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  • Now That's What I Call Preston by Keith Johnson

    My latest book 'Now That's What I Call Preston' covers the period from the dawn of the 1960s to the dawn of 1990, a time that helped to shape the Preston of today.

    Bus stops and shelters dotted around town were the order of the day before the central bus station was built. (Now That's What I Call Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    It was a period that began in the midst of redevelopment with slum clearance and home building well underway. Social attitudes were changing and great strides were being taken in industry, commerce, education, and the retail trade. It is book of pictures and paragraphs reflecting life in an ever growing town enabling the reader to cherish the memories and moments of those decades.

    To some this nostalgic journey might begin with a recollection of a stroll down Stoneygate as they built high rise apartments upon Avenham, or when the bulldozers moved in to finally demolish the old Town Hall, or perhaps when your mum took you to town to buy vegetables on the covered market, or to visit the butchers' shops on a busy, bustling Orchard Street.

    Tall cranes stand out on the skyline as the Avenham high-rise apartments take shape. (Now That's What I Call Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Others might clearly remember those rainy days on the old Ribble Bus station with its leaky corrugated roof, or recall the opening days of the new Central Bus Station on Tithebarn Street that became an award winning monument to Brutalist architecture. Whilst for some the cherished moments might have been on the dance floor of the Top Rank, or the Piper night club. Others may yearn for the days of the steam engines when a smokey, grimy scene greeted you on Preston railway station where trainspotters gathered during school holidays.

    It is true to say that when 1960 dawned it was a time for transformation with old buildings bulldozed into oblivion and new structures soon standing tall. The Victorian Town Hall, the old Ribble bus station, an old church or two, old ale houses, old cinemas and theatres, many a corner shop and endless rows of cobbled streets being swept away in the name of progress.

    Words of the planners talking of high rise apartment, office blocks and sprawling shopping centres filled the air, and then they became a reality. A period when traffic free zones, ring roads and motorways were planned and came to fruition. Whilst the transportation of people and goods came on in leaps and bounds on road and rail.

    Diesel locomotive Class 40 No. 40192 stands on platform 6 next to Butler Street in 1981. (Now That's What I Call Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Throughout the 'swinging sixties' Preston was striving towards a glorious Guild celebration that would reflect the attitude of the positive, proud people of Preston. That event kept the ancient traditions alive with pomp, pageantry and processions and provided a fair share of fun and frolics. Many of us proud to parade the streets in procession, or to just stand and stare.

    The increase in leisure time made the pursuit of pleasure more intense. For some the discotheque took preference over the dance hall and public houses could no longer provide just beer and skittles. Some old and familiar places of entertainment were disappearing, whilst other emerged to fill the void. The sporting scene was changing too, with many inclined to participate rather than merely spectate, and consequently the leisure centre and running track became fashionable. The old cold outdoor baths replaced by heated indoor swimming pools and the plimsolls making way for running shoes.

    Stanier-design steam engine No. 44680, known as a Black 5 and built in 1950 at Horwich. (Now That's What I Call Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Taking a peep at the endeavours of the Eighties gives us a chance to recall the transport and the traffic, the markets and their merchandise, the carnivals and the concerts, the road runners and Red Rose radio, cinemas and bingo halls, public houses and pub lunches, and the people on our streets. All helping to create a patchwork quilt of pictorial memories within the pages of the book.

    Perhaps you lived on the umpteenth floor of Moor Lane flats loving the central heating and the panoramic views, or were delighted when you could catch the high speed train to London; or maybe your girlfriend set the trend wearing a mini skirt or maxi coat, or perhaps your flared trousers and moustache were the height of fashion. Did you rush to Bradys to get the latest cassette tapes feeling it was the height of technology, or maybe you spent your working days in one of the many engineering workshops, or found yourself a job in one of the supermarkets that were emerging fast, or perhaps you studied at Preston's very own Polytechnic.

    You maybe thought that the E H Booths cafe was too posh for you with its linen cloths and got your refreshments from a Wimpey Bar, or discovered that the best burgers were at the real McCoy on Church Street and that a bag of chips wrapped in old newspapers was your idea of a tasty treat after a couple of pints of beer.

    No Preston Guild would be complete without the traditional brass bands and they turn out in force. (Now That's What I Call Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Yes, those were the days when the Lancashire Evening Post prospered on Friargate and queues would form for the hot off the press Final Edition, or on Saturday you might have eagerly waited for the 'Last Football' to appear with the final scores and match reports, barely an hour after the final whistle had blown. How proud were so many Preston folk when North End journeyed to Wembley for an FA Cup Final, and not so proud as they later plunged the depth of the Football League. Whilst others may have lingering memories of playing on the plastic pitch that replaced the grass as PNE strived to survive, or of playing football on Preston parks in ankle deep mud.

