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  • Preston in 50 buildings by Keith Johnson

    A view from the top of Preston Bus Station looking towards Avenham. (Preston in 50 buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    In recent times, it has been announced that three of our historical buildings are about to be renovated and transformed. The former Park Hotel overlooking Miller Park, the old General Post Office building overlooking the Market Place and the old Corn Exchange on Lune Street are being primed for upgrades. It seems that buildings have a life of their own and those in Preston are no exception.

    Preston in 50 Buildings is relevant at a time when the buildings of Preston are currently in the public eye. The history of our buildings is an enthralling one and my book chronicles the events and the people who helped shape the city architecture of today.

    Preston became a city in 2002 over two hundred years after the first cotton mill had been erected in the town. What followed the first cotton mill was two centuries of development that left us with a University City.

    Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, toured the nation in the early 18th Century as a prelude to his three volume travel book, ‘Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724-27)’ which provided a fascinating first-hand account of the state of the country. Regarding Preston he had this to say - 'Preston is a fine town, but not like Liverpool or Manchester. Here's no manufacture; the town is full of attorneys, proctors, and notaries. The people are gay here and though non the richer for it; it has by that obtained the name of Proud Preston'.

    The old and the new - the Guild Centre Tower. (Preston in 50 buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    He had been particularly impressed by Church Street – then called Churchgate and by Fishergate remarking – 'The great stretch is filled with great houses and is very broad. The house of the present Earl of Derby makes a noble appearance, and in general the houses are very well built. To this town the gentry resort in the winter from many miles around, and there are, during the season, assemblies and balls in the same manner as York.'

    Fine words indeed, but things would certainly change in the centuries ahead as the Preston of today was created. It involved great feats of civil engineering, far sighted architects and people intent on progress.

    The buildings of any town or city define the place more than anything else and Preston is no exception. The sky line is inevitably dominated by the tallest of structures and the main highways through Preston were shaped by the erection of the earliest dwellings and footpaths. It never is a blank canvas for the developer, but one where the existing landscape cannot be ignored.

    The choice of 50 existing buildings is no easy task for we all have those to which we attach fondness or favour. Those selected have been chosen for reasons of social, commercial, historical, political or civil importance, or simply because they are civil engineering feats to admire. Mention is also given in the book to numerous other buildings that in their own way are part of the rich tapestry woven into the soul of our city. 

     

    Stephenson Terrace, built from stone brought from Longridge. (Preston in 50 buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    They all, in their own way, reflect the drive and ambition of people to improve the environment of their day; for Preston folk to linger, dwell or work within. Hopefully, you will appreciate what was no mean achievement to create a city; although with hindsight it probably didn't turn out quite like the town the planners of old foresaw or dreamed about.

    Only a few factory chimneys from the industrial heydays now remain, but those that do hold a significant place in the history of the city. The great name of Horrockses has left a legacy from the time Sam Horrocks built his mansion at Lark Hill through to the construction of Centenary Mill on New Hall Lane, now converted into luxury apartments. The other great monument from the cotton trade, the Tulketh Spinning Mill, has also passed the test of time and still provides employment for many.

    There is the legacy left behind by the dockers of Preston an area now transformed and known as Riversway; and by the tram and omnibus pioneers of Preston Corporation and the fondly remembered Ribble Bus Co; not forgetting the railway pioneers with their bridges across the River Ribble or the later emerging Victorian railway station through which passenger and freight trains still pass each and every day.

    St Walburge's and its spire. (Preston in 50 buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Although the book is essentially about buildings it does afford the opportunity of walking in the footsteps of Preston folk down the generations, from noble men to common folk, and you will catch a glimpse of their lives on the streets of old as the place developed around them.

    Thankfully many of the homes of grandeur inhabited by genteel folk still remain to allow us to marvel at their architecture. Notable residents of our town past are mentioned, such as Edwin Henry Booth who once dwelt at Avenham Tower; Joseph Livesey whose residence was around the corner on Bank Parade where well cultivated gardens once flourished, and LEP newspaper pioneer George Toulmin who lived nearby on Ribblesdale Place. Down Stoneygate you can still visit the very place where Sir Richard Arkwright developed his revolutionary spinning frame, whilst Winckley Square owed its development to the ambition of William Cross and the Pedder families involvement with Ashton House eventually led to another pasture land becoming a public park.

