Preston is one of my favourite UK cities. We have been there a lot of times, for sightseeing, shopping and to make use of the local train services. Being a Lancastrian myself, Preston is my nearest large city, and is the one I visit the most.
Status: City of Preston District, Lancashire, City, England
Travel: Virgin Trains (Preston – Carlisle), Northern Rail (Preston – Bradford, Leeds), First Transpennine Express (Preston – Carlisle)
Eating & Sleeping: Fishergate Greggs, Fishergate Starbucks, Yates, Station Cafe
Attractions: Harris Museum, Preston Guild, Preston Market, Town Hall, Fishergate, Avenham Park, Miller Park, Preston Minster, St Walburge, Winckley Square, Cenotaph, Museum of Lancashire, Preston Marina, River Ribble, Deepdale Stadium, Ribble Steam Railway Museum, County Hall, Corn Exchange, Guildhall etc
On the way into Preston from the North, the grand Victorian exterior of Lancashire County Hall greets you. You can around the outside of the building at the front and is where I shall start this guide to Preston. It was built before at least 1894 and houses the offices of Lancashire County Council. Preston City Council are based in the Town Hall which we will come to later.
Preston is also home to UCLAN (The University of Central Lancashire) and is one of the largest universities in the country.
From here you get an amazing view of the largest, most incredible building in Preston…
The church of St Walburge is a very famous church, mainly because of its 309 feet spire, which is the tallest spire on a parish church in England that isn’t a cathedral, and only two cathedrals actually beat it’s spire height. It is situated next to the train line and you pass directly next to it as you head north out of the city.
Work began on the landmark building in 1850, and four years later in 1854 it opened. 1867 saw the spire added, with only Salisbury and Norwich Cathedrals having taller ones in the country. Soon after in 1873 the end section shaped like a polygon was added with the towering central window standing 25 feet tall.
The spire was also the final one to be worked on by noted local steeplejack Fred Dibnah (1938 – 2004, Bolton Steeplejack and Mechanical Engineer) who actually never finished the job due to filming commitments and the ladders were left for a number of years until the job was completed by another tradesman. Inside the tower is a single bell, weighing 1.5 tonnes, the heaviest swinging bell in Lancashire. It is only rung in the Winter months as protected birds nest in the tower the rest of the year.
Leaving the area around County Hall, you can walk up the slight hill onto Fishergate, the main shopping street, that also contains many bars, clubs and restaurants as well as the two main shopping centres, the Fishergate Centre (opened in the 1980’s) and the St George’s centre. One of the entrances to Fishergate is directly across from the Station so it is a good way to cut through to Fishergate Street.
On the left is the Fishergate Baptist Church from 1858. Recently it was forced to close and is up for sale, so it could soon become a shop. There are a number of Clock Towers in the city and although it’s shut, the windows on the outside and the tower make it historically interesting and a fabulous building.
Fishergate is a one way street and is being refurbished at the moment to make it more about the pedestrians than the traffic. Bus stops located at the station end are served by most services leaving the city to other parts of Lancashire.
The St Georges Centre is further up Fishergate, and the larger of the two shopping centres. It opened in 1966, as an open-air centre but a roof was added in 1981. If you cut through the shopping centre and come out of the side entrance, you will get the view below.
The side entrance brings you out onto Friargate, looking up towards the Market Square. It contains many of the cities most interesting landmarks, most notably the Harris Museum, with the tall columns marking the entrance. This is one of the best views in the City Centre, showing off Preston’s heritage.
The Harris Museum was built in 1882 to 1893 and is the largest gallery space in Lancashire. It is a fascinating collection and is open to the public for free. On the ground floor is the city library, and on the first floor are various exhibits including Egyptian, Ceramics, History of Preston and the Docks, as well as an Elk skeleton that was found underneath a modern Bungalow, and the fascinating story behind its life. At the far end of the floor was a history of Preston’s mill days with a full model of the entire warehouse collection. Moving onto the top floor is an Art and Portrait Gallery, as well as Sculptures and fine art.
On the left of the square is Sessions House, the court building. It was built between 1900 and 1903, and is still used as the courts. The Clock Tower is visible throughout the city, and on the approach into Preston, as it stands a full 179.5 feet tall. It is a beautiful building, and the square as a whole is the most impressive in Lancashire for the quality of buildings.
The other major part of the square is the Cenotaph, built in 1926 after World War I, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880 – 1960, English Architect who also worked on Liverpool Cathedral). It is dedicated to soldiers who lost their lives in both World Wars. On the outside stands a figure of “Victory” with her arms raised, with columns either side.
Moving into the Harris Museum itself, there is lots to see. The library is on the bottom floor, whilst upstairs there is an Art Gallery and a wide array of sculptures.
The view from the top floor is amazing, as the roof from each floor is completely open, and you can look down through the floors to the ground floor, and view the impressive columns. The Harris Museum really does have the feel of the type of museum you might find in a major European city, and there is plenty inside to fascinate you. I would recommend anyone that visits Preston to check out the museum.
Moving past the museum, Preston Town Hall is located behind the courts building, as is the Guild Hall where local performances and Graduations for the University of Central Lancashire are held.
This isn’t the original Town Hall however, as a fine Victorian Building was constructed between 1862 and 1866. The Clock Tower could be seen for miles around as it towered over the city, and it was even the 2nd largest clock tower in the country after Big Ben in London! Sadly, a mysterious fire in 1947 destroyed the building and the ruins were demolished, and replaced with a modern skyscraper called Crystal House, which still stands today. This is directly opposite the Cenotaph at the other end of the square out of shot on the picture of the square. To see what the Town Hall used to look like, check out this link.