    In conclusion, reflecting on Preston during those thirty years, it was a place populated with people full of pride who left a rich legacy for future generations. A place that learnt lessons from the past to make a brighter future. A place that expanded rapidly yet still retained its parks and places of pleasure, a place that embraced the evolution in industry, retail and education ensuring employment for many. Its people held on to great traditions and saw Preston prosper, remain rightly proud and cherished by its inhabitants young and old alike.

    They say every picture tells a story, if that's the case I hope that along with the script it gives a reflection of life not so long ago and gives a glimpse at the Preston of yesteryear for the generations that followed.

    Keith Johnson's new book Now That's What I Call Preston is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Preston by Keith Johnson

    An Alphabetical Adventure

    The Preston curlers getting welcome practice in 1933. (A-Z of Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Perhaps, like myself, you are fascinated with the history of your town or city that has been shaped by generations of local folk with their vision for the future, or been affected by events nationwide or global. I was delighted when Amberley asked me to compile this A-Z of Preston enabling me to bring together significant, or simply fascinating, features of Preston's past.

    This A-Z guide of Preston, Lancashire, is all about its people, places and past times. It is an opportunity to admire the progress from the days of poverty and pestilence to the city of today. If you glimpse the Index you will soon observe it is not a definitive guide to Preston in an alphabetical or content sense, but a journey from the deep past to the present day, in the place known as 'Proud Preston'.

    The Costume Ball at the Corn Exchange, 1862. (A-Z of Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Of course, A could have been for Arkwright or Avenham Park but it is not, although they both get a mention in the script. Likewise, C could have been for the cotton woven into Preston's history, instead that cherished industry is recalled within the letter L and the days of cotton lords, with C in my A-Z simply reserved for curling. Nor is F for Finney because Sir Tom is listed with the Knights, instead F is for the Fazackerleys who were a law unto themselves. Neither is H for Harris, but instead it is for Horology and the keeping of time in our city. R could have been for religion considering the number of churches, but instead I opted for our railways. Nor is Z for the Zoological Gardens that once graced Farringdon Park, but for the Zebra crossings we use every day.

     

     

     

    The clock of St Ignatius. (A-Z of Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    This book is not confined to the traditional constraints of an A-Z merely listing everything and everybody from a place or time. It is an attempt to put together various historical elements, tales and anecdotes, being ever aware that many events and tales have been chronicled in my previous books, along with those books published by other local authors whom I much admire. In truth, it is a collection of features that I found fascinating to discover and I hope will entertain you.

    For each letter of the alphabet there were generally many options, but I hope you find the themes chosen as interesting, quirky, or indeed, as compelling as I did. Some of the folk are almost forgotten now, but their endeavours and adventures are well worth recalling. In many cases their achievements have been amazing and enthralling, contributing much to history's rich tapestry.

    There are people who left town to seek fame and fortune, and others who lingered or dwelt here a while and left a large footprint on our streets. Adventurers, historians, illustrators, entrepreneurs, knights, lords, politicians, preachers, lawyers, law makers and law breakers all left their mark and deserve a look into their lives. The footballer, the baseball player, the pugilist and the cyclist all added to the sporting splendour of the town that is now a city.  Many of the people recalled brought forth excitement, energy and enthusiasm and shrugged off disillusion, despair and dread.

     

    George Sharples - a pioneer in Preston. (A-Z of Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    There are features about famine and feast, telegrams and telephones, umbrellas and the weather, steam trains and railway tracks, electioneering and rioting, buildings and their clocks, not forgetting those temperance pioneers dubbed the 'Seven Men of Preston' who earned the admiration of many.

    Yes, there are dancing days and nights recalled, trips to the seaside and beyond, a tale of the gold rush days, cinemas and X rated offerings, the days when royalty thought us worthy of a visit to town and the times when novelist Charles Dickens came to town.

    To plot this A-Z path through Preston's history I have taken many twists and turns and I hope you feel that I had a worthwhile and nostalgic journey that is an alphabetic adventure. This historical reflection takes us through centuries of fascination, and loiters a while in the decades of the recent past. Hopefully, the book provides a few more of the missing pieces of the jigsaw of Preston life and makes the picture a little clearly. It is apparent that the day to day achievements of our ancestors left a rich legacy and, after all, we should remember that what we create today will be history tomorrow.

    Keith Johnson's new book A-Z of Preston is available for purchase now.

