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Preston Past: A Ramble Along Church Street (Part 1)

Posted on - 30th May, 2012 - 10:02am | Author - | Posted in - History, Nostalgia, Photos

Church Street 1921 Whit Walks

This time we will start our journey by looking at the buildings and shop premises along the south side of Church Street in an easterly direction.

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The 1921 image of a Preston Whit Walk, seen immediately above, shows the section of Church Street which I will discuss in this article. Quite a lot has changed structurally as can be seen in the comparative image immediately below.

Church Street with Odeon Cinema 2012

In The uppermost image above, the shop premises at the far left was, for almost 90 years, the premises of Woods’ Tobacco although, the firm of Woods’ had been established long before the opening of the Church Street premises.  The business was started in the 1830’s by John Woods Snr. in the locality of the Old Shambles.

Following his death, two of his sons carried on the business but transferred to a premises in Main Sprit Weind, off Church Street. Over time the business grew considerably and a new and larger premises was secured in Derby Street at a factory where they could greatly expand the business.

It was around this time that they also opened the ‘high class’ premises on Church Street at the corner of Avenham Street.

Quite unexpectedly John Woods, one of the brothers, died in 1892 leaving William Henry Woods to deal with the whole business of tobacco manufacturing and retail. However, he did manage very well and expanded the business to other local counties and so it became one of the largest tobacco manufacturers in the north of England employing more than 200 employees.

William Henry was elected as a member of the town council in 1888 and six years on became the Mayor of Preston. He died in 1924 and eventually the business was sold on several times until 1978 when a national wholesale tobacco company took over and closed the Church Street shop down.

As you can see from the present day image, the premises still remains, albeit in a very poor condition, and is now partly a pizza takeaway shop.

Church Street & Old Cock Yard 1978

Just to the right of Woods’ shop is one of Preston’s narrow passageways which is known as Old Cock Yard.  This is another of those medieval Burgage strips or plots where market people of Preston would have resided as Burgesses of the town. Old Cock Yard spans from Church Street and downhill to Syke Street.

In later years it became very overcrowded with residential properties, factories, boarding houses and shops.

This place was also the location of one of Preston’s oldest public houses, The Old Cock Inn. The passageway still remains today and is used by many people as a ‘shortcut’ to the Avenham area.

The adjacent image to the left shows Old Cock Yard next to the Woods’ premises in 1978, when the tobacco shop had been closed for good.

Of interest are the old wrought iron railings of the underground public conveniences which were in the middle of Church Street at that time. They too have been closed and filled in. However, the railings remain, for decorative purposes, on the pavement in front of the Miller arcade.

In early 1927, two of the properties as seen in the uppermost image of 1921 were swept away to make way for a new development. These properties were, Stanley Carwen’s Electrical, a very successful electrical, radio & TV business, to carry on until  the latter part of the 20th century.

The other property was the premises of Scott’s West End Tailors which were also known as ‘The Fortyfive Shillings Tailors’. Since that time, B. Hirst Hosiers and the adjacent premises further to the right and up to Main Sprit Weind have been demolished and rebuilt as new retail units.

The early 1920’s was an exciting time for moving pictures which led to cinemas being built everywhere by entertainment entrepreneurs and to this end  The New Victoria Cinema was no exception which was built on the site of the two demolished, former shop premises.

The name of this cinema was changed twice over its lifetime; it became The Gaumont Cinema and later it was renamed to The Odeon/Top Rank.
The two images below show The New Victoria Cinema exterior and interior views.

The New Victoria Cinema exterior frontage and the interior main auditorium

The following two images are of the other two incarnations of The New Victoria Cinema, which were The Gaumont Cinema to the left and The Odeon Cinema incorporating Top Rank Club to the right.

The Gaumont Cinema in 1956 ————————The Odeon Cinema/Top Rank in 1973

The doors of this cinema were closed for the last time in 1992 and the building has remained derelict since then. Moves have been made to restore the cinema but as yet nothing has transpired

In the next article: ,We continue with our ramble along the south side of Church Street heading easterly in the direction of Saint John’s Church.

This is a series showcasing photos from the brilliant Preston Digital Archive which is an online archive of images of Preston’s past.

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