We have driven through Penwortham hundreds of times towards the city of Preston, however this time we stopped to explore Penwortham, which contains more than meets the eye…
Status: South Ribble District, Lancashire, Town, England
Eating & Sleeping: N/A
Attractions: Penwortham Water Tower, Castle Mound, St Mary’s Church, Howick Cross, River Ribble, Penwortham Old Bridge, Old Railway Bridge, County Library, Penwortham New Bridge, Methodist Church, The Fleece Inn, War Memorial etc
Although not technically part of Penwortham, there is a small hamlet called Howick Cross located at the South end of the town, just off the A59. The Hamlet is contiguous with Penwortham, and contains one major landmark, a large stone cross sat on the pavement called the “Howick Cross” which of course lent its name to the hamlet.
The middle section of the Cross is the only original section, thought to date back to medieval times. The main Cross itself was installed sometime by 1906, probably earlier, and stands 1 metre tall. The very bottom section was added when the Cross was restored in 1919 by the “Inhabitants” of Howick Cross to mark the end of World War I, and the restoration of peace to the nation.
We parked up by the River Ribble, which separates the town from the city of Preston on the North Bank. Penwortham is quite well known for the large series of allotments that line the river, and a small car park outside these was the perfect place to stop. The Ribble begins its journey far away in Yorkshire near the Ribblehead Viaduct, and flows through to Preston and then into the Irish Sea between Banks and Lytham St Annes just west of here.
The car park also happened to be right next to Penwortham Old Bridge, completed in 1912. It complimented an older bridge further upstream called the Penwortham New Bridge, but more on that in a moment. This stunning 3 arched bridge carries the A59 into Preston City Centre, however a lot of traffic now uses the much more modern Preston Flyover (completed 1985), which diverges from the main A59 just before this point and runs round the other side of the City Centre, and also gives great links to roads towards Blackpool.
Before we moved off South along the riverbank, we spotted one of Preston’s most famous landmarks, the Parish Church of St Walburge. It’s spire rises 309 ft high above the city and the surrounding area, and is notable as having the 3rd tallest spire in the country, after only Salisbury & Norwich Cathedrals. This also makes it the tallest Parish Church in the country, which is quite impressive. The architecture on this incredible mid 19th Century building is fantastic, and sometimes the best views of landmarks can be from an adjacent town, looking into the area.
We moved on, and after a reasonably short walk we arrived at Penwortham Old Bridge, the counterpart of the New Bridge. Until the New Bridge was completed, the Old Bridge was the lowest crossing over the River Ribble, although of course it has been superseded by 2 new bridges now, the New Bridge and the Flyover.
One of the oldest buildings in the area, the Old Bridge dates back to 1760, and although in the gloomy light of the morning it’s colour doesn’t stand out very well, it is crafted out of both yellow and red stone.
Crossing the bridge, we were surprised at how quaint it was, with a line of old street lamps on the West side, and cobbles lining the whole structure. This was originally on the main road between Liverpool and York, however it is only used by pedestrians today.
On the Penwortham side of the bridge, sits the intricate form of Penwortham Methodist Church. It fits in rather well looking along the bridge from the Preston Side, with the Spire blending into the sky to complement the Lamp Posts, in a rather Dickensian reminiscent scene.
Running directly parallel with the Old Bridge to the East, lie the remains of the old bridge which carried the West Lancashire Railway from Southport to Preston across the river. The line opened fully in 1882 after a number of extensions, and had stations in Banks, Tarleton, Longton, Penwortham etc before terminating at Preston station. The line sadly closed down in 1964 due to the Beeching Cuts which picked out a number of lines around the country which weren’t profitable and should be closed.
All that remains now of the bridge are the stone supports, and a large pipe which is carried over the bridge, which I assume was added sometime after the rest of the bridge was taken down in 1968. There are a number of places where you can see the remnants of the old line, including my home village of Banks where parts of the Preston bound platform survive by a drainage ditch which was dug once the tracks were lifted.
We moved back towards the town centre, which is located at the top of a hill just South of where the A59 splits to follow the Flyover and the New Bridge. Part way up the hill you will find the Penwortham War Memorial, erected in 1921 to pay tribute to the 433 soldiers from the town who lost their lives in World War I.