    The idea of choosing 50 buildings in a town or city is quite thought provoking. Yes, there are many former buildings still recalled with fondness, but it is the great survivors, those of great longevity or local significance that take their place in chronological order within the pages of the book. It is apparent that great architects have been at work here, great planners and far-sighted pioneers have strived to build what in many cases are true monuments to their work.

    The Harris, a place of splendour viewed from the Market Square. (Preston in 50 buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    The architects of the 19th century, who inherited a landscape of factory chimneys and windmills, would no doubt look in awe upon the structures that have emerged since the middle of the 20th century. If only they were able to stand on the top floor of the Tithebarn Street bus station they would see not only the church towers and steeples built in their days, but towering skyscraper blocks of apartments, hotels and offices along with temples and domed mosques, a sign of today’s multi-cultural Preston.

    Preston in 50 Buildings explores the history of this rich and vibrant community through a selection of its greatest architectural treasures. From the Grade I - listed Harris Museum to the modern Guild Hall, this unique study celebrates the city’s architectural heritage in a new and accessible way.  The book takes you on a tour of the city’s historic buildings and modern architectural marvels and reveals a little about their construction and creation. The churches, theatres, public houses and cinemas of Preston’s industrial past are examined alongside the innovative buildings of a 21st century city.

     In the pages of the book you can visit some of the oldest, the quaintest, the tallest, the smallest, the busiest, the boldest and the brashest building in the city.  No point dwelling on the buildings that have been and gone, their useful purpose over, but much better we embrace those that remain from long ago, or have appeared on our streets in recent times.

    Keith Johnson's book Preston in 50 buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Preston by Keith Johnson

    Preston was a town with plenty of windmills. (Secret Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Listen! Do you want to know a secret? Secret Preston gives you the opportunity to look into the past of Preston and reflect on events from generations ago besides those in the not too distant past. There is a history of Preston that is hidden from view, or simply not recognised today amidst the hurly burly of modern life.

    The book goes behind the façade of the familiar to explore what lies beneath the historic city we are familiar with. Scratching the surface and delving into the archives to reveal things we are unaware of, or that have simply been forgotten in the mist of time.

    The outfit of a brave doctor visiting the Plague victims. (Secret Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    In truth for almost 1,000 years Preston was simply a rural market town that developed around the church from where the original settlement grew. It would eventually become something of a significant crossroads with a handy river crossing.

    Preston suffered from famine, plague and warfare, yet grew into a large industrial town, noted for its cotton and engineering industries and with all the trials that created as folk flocked to the important county town.

    All these events helped to shape the Preston that grew into our city. Of course, much of the history of a city often lays beneath centuries of decay and development. Indeed, a dweller of the old town of Preston of centuries ago would simply be lost in our city streets these days.

    Traditions that remain often enthral us and these socially motivated events bound the generations together. What our ancestors taught us is often treasured. Pageantry, parade, custom, folk lore, festivals all leaving a legacy of what they achieved. It is never just about the bricks and mortar, but the buildings themselves help us to understand our ancestors’ hopes and ambitions.

    The chapters bring to life some of the characters of old who walked along these highways and byways before us, leaving behind a trail that fascinates us and helps us to understand what kind of life they enjoyed, or endured.

    Preston Cemetery, the last resting place of many local folk. (Secret Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Like all cities it is one of changing faces and changing places – our Market Square is a prime example of that. Graveyards and bones, monks and monasteries, alleyways and tunnels, factories and workshops, plagues and poverty, pain and torment, disease and death, famine and feast all provide an insight into the past.

    Within the book there are chapters that remind us of a Market Place steeped in history; the punishments and pastimes of old; the visitations of the plague and the days of lepers; the quacks and their cures; the Grey Friars and the sisters of mercy; the grandest of buildings and structures; the springs and wells that quenched thirst; the days of war when secrecy was paramount and the place where Preston's treasures are stored.

    Likewise, a chance to discover what went before on the site where the present day industrial Red Scar estate now prospers, a chance to look back at the ghastly activity that took place on Gallows Hill where English Martyrs now stands, and to consider why the derelict Miley Tunnel that runs beneath our streets has such a mysterious reputation.

