In the early 19th century and up to around 1854 Preston’s only Post Office operated from a small building at the southern end of a terrace of butchers shops, known as The Shambles, on Lancaster Road. The Post Office removed to new premises in Church Street and subsequently to Lancaster Road again, only this time on the opposite side to the original premises. As postal activities increased it became imperative to seek larger premises and to this end a new Post Office was built in Fishergate – the location being just about where the W.H. Smiths store stands today.
With continued growth of the postal service it was necessary to remove once again and a new premises was built, being completed in 1903. This building was to be known as the Preston Head Post Office and was situated in the Market Place.
The Preston Head Post Office in Market Place was built on the site of a demolished line of shops extending from the summit of the northern side of Friargate to where Birley Street exists in the present day. The design of the Preston Head Post Office was handed to Henry Tanner who was trained in the office of Anthony Salvin. Tanner had recently been promoted to chief architect working at H.M. Office of Works and was held in high esteem by his peers and colleagues.
In 1925, alterations and an extension the rear of the building were carried out, this work being under the designs of architect, Charles Wilkinson. Wilkinson will have no doubt have been the architect of choice by H.M. Office of Works to ensure that further designs were sensitive to the original building, as by now, Henry Tanner or rather Sir Henry Tanner, as he had received a knighthood in 1904 and had retired from the H.M. Office of Works in 1913 to work in partnership with his son, Henry Tanner. Sir Henry Tanner died on 2 September 1935.
Over the years gone by, the interior has been modified to suit purpose and style of the times. The main Post Office hall saw one major change in the 1960’s to a design more in keeping with the times. The following two images illustrate that there was little change until the early 1960’s, as up to that time the interior of the main Post Office hall had the appearance of the 1930’s image.
With the closure of the Head Post Office in 2005 and its removal to Theatre Street, the building has seen little use other than when the PAD Gallery and Shop took up residence there for a short while and its use for the Best of Britannia exhibition recently. There was a social club internal to the premises and although it has not been in use for some time and apart from its dilapidation, still looks much as it did some years ago.
The former Head Post Office building may not be the most significant example of architecture we have in Preston and its architect may not be the most well known in the city; however, there is no doubt that it is an outstanding building and we can only hope that it will be restored and remain in good use for the foreseeable future.
What do you think of the Head Post Office building and what would you suggest it be used for? Let us know in the comments below.