The Memorial sits in the centre of a lovely little garden, with a Union Jack to the left, and the flag of Lancashire to the right. It is a community focal point, and a group called the “Friends of Penwortham War Memorial” meet up regularly to tend the garden and carry out any maintenance work. Thanks to the group the Memorial always looks as good as it should, and it remains one of Penwortham’s proudest landmarks.
Completely out of sight of the road, so much so that if you didn’t know it was there then you would go straight past it, lies the Church of St Mary. A small footpath for pedestrians leads up to the Church just South of the War Memorial, and runs all the way up to this fine building perched on top of a hill overlooking the Flyover and Preston City.
Probably the oldest building in the whole town, the oldest sections of the Church were completed in the 14th century, in the form of the Chancel, which still survives today. The main Tower, located at the West End, was added 100 years later. The building remained virtually unchanged until the mid 19th century when an overhaul resulted in the Nave and Aisles being rebuilt by Edward Graham Paley (1823 – 1895), an architect from Lancaster.
The building is surrounded by a large churchyard, full of old and modern graves. There is one particular feature in the churchyard however that most people don’t even know exists…
This large, incongruous looking mound is actually the former site of Penwortham Castle, built in the 11th century not long after William the Conqueror and the Normans conquered England, by Roger the Poitevin (c 1060 – c 1140) who owned lands all over England, with his main holdings being the areas between the Mersey and the Ribble, everything between what is now Preston and Liverpool.
As the Ribble enters the Irish Sea not far from here, it was a key defensive position, and when it was completed it would have towered over the surrounding countryside.
It was eventually overtaken by Lancaster Castle, also built by Roger, which became a much more important fortification and by 1232 Penwortham Castle was largely obsolete. This came about as Roger extended his lands from the Ribble up to the Lune in Lancaster, and needed a new Castle to protect his lands. No remains of Penwortham Castle survive, with only the mound to mark its position.
The top of the mound affords great views over to Preston, with the ornate tower of Sessions House, the local court building, easily visible. Lancashire County Hall is visible at the far right of the picture, with it’s many chimneys, along with various office blocks around the city.
Out of shot we could again see St Walburge’s Church, along with a number of other Churches in the area. Preston Skyline stands out particularly thanks to the number of towers and Churches around the city.
We got a similar view when we returned to the A59 where the War Memorial is located. We could again see the tower of Sessions House, as well as the spire of Preston Minster in the centre of the picture, and the square top of the Harris Museum over to the left. We soon moved on, up into the town centre for the final part of our exploration.
Penwortham is split into two halves, Higher Penwortham, and Lower Penwortham. The main town centre is located in Higher Penwortham, and moving up into the town centre past the War Memorial there are a few landmarks that you will encounter, starting with the local library, shown above.
It has the words “County Library” either side of the main entrance, and I imagine it is an early 20th century building at least. So far I haven’t been able to find any information for a construction date on the building.
Next up is the Old Penwortham Water Tower. This stunning brick tower was completed in 1890 by Lawrence Rawstorne, to provide the town with a water supply. It continued in this capacity until 1895 when new water pipes and a mains system were installed in what was then a village. It has since been converted into a private residence, and is perhaps one of the most interesting houses in this area of Lancashire.
Just South of the Water Tower lies “The Fleece Inn”, one of the few Grade Listed buildings in the town centre. It remains in the function it was originally constructed for, as an Inn, sometime around the early 18th Century. At the rear of the building a Cottage and a Workshop are both joined to it, and together they form a charming complex of buildings.
A lot of the exterior has been changed over the years, including the roof which has been replaced, and the interior was also modernised.
From here we returned to the car and headed home, another few hours of exploring under our belts. Penwortham is a pleasant little town, however it sadly suffers from large amounts of traffic and congestion due to the amount of traffic using it as an entry point into Preston. There are plans for a new bypass which would take a lot of the traffic out of Penwortham, and I hope it gets the go ahead.
Transport wise, there are a regular buses into Preston almost every 15 minutes, as well as towards Southport and Liverpool. Preston has a mainline station with direct trains from there to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester and London, as well as various other places.
An interesting town with lots of history that I hadn’t previously realised, as driving through rush hour at 8am doesn’t really give me a chance to spot anything interesting, even if I am sat still for most of the time I am there! There is much more to the town than most people realised, and I am glad we got the chance to find this out. You can also find out more about the neighbouring city of Preston, in my dedicated post here.