    Preston - the battle ground of 1715 as the rebels attempted to quell the King's forces. (Secret Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Those Civil War days of the 17th century are also recalled. Days when Royalists and Parliamentarians fought on our streets with dire consequences for many. There is also a timely account of the days over 300 years ago, in 1715 and later, when the battles on Preston soil helped shape the Jacobite Rebellions and the fortunes of those involved. Yes, it is so true that Cavaliers and Roundheads fought here as did those involved in the Jacobite Rebellions. Centuries when conflict raged and cannon fire, bloodshed, barricades and rampaging armies all became part of the rich tapestry of Preston's history.

    Hopefully, like myself, you will delight in a tour of our streets and alleyways back in the nineteenth century town led by Richard Aughton, who recalled his formative years growing up in a place that was developing from pasture land. His anecdotes recalled the people, the places and the reality of his time. He lived amongst the people of Preston and he saw first-hand the endeavours of all, both wealthy and poverty stricken alike.

    Red Scar - the much-loved home of the Cross family for generations. (Secret Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Curiosity led me to some of the discoveries and my admiration for the historians of old Preston did not waiver, for they left a paper trail that can be clearly followed to unlock secrets of the past. It is often only necessary to simply scratch the surface to uncover parts of our past history, although our treasured archaeologists have dug much deeper for the cause.

    Journey back with me into the secret past of Preston and loiter a while, and maybe marvel at those who lingered in olden days on the streets and fields of Preston past and their achievements. Their past shaped our future and this latest Amberley publication reveals all.

    The dictionary definition of secret includes the terms – concealed, unseen and mysterious – not deliberately, of course, but as a result of the passage of time – hopefully some of the dust of time is blown away in the pages of the publication.

    Keith Johnson's book Secret Preston is available for purchase now.

  • Preston in the 1960s by Keith Johnson

    The new C&A Modes store on Friargate. (Preston in the 1960s, Amberley Publishing)

    Imagine a decade when tall towers and structures rose from the rubble of slum clearance with bulldozers, bricks and builders abounding, with one firm claiming to build a house in a day. A time when cobbled streets were making way for highways and a road was coming that would split Friargate in two.

    A period when churches and chapels of all denominations seemed to be enjoying a heyday with congregations full of enthusiastic worshippers. The Roman Catholics, the Church of England and the Methodists all going their separate ways, but being united in progress.

    School days also were changing. The old and decaying church schools were beginning to make way for the Secondary Modern and all the advances in reading, writing and arithmetic, plus the odd foreign language thrown in.

    Fishergate 1962. A buisy thoroughfare with cars and shoppers. (Preston in the 1960s, Amberley Publishing)

     

    With employment levels high, working hours shorter and younger people with more of a disposable income, a leisure industry was beginning to thrive. The days when television sets had become the norm in most households, although generally they were only rented and the pictures were in black and white. The cinemas had started to feel a decline in audiences, although Preston still had a number of town centre auditoriums for the film fans. Bingo halls and betting shops were beginning to take their place amongst the leisure activities as gambling rules changed. These were also the days of teenage dreamers who wanted to look fashionable, record shops selling hit parade vinyl records, coffee bars, discotheques, youth clubs and those mods and rockers. And for the more mature there were still the dance halls for more of a strictly ballroom way of dancing and many still enjoyed a visit to the theatre.

    Rising from the site of 460 demolised houses off Moor-lane, Preston, is this skyscraper block-one of three 16-storey buildings, which together will provide homes for 435 families. (Preston in the 1960s, Amberley Publishing)

     

    Public houses were as popular as ever, despite some of the older inns and many of those on terraced street corners being swept away in the name of progress. No longer were Ribbleton Lane, North Road and New Hall Lane roads of endless public houses.

    It was a decade that saw the world of high street shopping and commerce begin to change. Preston was no exception in that respect with proprietors of Friargate, Fishergate and Church Street all bowing to progress. The town's shops half day closing on a Thursday was under threat, although Sunday opening was still a generation away. Mums had proper shopping baskets not plastic carrier bags and in many a premises it was not self-service, with shopkeepers happy to weigh and measure your purchase be it butter, lard or treacle toffee. That was all about to change.