  • Preston at Work by Keith Johnson

    The ancient craft of clog making. (Preston at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    If you should stroll along Fishergate on a typical working day you would see window cleaners, street cleaners, traffic wardens, telephone engineers, postal workers, security staff, a busker or two, or a person selling copies of the Big Issue. Enter premises along that highway and you can observe travel agents, waitresses and waiters, bank clerks, shop assistants, hairdressers, barbers, perfumers, newsagents, pharmacists, beauticians, jewellers, estate agents, insurance agents, booksellers, mobile phone providers, greeting card sellers and confectioners all busily doing a day's work. They are all earning a living and are part of Preston's working life.

    Richard Arkwright and John Horrocks developed the cotton trade industry. (Preston at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Many trades and professions have ancient origins and many more have been created for a modern age. My latest book Preston at Work traces life back to days of yore when Preston was described as an elegant and economical market town remarkable for the gentility of its inhabitants. It is abundantly clear that Preston folk have been at work here and did create, in the Georgian era, a cotton town. The city of Preston is at the very heart of Lancashire and over the last 250 years has been transformed from a market town into a University City, embracing the Industrial Revolution on the way.

    Far-sighted and ambitious speculators built the factories, warehouses and workshops in Preston. Impressive engineering works soon followed, either to serve the cotton trade or to pioneer advancements in other industries. Ideas and inspiration have never been lacking in Preston and we can be proud of what was produced. The engineering skills forged in Victorian days led to knowledge that enabled the town to trade in worldwide markets with products proudly made in Preston; from tramcars to railway engines, from pioneering aircraft to jet planes, from knitting machines to printing presses, and from lorries to motor cars.

    Horrockses Fashion advert, 1955. (Preston at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Preston also displayed the desire and determination to produce the essentials of life with factories and production lines for a variety of goods including soap, tobacco, gold thread, chocolates, cigarettes, light bulbs, slippers and even biscuits.

    We can marvel at the achievements of the civil engineers who have been constantly at work making a town into a city for an ever increasing population. The old toll roads have given way to multi lane highways and motorways with links to industrial estates and shopping centres on the outskirts of the city. Within the city centre the factory chimneys and the engineering workshops are fewer now having given way to retail outlets, office blocks and towering apartment blocks for students. Even a port was created here for ships laden with cargo and canals and railways essential to progress were laid.

    Preston remains at the centre of administration for the county and commerce and legislation sustain the employment of many. Solicitors, barristers, lawyers and attorneys still practice in the city as they did generations ago along with their clerical and legal assistants. Money matters are still dealt with in the city with banks and building societies aplenty particularly on Fishergate.

    A reminder of the Gold Thread days on Avenham Road. (Preston at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Our ever expanding education system not only provides places of learning with teachers and academics, but is also a source of much employment for local folk. Whilst our hospitals and clinics are supported not only by doctors and nurses, but by many care workers too. If we should need to call 999 for the emergencies in our lives we can call on police officers, firefighters and medics to assist us.

    This book also takes a glimpse at the days when there were tea merchants, who shipped and blended their own product; provision dealers, who salted and cured Lancashire hams, reared and fed within a few miles of the town. Bootmakers who could produce a pair of real leather boots throughout by hand, soft and pliable, that clung to the foot like a glove. Tailors, livery coat makers, tinkers, and brawny blacksmiths have all forged a living here too.

    You or your ancestors may have clocked on at Dilworth & Carr, Goss Foster, English Electric, Drydens, Simpson's Gold Thread Works, Horrockses, Courtaulds, Siemens Lamp Works, Tulketh Mill, Atkinsons Vehicles, Sharps Commercials or Beeches Chocolate factory and played a part in their story. You may have been employed at County Hall, or the Town Hall, or by Preston Corporation or been amongst the army of retail workers at the Co-op, Sainsbury's, Asda, Tesco and Morrisons and contributed to their tale.

    There are many things we take for granted today such as lighting, heating and fresh water supplies, yet it has not always been the case. This journey through Preston's working life takes us from the cotton trade, through the days from paraffin lamps to electric light bulbs, from steam power to nuclear energy, all of which met with the endurance needed to progress in Preston.

    Royal Mail sorting office, 1935. (Preston at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Preston has had down the decades quite a few industrial duos whose names have been etched into the city's history. Dick & Kerr, Dilworth & Carr, Gregson & Monk, Vernon & Carus, Cooper & Tullis, Dorman & Smith, the Atkinson brothers and of course the Horrocks brothers, John & Samuel, who all contributed to the progress of Preston.

    Indeed, since the Georgian days Preston folk have embraced and endured the developments of the industrial age, and been swept along on the tide of change into the world of technology in which we now live. For successive generations the evolving world has brought many differing challenges that would have left our ancestors bewildered and baffled.

    Generations of Preston workers can be rightly proud of their contribution to society and to the way they have confronted the challenges of earning a living willingly. Working for the common good was reflected by Preston born poet Robert Service when he penned the following verse in his poem 'I Believe'.