Also behind Sessions House is the Bus Station, which was once the largest in the world. Recently threatened with demolition, it has now been granted Grade II listed status and cannot be torn down. It is a landmark in Preston, and many residents were glad that it has been saved and will be refurbished. Even though it is a relatively new building from only the last century it is still very popular in the city.
Preston is also the last place in the UK to still celebrate a Guild, which is held every 20 years, with lots of celebrations around the city. It is a very well known event and they are attended by thousands of people. One has just gone round, back in 2012 so the next one isn’t due until 2032, so put it in your diaries!
Preston was designated a city in 2002 for Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee, and because of this the parish church of St John’s on Fishergate was elevated to Minster Status, similarly to churches Sunderland and Stoke-on-Trent.
It is one of a succession of churches on the site dating back to the 1st in 1094, with a 2nd by the 16th century. That church was demolished in 1853 due to the deteriorating condition of the structure. The current church was built between 1853 and 1855, designed by Edwin Hugh Sehllard (Died 1885). The very front was added in 1856. We have never actually been inside as it always seems to be locked, and the one time we tried and it was open, there was a service on.
It stands halfway down Fishergate between the train station and the Museum of Lancashire which is housed in the original courthouse from 1825, one of the oldest buildings in the whole of Preston. It contains an array of exhibits from local history to a desk from the old courtroom upstairs where you can try on a judge outfit and see how you look. There is also an old Victorian Classroom and war exhibits from World War I.
Moving back past the Harris Museum and the St George’s Centre, you will find the grand façade of the Corn Exchange.
The Exchange is the old Public Hall, built in 1822. It was a meeting place for local tradesmen and contained an indoor market for trade. It was remodelled between 1881 and 1882 giving a fine Victorian Exterior, and a hall and a gallery were added. Portions of it were sadly demolished in 1986 to make more room for a ring road around the City Centre, new sections were added to make it a complete building again.
Outside is the Preston Martyrs Memorial, erected in 1992. In 1842 a series of riots took place here against wage cuts on local workers, and this soon escalated when the Police were called in. They are shown on the right hand side of the Memorial, aiming guns at the people on the left. They opened fire, and killed four protestors, causing outrage.
Preston is also quite famous for its parks, starting with Winckley Square, down a road off Fishergate on the way down to the river. You can see the statue of Sir Robert Peel (1788 – 1850, once Prime Minister of the UK, who was born in Ramsbotton near Manchester), and the rest of the square is full of trees and greenery. We even spotted a squirrel.
Next are Avenham and Miller Parks, from the 1860’s. A Japanese Rock Garden was added in the 1930’s, and there is a foutan in Millar Park, with a statue of the 14th Earl of Derby Edward Smith-Stanley (1799-1869).
Next is the River Ribble, which starts in North Yorkshire, and then runs around Preston before heading out into the Irish Sea past Blackpool. There are various bridges over the river, from the main road into Preston, a smaller arch bridge that the buses use and the footbridge from the 1960’s shown above, which is a replica of the original Tramway Bridge. The West Coast Main Line also runs through the city over another bridge further up the river.
On a hill above the River is Avenham Tower from 1847, when it was built for the Threlfall Family. On the steps leading up to it are the two Sevastapol Cannons, replicas of the original ones sent to towns and cities in the British Empire after the British Victory in the Crimean War.
There is so much to explore around here so we regularly take some time out to wander around the parks and just enjoy the natural beauty around the city. You can explore the parks in more depth in my dedicated post here.
Preston Docks used to occupy this site and their history is actually quite interesting. In 1806 a company was set up to diver the river, as the River Ribble originally flowed through here, but was diverted by engineers and the old channel then had the docks built on it. These were opened in 1892 by Prince Albert (1864 – 1892, son of Queen Victoria). The first ship to visit the docks was run by EH Booth & Co Ltd, who eventually became Booths Grocers which are based in Preston.
When the docks opened it was the largest dock basin in the world, and later after World War II ferries sailed from Preston to Larne in Northern Ireland carrying Lorries and the concept of roll-on-roll-off traffic was introduced in Preston. Ships became much larger however and by the 1970’s the river required constant dredging to accommodate them but it wasn’t enough so the docks closed down in 1981. Now there are apartments and shops along with the Odean Cinema and a Morrison’s Supermarket and the area has been transformed into a Marina.
A link remains between the Marina and the River Ribble through a set of locks at the very end. A branch of the Lancaster Canal also terminates in the city although it isn’t connected to the docks.
The whole area looks stunning at night, and lights line the walls around the outside of the Marina. An old lighthouse tower stands outside Morrisons and would have once guided ships into the harbour.
We had quite an extensive night walk down here from Fishergate one night, and even though its around 2 miles its worth it for the views. First we spotted the spire of St Walburge all lit up, and then next to it the tower of the old Church of St Marks. Built between 1862 and 1863, the tower you can see was added in 1870. It was deliberately made quite tall to counter the spire of St Walburge. By 1982 the building was empty as the population of the local parish was declining and in the 1990’s it was finally converted into flats, although the tower was thankfully kept.
Preston is a lovely city, and is worth a visit. I hope you get to chance to visit it soon, as it is Lancashire Day on the 27th of November but there will be a special post from me about that. It is well connected on the rail network, with main line connections to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Carlisle, Lancaster and London, as well as local services to Blackpool, Manchester, Ormskirk, Liverpool, Yorkshire (Bradford, Leeds, York) as well as other parts of Lancashire like Blackburn and Colne.
There are buses to local places like Blackpool and a connect for Southport from Fishergate (Number 2). It is close to four motorways, the M55 (for Blackpool), M6 (for Carlisle, Scotland and London), M61 (for Manchester) and the M65 (for Blackburn and Colne).