    Preston likes to do things politically correct and the 1960s were no exception. Excitement at the Preston ballot box drew national attention and leading politicians came canvassing for votes. The battle for the Preston North & Preston South constituencies were nail biting affairs. In some ways it was much simpler then with just the Tories or Labour to choose from, besides the odd Independent who threw their hat into the local election arena. It was a decade when the local political parties flexed their muscles and the politicians of Preston made crucial decisions that would shape the town for generations to come.

    The remains of the fire-favaged Gothis town hall were about to be demolised. (Preston in the 1960s, Amberley Publishing)

    In the 1960s the people of Preston had a great passion for sport. Youngsters were brought up enjoying kicking a football or playing cricket or rounders on the cobbled streets or the parks. Swimming, tennis, basketball, rugby, golf, crown green bowling all flourished in days when many rode their bicycle to work for exercise. The passion for Preston North End was strong although it was a decade of more downs than ups, having started the period in the top flight of the Football League. Nonetheless, they had their moments of glory and throughout the decade the 'Last Football' Post kept you up to date with match reports on the action.

    A decade when the Preston Borough Police force would eventually hand over control to the Lancashire Constabulary. It meant a last goodbye for the Chief Constable of Preston. Sadly, there were those with murder in mind who shocked local folk with their criminal activity. The killing of a pub landlady, the slaughter of a pregnant wife and the hanging of two former Preston dairymen amongst the tragedies of the decade. Preston Prison was once more a useful institution after decades of decline and over 700 prisoners were kept within its walls.

    All the fun of the Whitsuntide Fair in the centre of Preston Market Square. (Preston in the 1960s, Amberley Publishing)

    “Run and get the fire brigade” was all too often the cry and Preston Fire Brigade certainly went to blazes in the 1960s. They had begun the decade on Tithebarn Street, but that would change. Besides the numerous blazes on street corners on Bonfire Night there were many more challenging fires to dampen down. A ten pin bowling alley and a fashion store amongst them.

    A fondly remembered Easter was that of 1960 with hot cross buns, stations of the cross, rambles in the countryside, egg rolling on Avenham Park, football at Deepdale, greyhound racing, railway excursions and the inevitable traffic jams. On the Avenham and Miller Parks, it seemed that the national 'Keep Britain Tidy' campaign was paying dividends. The Parks Department staff commented that although up to 40,000 had been out egg rolling the litter was only half as much as previously.

    Throughout the decade Preston was still clinging to the old Whitsuntide traditions. The Market Square and Covered Market both hosting the annual fair with candyfloss, parched peas, coconut shies, stalls bedecked with toys, and swings and roundabouts aplenty. It seems that life was just like a merry-go-round with all the fun of the fair, and a chance to win a goldfish.

    Woolworths always attracted the Christmas shoppers. (Preston in the 1960s, Amberley Publishing)

    As for winter a look back to 1963 is sure to leave you feeling the chill. Frozen pipes, icy roads and frost bitten fields. Christmas 1962 had arrived with freezing fog, a sprinkling of snow and temperatures below freezing in Preston. In the months ahead it was burst water mains, blizzards, frozen ponds and even a frozen Lancaster Canal.

    As the decade moved towards the close it seemed apt to pay a visit to Preston on moon landing day. The tradition Wakes Week fortnight had left the town deserted and it seemed as though everyone had gone to the moon. One Preston man was celebrating after his wager on man landing on the moon before the decade was out paying off. Back on planet Earth there had been a walkout by workers on Preston Dock, and Courtaulds had just ended an overtime ban. Yet industry was thriving with booming exports announced by the British Aircraft Corporation and at Leyland Motors things were going well with £1m worth of orders secured.

    In the years that followed, the decade was described as the Sensational, the Savage, the Swinging, the Saucy and even the Sexy Sixties, and it left the townsfolk with memories that would linger for a life time. On reflection the decade seems to have started with a grey/black/white appearance and ended in glorious technicolour much like our television sets. Certainly, the views had become more panoramic and the building boom that followed the post war baby boom meant the town of Preston was becoming a city in waiting.

    Keith Johnson's book Preston in the 1960s is available for purchase now.