    It's my belief that every man

    Should do his share of work,

    And in our economic plan

    No citizen should shirk.

    That in return each one should get

    His meed of fold and food,

    And feel that all his toil and sweat

    Is for the common good.

    Preston Dock workers, 1961. (Preston at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    It is apparent that great strides have been made and adversity overcome to accommodate a population that is nowadays over 140,000.  Preston folk have achieved many great things for the benefit of all.  They showed great loyalty to their employers many of whom acquired great riches with their investment in local people. The cotton masters have now gone and the corporate bodies rule the world of work. Yet still there are enterprising individuals who create companies for the benefit of all.

    Hopefully, this peep through the lives of the Preston workers down the years will leave you in admiration for their achievements. No doubt they stuck to their tasks despite the troubles and strife that they faced, thus ensuring we have a thriving enterprising city to dwell within. They took pride in their work for which we can be eternally grateful.

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

  • Preston History Tour by Keith Johnson

    Wandering and Wondering – A Magical History Mystery Tour

    Fishergate Railway Bridge. (Preston History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    If you should be considering a visit to Preston in Lancashire in the future why not get a copy of the Preston History Tour and take a route through the historic town.

    Perhaps, like me, you will wander and wonder as you walk around Preston. Perhaps you will ponder with thoughts about the streets, the buildings and the people that passed this way before who were all part of the rich tapestry of life.

    The book takes you on quite a journey on a long and winding road with twists and turns along the way. Always remember that this old market town now a University City endured feast and famine, plague and pestilence, triumph and tragedy, conflicts and confrontation to emerge as 'Proud Preston' a title richly deserved. By reflecting on the images within the book it gives you, the reader, a chance to stand and stare and be nostalgic whilst you are there.

     

    Fishergate and Fishergate Baptist Church. (Preston History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    This trail begins on Fishergate Hill the seat of County Hall since 1882, then onwards to Fishergate to glimpse the history there. On next to Winckley Square surrounded by fine buildings, some of which date back to the dawn of the 19th century. After wandering around the Square it is but a short walk to the Avenham & Miller Parks by the side of the River Ribble where historical delights await. Leaving the parks by tree lined paths you reach Avenham Walk, created as a gravel path in 1696. Soon Avenham Lane beckons and then a slight detour takes you to Stoneygate where Arkwright House has stood since 1728 and from where you can glimpse a rear view of the Minster church.

    Returning to Avenham Lane and on to Queen Street you will reach London Road a vital artery of the city. Ahead to your left is Stanley Street and a glimpse at New Hall Lane, where cotton mills once abounded, before you step onwards towards Church Street a highway steeped in history. As Church Street turns into Fishergate, Cheapside beckons along with the ancient Market Square where you may choose to linger a while and admire the buildings that surround it. Harris Street, by the side of the Harris Museum, takes you up to the modern day Guild Hall and the Town Hall where civic matters are dealt with on Lancaster Road.

    Miller Park. (Preston History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    Across from the Town Hall is the narrow, winding Crooked Lane, where soup kitchens gave relief to the poor in cotton famine days, and a few more footsteps will bring you to the Preston Bus Station, a structure both praised and criticized, from the top of which you can view Preston in its entirety. Church steeples and towers, high rise apartments and office blocks, modern and historical structures and highways all coming into view.

    Returning to Lancaster Road the Covered Market of 1872 origins then beckons, as do Market St and Orchard St from where you can enter Friargate. A few steps more and you are on Lune Street where the old Corn Exchange and St. George's Chapel await. Next is the Ringway and a stroll towards Friargate Brow that eventually leads to the Adelphi roundabout and the UCLAN campus. From here you can look in awe at the spire of St. Walburge's church and admire the former church of St. Peter's.

    Maret Place. (Preston History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    Corporation St will then take you to where the canal once terminated at the rear of the old Corn Exchange and a return to Fishergate and journey's end at Preston Railway Station from where visitors have flocked since 1880. Hopefully, by then you will have embraced the history and the heritage of the city and its folk and like myself learn a little bit more about proud Preston.

    This history trail is intended to give you a glimpse of Preston's past and to recall the endeavours of its people. A chance to wander and wonder where generations past have lived and toiled. The streets and alleyways, buildings and structures, parks and pastimes all left a legacy, although it is the people who made Preston proud.

    In truth, whenever I walk this walk it seems like a magical mystery history tour and I hope it is for you too. Preston History Tour is a pocket sized publication that takes you along the highways and byways and hopefully down memory lane. This is a tour of Preston you can make by donning your walking shoes, or if you prefer, from the comfort of your old armchair as you flick through the pages.

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

  • 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.

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