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. Preston also has the distinction of becoming England’s 50th city…
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
A starting place for many in the city is the main line Station, which is midway on the line from London to Glasgow, up in Scotland. Much like the Scottish Capital of Edinburgh (also on the line), you pass directly underneath/next to a number of Preston landmarks as you pass through the city, starting with County Hall, which is situated across the road from the Station, on the main road in the city, called Fishergate. It is a grand Victorian Building, and was constructed sometime prior to 1894, as the new home of Lancashire County Council, which moved from the former County Town of Lancaster. The local City Council has its own home, in Preston Town Hall, which I shall come to later. The building takes up a whole block, and has immaculate detail on all sides. It ranks as one of the best buildings in Preston in terms of style and architecture, and is a good place to begin a tour of the city. One of the main roads out of Preston runs past the Station and down the left hand side of the building, and a footpath runs in front of the building, from where you can get some incredible views of another landmark…
The church of St Walburge is my favourite English Church, mainly because of its 309 feet spire, which is the tallest spire on a Parish Church in England, and the tallest on a building that isn’t a Cathedral. As you can see, it too is located next to the train line and you can gaze up the tower as you pass it, ideally heading North to be as close as possible to it.
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 whole 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.
So this is Preston Railway Station, viewed from a side road which comes off Fishergate and runs down to the Station Car Park. The main entrance itself (where a number of taxis are also located) can be found in the square section to the right of the picture (on Platforms 3/4), and comes out onto another road up to Fishergate. Preston is a major regional station, and has a number of platforms:
5 & 6: Overflow for London and Scottish services.
The overnight sleeper from Inverness to London via the central belt of Scotland also runs via Preston, once a night. The Station has kept its rare Victorian architecture, dating back to its extensive refurbishment in 1880, when it was rebuilt for the first time since the original station, built by the North Union Railway, was completed in 1838. The central platforms 3 and 4 form one long island, which was longer than any in London when it was built, at 1,225 ft long. Extensions were added to the building in 1903, and again in 1913, when it was at its largest with a whopping 15 platforms. Some of these have since closed, including those on the East Lancashire line. Services once ran to Southport via Tarleton and Banks, but ceased in the 1960’s due to the Beeching Cuts.
Leaving the area around County Hall and the Station, you can walk up the slight hill onto the shopping area of Fishergate, which 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. The street has recently undergone a massive period of regeneration, and it looks fantastic and modernised.
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.
There are a few other things of interest in the square, starting with what is thought to be the oldest shop in Preston, which is on the far side of the square facing the Harris Museum. Currently called Thomas Yates Jewellers, the building, officially known as Number 33 Market Square, was built as a house in 1638. It remained so until at least 1684 when Dr Wortton (local Surgeon) moved in, but it was eventually converted into a shop, and a new front was added in the 19th century, although the original timber structure survives intact behind it. The name of the shop, Thomas Yates, is significant as it refers to a man of the same name, also from Preston, who is famous for inventing the “Dead Beat Lever”, an important feature on Watches.
Also in the square is the Market Cross, which was restored in the 1970’s, and re-installed by Queen Elizabeth II in 1979, 800 years since Preston was granted a Charter by Henry II in 1179, establishing it as a Market Town. Behind the Cross is Crystal House, the site of Preston’s previous Town Hall, from 1866, which was destroyed by fire in 1947 (nothing to do with World War II).
Moving past the museum, the present 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.
The original 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. To see what the Town Hall used to look like, check out this link. Today the building is inhabited by Preston City Council, which was renamed as such in 2002 when Preston was granted city status during the Celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee. Preston became the 50th city in England, in the 50th year of her reign, a great honour for the former town.
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. You get a good view out over the city from the top, and can even see a few extra landmarks from the top, so check out my post here which covers a visit we made to the top.
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 Ramsbottom 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.
Another important part of Preston is the University of Central Lancashire, which, as of 2014, I am a student at. At night on your way into Preston from the South you can see the famous symbol of the University, a pair of twin Lancashire Roses (the red Rose is also featured on the flag of Lancashire), lit up in all its glory. The full name is also abbreviated down, to uclan. The University has its origins as the “Institution for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge” founded in 1828. It subsequently became a College, and then a Polytechnic (Preston, then Lancashire) and became a University in 1992, becoming the 8th largest in the UK.
The original building of the University was built around 1897 in honour of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901). It was designed by an architect called Henry Cheers, and was named the Victoria Jubilee Technical School when it first opened around 1900. It remains at the heart of the UCLAN Campus, although sadly I don’t have the honour of actually studying in the building, but its still my favourite building on Campus, with a beautiful red brick exterior.
The building was eventually renamed the Harris Building, which it remains today, in honour of Edmund Robert Harris (1804 – 1877, local Lawyer). When he passed away he left a significant sum of money in his will too the city, part of which funded the School, as well as other buildings such as the Harris Museum, hence the name Harris appears a few times around the city.
You get some unique views of Preston from the extensive campus, including this view I took from the 3rd floor of the Brooke Building. The imposing figure of Deepdale Stadium, the home of Preston North End (PNE) Football Club looms in the near distance, along with the hills of East Lancashire behind it. The Stadium was completed in 1875, and was built on the former site of Deepdale Farm. PNE as a team predates the Stadium, from 1853. They made history as the first ever Champions of the English Football League and FA Cup Double. The Stadium used to host the National Football Museum, but it was moved to the Urbis Building in Manchester in 2010. A statue of Sir Tom Finney (1922 – 2014) stands outside the Stadium, in tribute to the famous PNE player who also played for the English National Team.
If you stand outside the UCLAN Library, you can gaze out at the city skyline, with the tower of Sessions House, visible near the centre of the picture. I took this at 8am on a Monday morning, and there was a lovely early morning haze around the tops of the buildings.
Preston is a lovely city, and has a range of stunning architecture, old Churches, pleasant gardens, national landmarks and a prominent position in the national transport network. 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), and the train station can get you to most other major places in the country direct. There is always something else to discover in the city, and the main road leading from the A59 from Liverpool/Southport takes you on the overpass into the city centre, where you get one of the best views of the city centre, complete with towers and spires.
Other attractions in the city include the Ribble Steam Railway, a heritage steam railway located down by the Docks, which moved from its previous home in Southport. The Southport version opened in 1973 when a Museum was created in an old engine shed, preserving various old engines etc. The actual rails are from the original network that served the working Docks, and it has been adapted for the Museum. It was opened to the public in 2005 and regular trains make the 1.5 mile journey from the Docks towards the main line Station.
If you’re in the area I would highly recommend a trip to the City, which is also a great base for many local attractions, from Blackburn Cathedral, Burnley Mills, Blackpool Tower and Clitheroe Castle, to the Roman remains at Ribchester.