  • Lancashire in Photographs by Jon Sparks

    Summit of Clougha Pike (Lancashire in Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    It’s often said that modern cameras have made photography easier. I can’t deny that the odds of consistently getting an image that’s in focus and correctly exposed are very much better than they were when I began my own photographic journey, before ‘digital imaging’ was even thought of. But ‘in focus and correctly exposed’ is not enough; it is not, and never has been, the be-all and end-all of photography. Landscape photography, for example, is not merely about making a record of a place but capturing how the photographer felt about that place.

    In fact, whether you’re shooting idyllic landscapes or hard-hitting news images, all the skill and all the equipment in the world count for very little unless you’re in the right place at the right time. And, yes, that’s another cliché, but it’s still true, and I hope the images in Lancashire in Photos show that I’ve managed to live up to it.

    Of course there’s an advantage for me in photographing Lancashire. I’ve lived here most of my life, and I’ve explored it in many different ways. When this book came on the horizon, I already had an extensive stock of images covering most of Lancashire, and I also had a pretty clear idea of places I wanted to visit, or revisit, for new pictures.

    Train and Arnside Tower from Silerdale Moss (Lancashire in Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    However, I haven’t always had the advantage of playing at home. Other assignments have taken me to places I’m far less familiar with, and with strictly limited time to work in too. In those circumstances, there’s always a temptation to head straight for standard views and locations that you’ve already seen in other photographers’ work. Commercially, that’s sometimes a necessity, but from a personal perspective I tend to wonder what the point is. Photography for me is about capturing my own view of places, not reproducing someone else’s. And the ideal way to find my own view is to explore on my own, at a slow pace, and with a willingness to take a random turn because it looks interesting.

    In my view, landscape photography means being part of the landscape. It means engaging with it in some way, whether it’s walking, rock-climbing or cycling (on road- or mountain-bike). All of these have the great advantage of being slow; you move through the landscape at a pace that lets you take in details and allows all the senses to engage. Photography may be a visual medium, but it’s still underpinned by what you hear and feel and smell and taste.

    Working in my own backyard also means I’ve visited certain locations many times. I’ve trodden the summit of Clougha Pike at least three hundred times, and apart from the very early days I’ve always carried a camera, even if photography hasn't always been the first thing on my mind. When it comes to being in the right place at the right time, familiarity with the place certainly helps you figure out what might be the right time.

    Fireworks and train, Lancaster (Lancashire in Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    Sometimes this means that I can head out with a pretty clear idea in my head of image(s) I hope will materialise. The image of a train and Arnside Tower had been in my mind for some time, and this hazy evening with the sun sinking behind and creating a semi-silhouette effect was just what I’d been looking for (maybe a steam train would be even more picturesque, but it would be a lot less typical).

    But you always have to be open to other possibilities too; while waiting for a train to appear, I noticed the backlighting on the moss crowning the wall right in front of me, which became the very next image in the book. The two were taken almost exactly five minutes apart.

    A train figures in my next example too, though this time it was a bonus, rather than central to my original plan. Shooting fireworks displays like this one over Lancaster Castle definitely requires preparation (and a good tripod), and because each exposure lasts a minute or more you can only shoot a limited number during the 15 or 20 minutes of the average show. I’d scouted the location beforehand, so I knew the railway line ran through the middle distance, but I couldn’t guarantee that there’d be a Pendolino pulling out of Lancaster station during the display. Once I saw it start to move, however, I had to keep the shutter open until its headlights had travelled right through the frame; fortunately this meshed perfectly with a 60-second exposure.

    War Memorial, Slaidburn (Lancashire in Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    Then there are the shots that weren’t planned at all, like the image of the war memorial in Slaidburn. I was heading for a walk over the hills to Clitheroe but as the bus passed through the village I noticed the light making an already poignant memorial even more so. Fortunately, the bus-stop was only around the corner, and the first thing I did after disembarking was to jog back up the street to get the shot.

    Planning and spontaneity have to coexist, then, as they did with the image of Lytham that graces the cover of the book. I’d gone expecting to shoot images of the windmill and the old lifeboat station from almost exactly the opposite direction, bathed in late-autumn evening sunlight. However, you can plan for many things but clouds will always do their own thing – and even as they were threatening to frustrate my original intentions I saw the potential for a completely different shot. The first requirement for a landscape photographer – any photographer – is keeping your eyes open.

    Jon Sparks new book Lancashire in Photographs is available for purchase now.

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