Anyone who has visited Winckley Square in Preston will have probably seen the Peel Statue on the east side of the square facing Cross Street and may well have wondered why it is there and what it is all about.Advertisement
The statue is of Sir Robert Peel and it was mounted in Winckley Square by public subscription in honour of Peel’s success in repealing the Corn Laws. The period in which these Corn Laws were in force was in so many ways a cruel one to the ordinary working folks and among many people in Britain, greatly affected the poor in Preston. These laws existed to protect the agricultural industry from cheap foreign grain imports, however, the only beneficiaries were the nobility and large landowners, the poor had to spend most of their income on the greatly inflated price of the grain to be able to survive.
When Sir Robert Peel, the current Prime Minister of the time, succeeded in the abolition of the Corn Laws in 1846 he was held in great esteem by all affected making him a much revered hero of Britain’s poor. It would take three years though to fully reach the benefit of the repeal, as the corn tariffs would only gradually decrease until 1849 when they would cease entirely. Unfortunately, Sir Robert Peel’s political career ended around that time and one year later, in 1850, he died as a result of a horse riding accident.
It was the wish of the people of Preston that something should be done in Peel’s honour of this great achievement and therefore a decision was made to erect a statue in his honour. At that time, one of the most salubrious area’s in Preston was Winckley Square and it was in this location where the monument was to stand.
The person earmarked to create the peel statue was no other that the celebrated sculptor, Thomas Duckett senior, who was known as a ‘portrait sculptor of the most respectable rank’. From his studio in Avenham Road, Duckett carved the Robert Peel statue from the finest limestone of a single block which bears the inscription ‘Sir Robert Peel, Baronet. Erected by Public Subscription, 1852. It also, at one time, had an inscription of Alderman Thomas Monk.
On Whit Monday, 31st May 1852, a great ceremony took place in the presence of the town mayor Alderman Thomas Monk and an immense assembly of Preston dignitaries and the towns people. it is notable that Duckett’s son, Thomas Duckett junior, was also present at the ceremony to admire his father’s work. Thomas Duckett junior followed his father’s footsteps and in time also became a fine sculptor within his own right.
An interesting footnote to this tale is that some time later, Alderman Thomas Monk was found guilty of a fraudulent crime and was imprisoned accordingly. Subsequently, it was the decision of the Preston Corporation to have Monk’s name removed from the Peel monument plinth.
Would this story inspire you to look more closely at the Peel Monument? Have you ever looked for the erased inscription? Let us know in the comments.