  Sir George Gilbert Scott’s Preston Town Hall

by Paul D. Swarbrick

An Architectural Gem for Preston.

George Gilbert Scott’s Town Hall standing majestically in the Market Square, Preston. 1886—1947

When the fire damage was assessed it was decided by the Town Council to demolish the building but this was entirely and absolutely against the wishes of the public, who had put together an eight thousand signature petition to have it saved and restored to its former glory. However, this never happened and the lower part of the building was stabilised and used for various purposes until 1962 when it was completely demolished to make way for the new and modern Crystal House which remains today and was once voted Preston’s least favourite building and the one that would be most gladly demolished.


Gone – But Not Quite

As a point of local interest, some of the masonry from the town hall still remains today and can be seen along the River Ribble banks at Howick. Anyone looking for a little nostalgia may care to walk down to the river and take a look. There is quite a lot to see. The image below shows a part of the Ribble banks where the masonry can be seen.







Gilbert Scott’s magnificent Town Hall was built between 1862 and 1866 standing on the site of the former Moot Hall between Fishergate and the Market Square. It was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, a leading architect in the Gothic revival type of architecture. The clock tower, the second largest in Britain after the ‘Big Ben’ tower in London, was south west facing on the corner of Fishergate and Cheapside. However, during the planning stage officials were not sure in which direction the clock tower should face but Gilbert Scott, a man not known for his modesty, reput-edly went on to say “It would look superb regardless of which elevation was chosen for the main street”.






















As with the exterior of the Town Hall, the interior was also rather salubrious in design. The detail on the walls, doors, ceilings and floors was in every aspect quite outstanding. The image to the left shows a glimpse of Scott’s Town Hall interior entrance in 1939.


Disaster Struck

On the night of March 15th1947 a fire mysteriously started and the building was destroyed. One of Preston’s local and eminent historians, the late Marian Roberts, who at that time lived at the Castle Inn on Cheapside, recalled this event by saying “My own first view of this being from my bedroom at 1am, when I awoke just as the fingers of the clock fell to the ground”. Prestonians of that time were reported to have said that you could hear the sound of the hour bell clanging against the masonry of the tower as it fell to the ground.


Preston Past: The Castle Hotel On Cheapside, Market Square

by Paul D. Swarbrick

Originally known as the Castle Inn and was built in 1623, the Castle Hotel was situated in Cheapside opposite the Market Square and is shown in Image 1. It was very much a fa-vourite hostelry in the centre of the town for many Prestonians. This was also the chosen establishment for the meeting place of many building societies and insurance companies of Preston and the surrounding areas.

The whole building, especially the interior had a style of grandeur about it and Peter Whittle in his ‘History Of Pre-ston’ (1837) wrote…


“The Castle Inn, in the Market Place was erected in 1623 and was at that time deemed to be an elegant build-ing. A fine chimney piece was placed in a room over the gateway, consisting of a frontispiece (over the fire-place) carved with a mass of miniature columns, arches, niches and caryatids, piled up to the ceiling. The col-umns were after the Grecian style of architecture. This piece of work was executed by Lawrence Winstanley, carver in Preston.”



To have an idea of How the hotel appeared in earlier times, image 2 shows the Castle and Commercial Ho-tel Watercolour by Edwin Beattie

One of the notable events held at the Castle Hotel in 1865 was on the completion of Preston’s, new Town Hall, when one hundred and fifty of the workmen in-volved with the Town Hall construction were enter-tained to a considerable lunch paid for by the Corpo-ration and the contractors. I hesitate to think that this could happen in this day and age.

Around 1910 the Castle Hotel was purchased by the Refuge Assurance Company, was transformed into com-mercial premises and was then known as ‘Castle Chambers’. During the years following the change of use companies and shops were to occupy the various units the building was divided into. In the early part of the twentieth century the Football League were to take up tenancy in part of the premises and remained there for some years. In the main photograph above of the Castle Hotel, it can be seen that the premises on the lower right of the image is the Argenta Meat Company based in Oldham who, interestingly, eventually became Dewhurst’s The Master Butchers. Also in this image the underpass to the left of the butchers that would originally lead to the courtyard behind the hotel and eventually became a narrow thoroughfare leading to the premises of the


Lancashire Eve-ning Post for use of their vans to collect newspapers from the presses for delivery.

In the early 1990′s, following the closure of Castle Chambers in 1989, the whole of the building was remodelled and was replaced by shops as it is today. One small feature still remains though and that is a small ‘spur stone’ at the junction of two of the shops and this is illustrated in the image below. I wonder how many people pass this every day on Cheapside in Preston and never really notice it. Image 3 illustrates the remaining existence of one of the spur stones of the former underpass.

Notable people of Preston—Marian Roberts1920-2007

By Gillian Lawson, Archivist of the Preston Historical Society

In many respects Marian Roberts was one of Preston’s great historians of the twentieth century. Not only has she written numerous papers, now deposited in the University of Central Lancashire’s special collections, she was much loved and respected by her contemporaries, in such institutions as the Friends of the Harris, the Preston Historical Society and the Lancashire Records Office.

In 2004 she received the British Association for Local History Award for Personal Achievement.

Marian was born on 11th March 1920 in Bloomfield Street, Preston, and at the age of five she moved with her family to a flat in Castle Chambers, Market Place, Preston, this was the home of the Refuge Assurance Company where her mother became the caretaker. Marian

 lived with her parents at the chambers until 1949. From the windows

of the house facing onto the market place Marian was able to witness many Civic events such as royal visits and processions of successive mayors taking place on the flag market. She would have witnessed many other occasions from this vantage point, such as the return of Preston North End in 1938 when they won the F.A. Cup, the pot fair, the Whitsuntide fair and of course the fateful fire at the Town Hall, she would have witnessed the clock fingers falling to the ground from her bedroom window.

In her early years Marian spent most evenings in the Harris Museum and Library opposite Castle Chambers where her great love of this fine institution grew. She was able to walk around the many exhibits, one of her favourites was the doll’s house on display in one of the galleries. At the age of 14 Marian left school and went to work as a clerical assistant in industry and then for Lancashire County Council. It was while working at County Hall that she met and married Louis in 1949. They lived in several areas of Preston but eventually moved to Watling Street Road.

When Louis died of cancer in 1980 Marian was devastated at this great loss, the same year she retired from the Royal Infirmary where she worked as a part time ward secretary. To help alleviate the resulting despair Marian joined a class on palaeography at the Lancashire Records Office, it was from this that her interest and enthusiasm for local history grew. She went on to join the Friends of the Museum working as a volunteer and it was there that the Keeper of Social History—Frank Carpenter, knowing Marian’s interest in Winckley Square and the Addison family, gave her several bags of Addison papers to read and asked if she would catalogue them. The results of her research that followed are now housed in the County Records Office.

In the late 1980’s Marian published a book called The Story of Winckley Square, which was acclaimed by local historians as the definitive work on the square; sadly it is no longer in print but is available in the library. Throughout the years she gave many talks to local societies and was always on hand to help with history projects. All royalties from the sale of her book and fees from the talks she gave were donated to St. Catherine’s Hospice.

In 2001 at the age of 82 Marian and her sister Elsie moved to Wymondham in Norfolk to be close to her niece. Before she left for Norfolk a civic recep-tion was held at the Harris Museum in her honour. Sadly on 21st February 2007 Marian died shortly after being diagnosed with cancer.


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